Connect to share and comment

A summer of protest. Is anyone listening?

An Iranian exile worries his demonstrations against Iraq fall on deaf ears.

A group protests Iraqi forces' treatment of Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Aug. 14, 2009. (Teri Schultz/GlobalPost)

BRUSSELS — When Mehdi Nobari, an Iranian-born businessman in Belgium, learned that Iraqi forces stormed an enclave of Iranian exiles known as Camp Ashraf in late July, killing nine of the 3,500 inhabitants and wounding or arresting hundreds more, he decided it was time to give up his comfortable summer.

"I have a good life here," said Nobari, 42, who came to Belgium 20 years ago. "When I saw what was happening to my brothers and sisters, I thought it’s my responsibility to do something for these people.” 

Long active in sporadic anti-Tehran protests, Nobari helped mobilize Iranian exiles immediately after the raid. For three days they demonstrated in front of the American embassy, protesting the U.S. handover of control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government, which happened in January. 

Disappointed in Washington's hands-off response, Nobari and his fellow protesters this week changed their focus to the European Union, demanding the EU pressure both the Americans and the Iraqis to protect the camp. Nobari knows the members of the European Parliament and most other EU decision-makers are on vacation this month, but he says the issue is far too urgent to just wait quietly until the bureaucrats get back. So even though the bars next to the parliament are busier than the legislature itself, he and the other protesters have been spending 10 hours a day at a makeshift memorial to the Ashraf victims in a park across the street.

Whether the protests are falling on deaf ears or just empty offices, the result has been the same: no action. Nobari admits it’s frustrating. “Where is international law? Where is the Convention of Geneva? Everybody’s ‘closed’!” But undeterred, he is now beginning a hunger strike, as others have done in London, Washington, D.C., Ottawa and other cities to make an even stronger point: that the United Nations needs to intervene to save the lives of the Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, and that the U.S. should reassume control over the site until a U.N. force can arrive.

The exiles claim the Iraqi army is detaining and beating more people, while blocking food and medicine from entering the compound. Human rights groups have launched appeals in recent days as well, with Amnesty International urging supporters to join their call on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to investigate the violence. Legal scholars have repeatedly asserted that the residents of Ashraf are unquestionably entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention, which the international community is obligated to uphold.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/benelux/090814/camp-ashraf-protests-brussels