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Iran-Iraq: New Iraqi constitution should respect refugee laws – International law expert

Prof. Steven SchneebaumIn a letter to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Prof. Steven Schneebaum, a prominent American lawyer and attorney of families of PMOI members in the United States, expressed his deep concern over an article in the draft constitution presented to the Iraqi National Assembly which bans political refugee status for individuals on the basis of mere accusations and not convictions. He urged the Prime Minister to reconsider the article.

“I represent the United States-based families of members of the People’s Mojahedin organization of Iran who currently reside in Camp Ashraf, near Khalis, in Diyala province, Iraq,” said Schneebaum emphasizing: “I am writing to you to express concerns about provisions of the draft constitution of Iraq which have serious potential consequences for my clients’ loved ones, and even broader negative implications for the Government to be formed according to the new constitution.”

Article 21(3) poses a clear and blatant inconsistency with applicable international norms. This section, which concerns the granting of asylum, currently provides that no one may receive political asylum in Iraq if he or she, among other things, has been "accused of committing international or terror crimes."

Schneebaum wrote: “It is surely not acceptable to base determinations regarding asylum on ‘accusations’ rather than conviction or proof. There is, of course, a generally-applicable and internationally-mandated presumption of innocence in the face of accusations of criminal conduct.

“Neither the Geneva conventions nor the various international covenants governing the treatment of refugees permit the determination of someone’s status on the basis of what he or she may be accused of having done.

“You will understand that the interest of the people at Camp Ashraf in these provisions stems from the fact that the PMOI has periodically been accused, usually by the regime in Tehran and by those attempting to curry favor with it, of usually unspecified terrorist acts. These charges are false, and could not withstand the scrutiny of any kind of independent determination. As you know, the residents of Ashraf have maintained an unbroken record of peace and good order in Iraqi soil. Their neighbors in Diyala province have repeatedly expressed their continuing welcome to the PMOI, for which the families of these individuals are immensely grateful.

“We urge you most respectfully to revise those Articles before the draft Constitution is promulgated.”

Copies of the letter were sent to the Iraqi president, Speaker of the Parliament, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign affairs and Ambassador of the United States to Iraq.