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Will U.N. Chief Ban Ki-Moon Do the Right Thing and Protect Iranian Dissidents?

Each September, like clockwork, a bestiary of the world’s worst rogues and criminal heads of state arrive at the U.N. building on First Avenue to join in the organization’s opening of the 193-member United Nations General Assembly. 

This season, the winner of the contest for “greatest rogue with diplomatic immunity” is, once again, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran – a president with blood on his hands and nukes in his dreams who will get his 8" by 10” glossy photograph of a handshake with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon--and a P.R. platform supported by U.S. tax dollars. 

Despite Ahmadinejad’s infamy as a Holocaust denier and his wild-eyed claim that the September 11 terrorist attacks were a Western conspiracy, it’s a banner year for the Mullahs’ regime, with the Iranian ambassador soon to be seated as vice president of the U.N. General Assembly.

Unfortunately, such diplomatic bon-bons are available only to heads of state, and not to their victims.For the grieving relatives of thousands of Iranian dissidents who have been killed by the Iranian Mullahs -- both in jail and during peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Teheran -- there will be no photo opportunity at the U.N.

Other Iranian dissidents, in the United States and Europe, are also shut out of these rarefied U.N. precincts -- despite their high status in the West as university professors, medical specialists, and entrepreneurs.

The reason is simple: these successful Iranian-American and Iranian-European dissidents have asked that the world organization and its Secretary General protect their less fortunate relatives who are currently held captive at a threatened place in Iraq called Camp Ashraf.

They are, quite simply, trying to prevent a bloodbath, but that is not high on the U.N. agenda. Twice in the last 14 months, Iraqi military forces have attacked the 3,400 unarmed residents at the Ashraf camp -- using U.S.-supplied military equipment -- killing dozens of unarmed protesters and wounding hundreds more. Iraq will likely soon attack again, and use their cache of automatic weapons originally supplied by the U.S. to build the Iraqi army, to finish off the camp inhabitants -- despite the 2004 U.S. promise to them of a protected status as unarmed civilians under the Geneva Conventions.

The reason for this crime is simple: Iraq’s Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to prove his usefulness to Teheran, and the Ashraf residents are anti-Mullah activists. Despite this imminent danger, the American family members of Ashraf victims have not been allowed to see the U.N. Secretary General -- even for a symbolic moment -- amidst his chockablock schedule of handshakes and photo-ops with creatures like Ahmadinejad.

The rebuff comes even though the Ashraf residents and their allies have supplied the international community with much of the key intelligence about the location and progress of the Iranian regime’s program to build a nuclear bomb.

How would the Secretary General explain to these desperate families why the U.N. diplomatic mission in Iraq rarely visits the camp and does not bear witness when attacks are mounted against the unarmed residents, including young women and children? 

Maliki has now announced that after December 31, Iraqi military forces will dismantle Camp Ashraf and scatter the dissidents around Iraq – for a fate easily imagined.

The Secretary General has an opportunity to use his moral platform wisely at the General Assembly, to show some courage and demand that Maliki postpone this “drop dead” deadline, so that the international community has time to work out a happier solution than the one Maliki and Tehran are preparing for the residents of Camp Ashraf, Iraq.

The United States Congress has been aghast at the U.N.'s inaction, on both sides of the aisle. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida cut her teeth fighting Fidel Castro and has made Camp Ashraf a personal issue. Texas Congressman Ted Poe has linked UN appropriations to the demand for protection of Ashraf. 

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee -- who hailed from Jamaica, Queens, across the river from the United Nations, before she moved to Texas -- is equally adamant. Senator John Kerry and Congressman Howard Berman have also condemned the violence against Camp Ashraf in the strongest terms.

The U.S. currently contributes over $6 billion a year to the U.N. at a time of record-high unemployment, skyrocketing deficits, crushing debt, and great economic challenges to our citizens. Ban Ki-moon’s obtuse snub of the Ashraf victims may provoke the Congress to snub the delivery of U.S. dollars to Turtle Bay. Even as the Secretary General talks about the “responsibility to protect” as the U.N.’s new motto, he has refused to give it teeth.

Yet it is within Ban Ki-moon’s power, by the stroke of a pen, to appoint a U.N. Special Representative for Ashraf who will travel to the camp and report on its daily condition.

It is within his power to demand an immediate meeting with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, not to exchange diplomatic niceties but to deliver a warning that the international community will not tolerate another attack on the camp.

And it is within Ban Ki-moon's power to openly express his support for the dissidents in Iran and Iraq who have opposed the brutal regime of the Mullahs.

The American relatives of the Ashraf hostages are also asking the Secretary General and the U.N. mission to hire private security guards -- which they will pay for -- in order to protect the camp's residents and escort the Secretary General's representative for Ashraf. Though the U.S. pays 27 percent of U.N. peacekeeping bills, this will not require any financial contribution from the U.S. or the U.N.

And finally, it is within Ban Ki-moon’s power to tell Maliki that the December 31 deadline for the relocation of Ashraf camp residents must be postponed, for so far, they have nowhere else to go. And let's be clear: when Maliki says deadline, he emphasizes “dead.” Ban Ki-moon could do all this. The question is whether he has the fortitude and simple decency to act boldly and to save the lives of these unarmed men, women and children of Ashraf.

Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge, served as Attorney General of the United States from 2007-09. Ruth Wedgwood is a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on Law and National Security and a former member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.