Further written evidence submitted by
Human Rights Watch
STATEMENT ON RESPONSES TO HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
REPORT ON ABUSES BY THE MOJAHEDIN-E KHALQ ORGANIZATION (MKO)
In May 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a report
on alleged human rights abuses committed by an Iranian opposition
group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO/MEK),
inside its military camps in Iraq from 1991 to February 2003,
prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein's government. The report,
No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the MKO Camps, detailed
allegations by 12 former members of the MKO who told Human Rights
Watch of a range of physical and psychological abuses they had
suffered and witnessed.
In addition, the report made use of the published memoir of the
MKO's former chief diplomatic representative in Europe and North
America, Masoud Banisadr.
Following publication of this Human Rights Watch
report, individuals associated with the MKO and others, in communications
to Human Rights Watch as well as publicly on Web sites connected
with the MKO, raised objections to the findings of the report.
We have investigated with care the criticisms we received concerning
the substance and methodology of the report, and find those criticisms
to be unwarranted.
A number of critics of the report claimed that
Human Rights Watch was calling on the United States, Canada, and
the European Union not to remove the MKO from their respective
lists of groups identified as perpetrating or advocating acts
of terrorism, in the face of a campaign by the MKO to have itself
removed from such lists. Human Rights Watch in fact at no point,
either in the report or in responses to media and other queries,
took any position whatsoever on whether the MKO should be on such
lists or removed from them. Rather, we did no more than report
what we believed to be credible testimonies alleging serious abuses
perpetrated by MKO officials against dissident members of the
group, including prolonged deprivation of liberty and torture.
A group known as Friends of a Free Iran (FOFI),
comprising four Members of the European ParliamentAlejo
Vidal Quadras, Paulo Casaca, Andre Brie, and Struan Stevensonpresented
the most extensive of the critiques of the No Exit report
on September 21, 2005.
The FOFI document disputed the testimonies and challenged the
credibility of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch,
saying, among other things, that their allegations were "widely
believed to be orchestrated by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence."
The MKO has similarly alleged that Human Rights Watch's witnesses,
and dissident former members generally, are in fact agents of
Iranian intelligence. Neither FOFI nor any of the other critics
of the Human Rights Watch report have provided any credible evidence
to support this charge.
The FOFI document followed a five-day visit
by a delegation of FOFI members to the MKO's main base in Iraq,
Camp Ashraf, in July 2005. The FOFI delegation reportedly
interviewed 19 MKO members inside Camp Ashraf. According to the
FOFI document, these present MKO members disputed testimonies
given by the former MKO members to Human Rights Watch. The FOFI
delegation did not interview any of the individuals who gave testimonies
to Human Rights Watch.
Because Human Rights Watch places a high premium
on the accuracy of our reporting and public statements, the organization
took these allegations seriously. We went back to our sources
to review and reevaluate the credibility of their allegations.
In October 2005 Human Rights Watch researchers met in person with
all 12 witnesses quoted in the No Exit report. The researchers
conducted interviews lasting several hours with each witness,
individually and privately. All interviews were conducted in Germany
and the Netherlands, where the witnesses now live.
All of the witnesses recounted in extensive
detail their experiences inside the MKO camps from the 1991-2003
period, and how MKO officials subjected them to various forms
of physical and psychological abuses once they made known their
wishes to leave the organization. Human Rights Watch researchers
questioned the witnesses at great length about the circumstances
under which these abuses allegedly took place. The researchers
also asked the witnesses to respond to the specific issues raised
in the FOFI document with regard to their testimonies. The witnesses
provided detailed and credible responses to these challenges that
were consistent with their earlier testimony as recounted in No
Exit and are detailed in the appendix to this statement.
The only piece of information that emerged during
these detailed face-to-face interviews that differed from the
account in No Exit concerned the period of Mohammad Hussein
Sobhani's detention by the MKO. In No Exit, Human Rights
Watch reported that MKO officials had held Sobhani in solitary
confinement for eight-and-a-half years, from September 1992 to
January 2001. The FOFI document stated that "upon his
own request, he [Sobhani] lived in an apartment furnished with
all living commodities of a comfortable life. Despite PMOI's insistence
that he must leave the organization, he was not willing to do
so . . ."
