Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce myself. My name is Betty Boothroyd, I am a member of the House of Lords, and I sit on the independent crossbenches in that House. And it is my great privilege today to welcome you all to this meeting in the Houses of the Parliament in Westminster and to thank you very much for your continuing support of this movement with so much persistence and vigour and for turning up on this very bitterly cold day. And I know some of you have come from quite long way away.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we miss three of our friends this afternoon they are not able to be with us. Lord Robin Corbett, who is our chairman; Lord Peter Archer and Lord Waddington; all three have made a magnificent contribution to the movement for Iran Freedom. All three of them are ill and it is very sad to hear they are very ill and we send our greetings to them, to three of them and our best wishes for a sound recovery. We want them a speedy return to these activities here. We so much have been missing them of late.
Now we have a special panel today and a very powerful one too, since it is a cross-party panel from both Houses of Parliament and all sides in the houses. And joining us too, are prominent lawyers who will illustrate the breaches that are taking place at Ashraf and at Camp Liberty. And also we have a very special guest from the United States, who I just have the pleasure of meeting. Here he is on my left, Colonel Wesley Martin, very welcome.
Colonel Martin is extremely knowledgeable about Camp Ashraf. He was responsible for the protection of the camp and was there when the United States Government pledge protection to the residents after they voluntarily handed over their means of self-protection in that hostile environment. Shortly we shall of course be hearing from Colonel Martin.
Now my friends, the humanitarian situation in Ashraf and the suffering of the residents by the Iraqis who were supposed to protect them has a very long painful history, which we are aware of. But by the end of last year, let us be honest our hopes were raised somewhat, they were raised that finally a peaceful solution would come into fruition. And, despite having used their own resources and energy and the imagination on turning that barren land into a liveable city, the residents decided to leave their homes for the sake of and in the belief of obtaining a peaceful solution elsewhere.
I think you know some of us ask ourselves why did these people have to leave Ashraf to enable United Nations to start its work identifying each and every one of the 3300 people there? Why could not they go through the usual UN refugee procedures without having to relocate inside Iraq? Just think of the cost of this transfer, the enormous cost it must be for Iraq. Some of us find that rather sinister, not quite understanding why that was necessary.
We need an answer as to why the United Nations agreed to this. What is more bewildering is the current situation. On Christmas Eve United Nations signed, a MoU with the Iraqi government designated the former US base, Camp Liberty, as the new relocation site. But it is now become apparent that the Iraqi regime is turning that site into a prison. The residents have been denied access to basic sanitary facilities, to medicine, to medical treatment, to drinking water. They are denied access to their lawyers. Iraq insists they cannot take with them to the camp, their belongings and their vehicles and their bicycles and whatever it may be. And I think a more accurate description of Camp Liberty would be a concentration camp designed for the purpose of subjugation, and who can tell what the end would be for the residents there.
Ladies and gentlemen while human rights and property rights are being violated, United Nations remains silent and has not publicly criticized the Iraqi government for the breaching of the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, for violating the rights of asylum seekers which are enshrined in United Nations charters and in international law and for making the conditions of a peaceful settlement impossible.
So my friends we are here today to give voice to these issues. We seek answer and a workable solution to the crisis, all of us here today stand with the people of Ashraf. We shall not allow them to be oppressed and ignored. We shall use what voice and what influence we have with our political parties, with our government, with the decision-makers in the United States, the European Union and the United Nation Security Council to take action by implementing the agreement that are already in place to resolve this crisis and bring peace and security to the people of Ashraf who as our chairman Lord Corbett defined as the “bravest of the brave”.
Finally let me say this, we all know that historically women are not allowed their rights in the Middle East. Yet the women of Iran have taken a high profile in the most challenging circumstances and environment. Their brave stand for their rights and those of their fellow citizens is an inspiration to us all. And in particular I highlight the role of their leader Mrs Maryam Rajavi who is the driving force behind this massive international campaign. In bringing the range of views from the extreme ends of the political spectrum under one roof and behind one desk and in one panel is a hard task. But she has managed it. It is a clear indication of her tolerance, sense of understanding and an ability to listen to diverse views and find a common denominator. That is why so many non-Iranians as well as millions of Iranians trust her to be the leader for peaceful change.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you will agree with me that managing such change is the most difficult task for any public figure. Mrs Rajavi has proven qualities that make her fit for that task. That is why we want to start today and send very good wishes to her from this meeting, thank you very much indeed.
Now ladies and gentlemen we have a galaxy of talent before us today. You are all going to be weary standing there. Sorry we cannot get a larger room we will try to get it in future, to get a bigger one. But if there is a parliamentary committee, it has to take precedence. That is the way our parliamentary system works, our democracy works and why not. I have rejoiced it; thank God we live in a democracy in this country. [ya]
Now our next speaker is a dear old friend of mine, no, not old friend, longstanding friend, let me put it like that. Lord Clarke of Hampstead, a distinguish leader of the campaign for Iran Freedom for over 30 years, churlishly supporting the cause of democracy and he is a leader particularly for the campaign for protection of Ashraf residents. My dear friend Tony Clarke!