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Iraq: the ICRC's response to recent events in Ashraf

22-10-2009 Interview

Since late July, a series of events have taken place in Ashraf, about 80 km north of Baghdad, where several thousand Iranian nationals are living. Confrontations have resulted in people being killed, injured or detained. Juan-Pedro Schaerer, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Iraq, gives us an update on the role of the ICRC.


Juan-Pedro Schaerer, ICRC head of delegation for Iraq 
     What did the ICRC do for Ashraf residents who were arrested? Was the ICRC involved in their release?  

The ICRC visited, on several occasions, the 36 people arrested by the Iraqi authorities during the events of July as part of its regular activities in places of detention. At the request of all concerned, including the detainees themselves, the ICRC was present in Ashraf when the 36 persons returned there following their release.

Anyone in Ashraf who is suspected or accused of having committed criminal offences must be afforded the judicial guarantees provided for in international and Iraqi law.

 How would you describe the situation in Ashraf after the July incidents?  

The ICRC has visited Ashraf several times in the past year, but was not present during or immediately after the events of 28 July. It is therefore not in a position to confirm the reported number of casualties or to comment on what happened there in the immediate aftermath of the incidents. Nevertheless, we regret the loss of life and the injuries.

Our role was to call on all those involved to exercise restraint and to comply with applicable law, which requires, among other things, that the use of force be compatible with the norms governing law-enforcement operations, that the wounded have access to proper medical care, that the treatment and conditions of detention of those arrested respect international standards, and that the remains of the dead be afforded dignified handling and burial.

 How does the ICRC view the Iraqi government's deployment of police contingents in Ashraf?  

On 28 July the Iraqi government set up a police presence in Ashraf. It is the legitimate duty of any government to maintain law and order within its own territory. The ICRC does not question the legitimacy of the Iraqi police presence in Ashraf, and it is not up to the ICRC to comment on it.

 Some people have criticized the ICRC for not doing enough in response to recent events in Ashraf. What is your response?  

The role of the ICRC is to remind all those concerned – be they States or other entities – of their obligations under international law. The ICRC has maintained a constant dialogue about the fate of the people living in Ashraf with all the authorities concerned and with the residents themselves.

In particular, the ICRC has regularly reminded the authorities of their obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement and to ensure that civilians in Ashraf – as elsewhere in Iraq – have access to such basic necessities as food, water and medical care.

I would also like to take this occasion to point out that over recent years the ICRC has helped the Iranians in Ashraf to keep in touch with their relatives through Red Cross messages. We have also arranged, on a purely humanitarian basis, the repatriation of 267 people to Iran. It is important to stress that the ICRC did this at the request and with the full consent of the individuals and in coordination with all the authorities concerned.