In his testimony in October 2005, Sobhani told
Human Rights Watch that MKO officials held him continuously in
solitary confinement from September 1992 until February 1998 inside
Camp Ashraf, a period of five-and-a-half years. He said that in
February 1998 the MKO leadership offered to transfer him to a
better location and then to facilitate his transfer to Europe,
where his daughter was living. Subsequently, the MKO moved Sobhani
to another MKO camp near Baghdad, called Camp Parsian. He said
he stayed there until June 1999, under circumstances that he described
as "house arrest." He said he was free to leave his
apartment in Camp Parsian but could not leave the camp unless
accompanied by MKO guards, and could not leave for Europe. In
June 1999, during a visit to Baghdad, he escaped and attempted
to reach the United Nations office there. He was captured by the
Iraqi police and turned over to MKO officials. From June 1999
until January 2001, Sobhani said, the MKO again held him in a
prison inside Camp Ashraf, once again in solitary confinement.
In January 2001, the MKO transferred Sobhani to Iraqi custody.
The Iraqi authorities imprisoned him in Abu Ghraib until January
As reported by the witnesses interviewed for
No Exit, the MKO transferred scores of dissident members
from MKO detention into Iraqi custody. Iraqi authorities then
incarcerated the men in Abu Ghraib prison. Five of the twelve
individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch for No Exit
said they ended up in Abu Ghraib as a result of such transfers,
and they told Human Rights Watch that former MKO members were
being held there when they arrived. The FOFI document fails to
address the MKO's transfer of the dissidents to Iraqi custody
or their subsequent detention in Abu Ghraib.
The FOFI document also raised two other objections
to the Human Rights Watch report. Firstly, the FOFI document questioned
Human Rights Watch's methodology of conducting interviews with
witnesses by phone. Human Rights Watch, like other organizations
that conduct research and report on current affairs, sometimes
relies on telephone interviews to gather information. Telephone
interviews are a recognized and appropriate method of information
gathering. Human Rights Watch has no reason to believe that any
of the witnesses misidentified or (misrepresented) themselves
in any way whatsoever. They reaffirmed their credibility in face
to face interviews in October 2005.
Secondly, the FOFI document challenged Human
Rights Watch's report by stating that, during their visit to Camp
Ashraf, the FOFI delegation did not find any indications of abuse
or ill-treatment of MKO members. The Human Rights Watch report,
as was made clear in that text, covered allegations of abuse inside
the MKO camps prior to the overthrow of the government of Saddam
Hussein in April 2003. The testimonies by witnesses who recounted
allegations of detention and physical abuse cover the period from
1991 to February 2003. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in
March 2003, US forces interviewed MKO members inside the MKO camps.
The US military set up a separate camp for those members who indicated
that they wished to leave the organization. At least 300 members
(out of a total of nearly 4,000) chose to leave the organization.
The Human Rights Watch report did not include any testimonies
or allegations of witnesses as to whether there were ongoing abuses
inside Camp Ashraf after the invasion of Iraq. Thus, the findings
of FOFI with respect to current conditions in the MKO camp have
no relevance to the Human Rights Watch report of testimonies about
conditions in the camp from 1991 to February 2003.
11 Also known as People's Mojahedin Organization of
Iran (PMOI). Back
http://Human Rights Watch.org/backgrounder/mena/iran0505/index.htm Back
Masoud Banisadr, Memoirs of an Iranian Rebel (London: Saqi
Books, 2004). Back
The report was presented on September 21 at a meeting in Brussels
sponsored by the FOFI, according to a September 23 press release
on the website of the National Council of Resistance of Iran,
an MKO-related group The text of the FOFI document later became
available on the same website: http://ncr-iran.org/images/stories/advertising/ep%20report-with%20cover.pdf
Many of the points raised in the FOFI document also were raised
separately in correspondence addressed to Human Rights Watch by
Lars Rise, a member of the Norwegian Parliament, and two members
of the UK House of Lords, Lord Eric Avebury and Lord Gordon Slynn. Back
FOFI document, pg 6. Back
FOFI document, pg 65. Back
Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Hussein Sobhani, Germany,
October 4, 2005. Back