U.N. rights chief urges probe of deaths at Iraqi camp

UNITED NATIONS Fri Apr 15, 2011 5:44pm EDT

1 of 2. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay looks on before the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on 'The situation of human rights in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya' at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva February 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights chief on Friday called for an independent investigation into the deaths of 34 people at an Iranian dissident camp in Iraq after Iraqi security forces moved against it last week.

"It now seems certain that at least 34 people were killed in Camp Ashraf, including seven or more women," U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said. "Most were shot, and some appear to have been crushed to death, presumably by vehicles."

A U.N. spokesman said on Thursday that U.N. officials had visited the camp and viewed the 34 bodies.

The fatality count was the same number of deaths Camp Ashraf residents had reported. Their death toll was disputed by Iraqi authorities, who said only three people were killed in the operation and others were dead before troops moved in.

Iraqi authorities say the three were killed when security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers. The Iraqi Defense Ministry has said it will launch an investigation into the operation.

Pillay said in a statement the Iraqi military was aware of the risks of launching a military operation at the camp. A similar operation by Iraqi security forces in 2009 left 11 people dead and dozens wounded at Ashraf, she added.

"There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties," she said. "There must be a full, independent and transparent inquiry, and any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be prosecuted."

Ashraf is the base of the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, which the United States, Iraq and Iran consider a terrorist organization, although the European Union removed it from its terrorism blacklist in 2009.

The group, seeking the overthrow of Iran's Islamic government, mounted attacks on Iran from Iraq before Saddam Hussein's 2003 downfall. In the 1970s, it led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets.

Saddam gave it refuge in Iraq in the 1980s and some of its fighters joined him in the 1980-1988 war against Iran. The group surrendered its weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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