LONDON (Reuters) - The spiritual head of the Anglican Church expressed concern Sunday about Iranian exiles living in a camp in Iraq, saying they faced “human rights violations” that needed to be addressed urgently.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said both the United States and the Iraqi government had a duty to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, home to the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) dissident group.
“The continuing situation in Camp Ashraf, together with the fact that the 36 people taken from the camp in July have not been released, constitutes a humanitarian and human rights issue of real magnitude and urgency,” Williams said in a statement.
The camp’s 3,500 residents had been under the protection of the U.S. military until the facility was handed over to Iraqi jurisdiction last January.
In late July, Iraqi forces took control of the camp, northwest of Baghdad, sparking clashes in which at least seven exiles were killed.
Some of the residents have been on hunger strike since, demanding that the 36 people seized during the riot are freed and the Iraqi forces who took control of the camp leave.
“Both the government of Iraq and the government of the United States — as the agency responsible for the transfer of the residents to another jurisdiction — have an obligation to secure the rights of these residents and to defend them from violence or abuse,” Williams said on his Website.
“I hope that all concerned will listen to what those across the world who are deeply anxious about these human rights violations are saying, and respond as a matter of urgency.”
Some members of the U.S. Congress have criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for ignoring the situation and giving an inadequate response to the July clashes.
U.S. officials say the camp is a matter for Baghdad since it took control of its own security matters, but have stated that the residents should be treated humanely and not forcibly repatriated to Iran.
However, human rights lawyers accuse Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ignoring assurances given to Washington about the treatment of those in the camp, an irritant for the Iraqi government which has close ties to Iran.
Williams said there was a strong argument in giving Ashraf residents “protected persons” status under international law, and also urged the hunger strikers to end their protest.
“Further loss of life would only compound recent tragic events,” he said.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton