Text: Fr Frank Nally SSC at Conference of Clergy vigil for Camp Ashraf

Fr Frank at a Camp Ashraf protest in Geneva

Fr Frank at a Camp Ashraf protest in Geneva

Fr Frank Nally SSC gave the following address at the  Conference of Clergy vigil for Camp Ashraf today at the US Embassy in London.

Good morning everyone. I became involved with your issue last year and wrote to the UN. I would firstly like to take this opportunity to salute the bravery of the residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, to salute the bravery of the Iranian people and especially to salute you, the  hunger strikers here in London, as you cry out with your very lives for help. The deafening silence in return is shocking. You, the  hunger strikers here in London, in Ashraf and across the world, have today entered your  59th day of hunger strike today. You still  hunger to the death to be heard. To have some political action sanctioned to protect your people and dream of freedom for your country, Iran. We are gathered here in solidarity with you because your voices have not been heard. You have not been listen to, even as you are now  here two-months outside the Embassy of the United States. To focus on your suffering and safety apparently is not politically expedient for the politicians now. The appeals of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran, chaired by Lord Corbett, and the resolutions of European Parliament in April this year,  calling for the protection of the residents of Ashraf, have also been ignored.

However, your bravery in defending the rights of the people at Camp Ashraf, your family and friends,  is an inspiration to us all. I am challenged by your sense of solidarity and responsibility.  You have chosen to pay a great personal price to support and highlight the struggle of the people of Iran subjected to fundamentalist rule. The recent elections manifested that there is a lack of freedom in your home country. You support your people who want change, respect and a more tolerant, egalitarian, democratic society.

We join with you, our Muslim and Christian, brothers and sisters.  We recognise as Christian Churches, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who is studying the issues, that the 3,500 Iranian exiles, refugees in Asraf, within the territory of Iraq, have 'protected persons' status under the Fourth Geneva Convention. We might ask, if the residents of Ashraf were correct to believe the US forces when they were guaranteed protection, turned from armed struggle to affect change in Tehran and adopt an non-violent approach, that international law would protect them from harm?
The US authorities, despite assurances have, so far, betrayed that commitment. The EU and the UN and the UK have, to date, also failed to comply with their own resolutions and promises of protection. They all have failed miserably in their obligations to us and to us to implement International humanitarian law.

Such inaction cannot continue, not least since a vast number of Camp Ashraf residents are on hunger strike to prevent another assault in Camp Ashraf.  If we are to stand aside and allow Iraqi forces to carry out the massacre of unarmed Iranian refugees, where does this leave the  future of Iraq for which so many soldiers have lost their lives, supposedly to help built a  democracy society. Have the lives of so many Coalition forces personel  been lost in vain when  inhumane actions are  carried out by Iraqi authorities and at the behest of the Iranian regime are simply ignored?

Last  Sunday (20th September 2009),  the Archbishop of Canterbury, expressed his deep-felt pastoral concern for the hunger strikers in this city and the residents of Camp Ashraf. In particular he stated that the situation “constitutes a humanitarian and human rights issue of real magnitude and urgency.”  We add our concerns and prayers for a just solution to his sentiments here today. The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has taken steps too by asking Bishop Alan Hopes to take a lead on the situation of the hunger strikers and the situation at Camp Ashraf and to seek the assistance of the Secretary to the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, Dr David Ryll..

The health and well-being of the hunger strikers is deteriorating by the hour. Immediate intervention of the US authorities, the EU and the United Nations would allow the hunger strikers to stop their fast. We might all be strengthened again in our resolve for justice and peace.  The demands of the hunger strikers is that International law be put into practice; that the residents in Camp Ashraf are protected and that the UN implement their resolutions in Iraqi and  protect the 3,500 defenceless civilians there.

We call on the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and  Mr Ad Melkert, the  Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)  to reassure all of us, especially the hunger strikers, that;

The residents of Camp Ashraf designated as 'protected persons’ under the Fourth Geneva Convention will be given security and protection.  Action needs to be taken by the US and international community through the mandates given by the UN Security Council to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)  and be supported by  the Multi-National
Force-Iraq (MNF-I) to protect them as Iraq has not fulfilled the
obligations they undertook in January this year.

The implementation of International law must be seen to be applied  by decisive action so  that the residents of Camp Ashraf are no longer placed under siege and continue to face state sponsored violations of their rights. The principle of non-refoulement must also be respected barring any forced returns to Iran.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)  must fulfil the  mandate of the UN Security Council and insist that the authorities in Iraq allow a UN  monitoring presence within Camp Ashraf to guarantee the protection and  rights of the residents. The Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights and the  High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) might assist in this action. The medical needs, right to food and services of the residents to improve living conditions must be seen to be respected and any siege of Camp Ashraf suspended indefinitely.

And finally, the 36 Ashraf missing residents must be released immediately by Iraqi forces in compliance to the rulings of the Iraqi judiciary.

There is no time to lose. Lives have been lost and more are in mortal danger. These pleas of ours must receive a positive response  before further pain and suffering is afflicted on the women and men of Ashraf and the Iranian Diaspora around the world. With the hunger strikers today, those who are laying down their very lives for their friends, we pledge to do all in our power to highlight the humanitarian crisis that is being ignored by our government. They have an obligation to ensure that the rule of law and uphold human rights. International laws and conventions must also impact the government of Iraq which has benefited from the support of the international community to overcome oppression. The UN Security Council must stand by the people of Ashraf to help obtain and guarantee their fundamental human and political  rights.

We  join too with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams,  and say to the hunger strikers, “In the same humanitarian spirit I would also urge those who have been demonstrating their concern by not taking food to bring their fast to an end. Further loss of life would only compound recent tragic events. "

You have spoken loudly. We are listening. We join your cry for action. We pray that Barack Obama, through the US Embassy in London, not only understands the plight of Camp Ashraf but takes clear and decisive action now. We pray that our own Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Secretary, David Milliband, are listening too. The United Nations and the Security Council must establish the security we all need. It must secure protection for the 3,500 human beings in Camp Ashraf today.

Lord Corbett insight is that ....“We are all citizens of Camp Ashraf” .  Indeed . We are. We cannot ignore now that we know their plight, we hear their cries and see them put their lives on the line. They are our sisters and brothers. In the spirit of interfaith concern and dialogue, in the interest of our common humanity, what happens to the citizens of Camp Ashraf happens to us all. Let our world of cultural and religious diversity build on the principles of justice and  peace  and respect for human rights. This is especially relevant to us who believe in one God no matter what name we give our God.  Let us support the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledge the concern and initiative of Archbishop Vincent  Nichols.  Let all support the aspirations of the people of Camp Ashraf and Iran.

Salam Alykum. May God bless us all.  Thank you.

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