By Marlo Safi
A damaged statue of the Virgin Mary at a church in Qaraqosh, east of Mosul, Iraq, November 2016. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
The designation of ‘genocide’ would free up the flow of much-needed aid to some of the world’s most persecuted people.
This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council began its third (and last) regular session of the year, where a major ally of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians will again implore the U.N. to recognize the genocide of Syrian and Iraqi Christians.
At the 39th UNHRC session, which runs from September 10 to September 28, the European Centre for Law and Justice will be presenting an appeal to the Council to recognize ISIS’s ongoing, rampant persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria as a “genocide,” as it’s enshrined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is the American Center for Law and Justice’s European affiliate, and it has been a consistent advocate for persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Their testimony at this session will be their seventh declaring that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities. Before this, their most recent testimony was May 25, when they requested that the U.N. appoint a special adviser to lead an investigative team to collect and preserve evidence of the genocide.
According to their written statement for the September 10th session, the declaration of genocide is necessary because it allows for aid that is otherwise unavailable for the victims, and it allows the U.N. to take the steps necessary to “fully halt the genocide and fulfill its responsibility to protect the victims.”
While many ISIS-controlled areas have been liberated in Syria and Iraq, Christians are returning to destitute towns without electricity, water, or a sense of security, with the threat of terror still looming.
“The reality is we cannot stay without the U.S. or the U.N. helping to protect Nineveh directly,” Father Afram al-Khoury Benyamen told Fox News after Sunday Mass in 2017 at St. George Cathedral, a 133-year-old church in Bahzani, Iraq. “With international protection, maybe we can remain, but if it doesn’t come soon . . . we go.”
According to a study by Aid to the Church in Need, the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior and is more violent now than at any other period in modern time. Between the onset of the Syrian war in 2012 and 2017, the number of Christians dropped from 1.5 million to 500,000. In Aleppo, Syria, which was home to Syria’s largest Christian population, numbers fell from 150,000 to 35,000 by the spring of 2017, which is a drop of more than 75 percent. In Iraq, over half of the country’s Christians are internal refugees, and the report predicts that Christianity in Iraq could be effectively wiped out by 2020 if the population continues to decline as it has in the past two years.
Aid to the Church also accuses the U.N. and Western media of neglecting persecuted Christians: “At a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, it is ironic that in much of the secular media there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians.”
While the U.N. did appoint the special adviser, as the ECLJ requested, the U.N.’s declaration of the persecution of Christians in the region as “genocide” would be the most consequential step in facilitating and achieving lasting resettlement for the victims.
ISIS’s crimes against Christians include beheadings, burning victims alive in caskets, and rape. “No one cares about us, like we are not human,” said one Christian survivor about the U.N.’s inaction.
The Christians in Iraq and Syria are considered some of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world, and in Iraq, the Assyrians and Chaldean Christians are the indigenous people and speak Eastern Aramaic. Thomas the Apostle and Mar Addai brought Christianity to Iraq in the first century. Residents of Syria’s ancient Christian town of Maaloula also speak Aramaic, the language of Christ; Maaloula is among the last communities in the world to speak the nearly extinct language.
“The U.N. must defend the rights of all religious minorities, including the Christians in Iraq, Syria, and any other place where ISIS has been engaging in genocide — without delay,” notes the ECLJ testimony for the current session. “The very mission of this organization requires nothing less.”