Whether the United States is under an obligation to protect members of the
People's Mojahed in Organisation of Iran (PMOI) in Iraq?
9 July 2008
I, Eric DAVID, Professor and President of the Centre of International Law at the Free University of Brussels, have been requested by the National Council of Resistance of lran, to provide advice on whether, as of 2008, the United States is under a specific obligation to protect the People's Mojahedin Organization of lran (PMOI) in Iraq.
The present opinion has been drafted with the assistance of Mr. Vaios Koutroulis, researcher at the Centre of International Law.
By way of background, in March 2003 the U.S. and Iraq entered into war. The U.S. occupied Iraq at the beginning of the armed conflict, and since that time, it has sustained a physical and military presence in Iraq. Many members of the PMOI reside at Camp Ashraf, Iraq, having fled from Iran as refugees. Complying with the message of the leader of the Iranian Resistance, Massoud Rajavi, when the conflict started, the PMOI have asserted and retained their neutrality, voluntarily surrendering their weapons to American forces and not participating in hostilities. Each and every one of them has since 2004 signed an agreement with the U.S. forces, in which they renounced violence and terrorism. For their part, the U.S. forces undertook the responsibility for the protection of the residents of Ashraf, and committed to continue that protection until Ashraf residents' final disposition. Therefore, in the context of this conflict, PMOI members in Iraq had the status of foreign civilians in a country occupied by an Occupying Power. Given that their current situation relates to the conflict, and given that American forces have maintained a continuing presence in Iraq, the question arises whether the U.S. has a specific protection obligation in relation to members of the PMOI either:
- on the basis of international humanitarian law (IHL), given that PMOI members are under the control of the U.S., as the Occupying Power within the territory, (I); or
- on the basis of general principles of international law (IL), in light of the presence of American forces in Iraq (II).
The United States is currently negotiating an agreement with the Government of Iraq on the status of its forces (Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA). The author is unaware of the political nature of these negotiations, and this opinion will not address whether, and how, the issues mentioned herein must be included in the SOFA. Nevertheless, it must be reiterated that regardless of the status of the U.S. forces in Iraq (whether in the framework of United Nations Security Council resolutions, SOFA, or any other framework), these forces are mandated to protect the members of the PMOI at Camp Ashraf for as long as U.S. forces are present in Iraq.
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