Iraqi Christian Leader Makes Direct Appeal at UN

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Patriarch Sako compares current crisis to 1915 Armenian genocide
John Burger (253)
The leader of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholics at the United Nations in New York today urged international leaders to support his country’s government in a drive for “the liberation of all Iraqi cities.”

For the first time, the UN Security Council devoted a debate to the persecution of minorities under attack by jihadists, according to ANSAMed, a service of the Italian news agency ANSA. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius chaired the debate, which included Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad Louis Raphael I Sako, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and, by video-conference from Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein.

“Frankly, the so-called Arab Spring impacted negatively on us,” Patriarch Sako told the meeting. He said that Muslim extremists are unwilling to tolerate other faiths, and conditions have deteriorated for religious minorities.

“At the same time, it is important to understand that these terroristic acts should not be generalized to all Muslims,” Patriarch Sako said. “In fact, there is a silent and peaceful majority of Muslims that reject such politicization of the religion.”

The Iraqi prelate cautioned that military action alone cannot solve the problems facing the country, according to Catholic Culture. He urged a concerted effort to counter religious extremism, end support for terrorists, and ensure the restoration of the rule of law.

In the absence of effective action, the Patriarch said, the situation could easily become more dangerous, and violence could escalate.

“Millions of children and young people are deprived of schools and education,” he said. “Millions of refugees are being in camps without care and attention. The growing frustration, unemployment and poverty could easily develop an atmosphere of revenge and extremism.”

ANSA noted that France holds the alternating presidency of the security council, and chose to focus on the issue after reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations by ISIS. Those are now well known and include the expulsion of Christians from their ancestral homes, the attack on the Yezidis, the killings of Kurds, the hostage-taking of hundreds of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in northeastern Syria and the decapitation of 21 men, including 20 Coptic Christians, in Libya. “The deliberate destruction of religious sanctuaries and archaeological finds as well as illicit trafficking by ISIS to finance terrorism activities also played a part in the reason for the Security Council meeting,” the report said.

Following France’s announcement early this month that a UN Security Council meeting would be held on the issue, a joint declaration was made on March 13 by the Vatican, Russia and Lebanon to the Geneva Human Rights Council, undersigned by 65 UN member states calling on the international community to support all ethnic and religious communities that have their roots in the Middle East. These communities, it continued, are threatened by ISIS, Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups and Christians are at risk of disappearing from the area entirely. Christian authorities have in recent months spoken out against the lack of response from the international community on violence by ISIS, which even the Pope has called for ”proportional” force to be used against.

Here is the full text of Patriarch Sako’s UN address, sent to AsiaNews:

On behalf of Christians of different ethnic and cultural denominations who are facing and enduring severe trial in the Middle East, I extend my thanks to the French government for leading this humanitarian initiative, especially to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs H. E. Laurent Fabius.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you may know, this year is the centenary of the massacres against Christians in 1915. Now a hundred years later, we are living a similar catastrophic situation, which pushes many families to leave the country. It is a big loss for all. Frankly, the so-called Arab Spring impacted negatively on us. While if we had the opportunity of working in harmony with the mosaic of religions and ethnic groups in our region, there would have been a driving force in the region towards peace, stability and progress.

From this tribune, I would like to convey a message inspired by the spiritual and humanitarian values: The positive coexistence, on the basis of justice and peace in the spirit of love and citizenship, should remain at the upper level of priorities for the Security Council and the United Nations.

With regards to my country, I call for supporting the Central Government and the Regional Government of Kurdistan towards the liberation of all Iraqi cities and for us Christians, Yezidis and Shabaks especially the city of Mosul as well as the towns in the Nineveh plain and villages; providing an International Protection for their inhabitants, who were forced to be displaced from their homes (Secure Zone); and promulgating a Real Estate and Property Law that ensure their rights in their lands, and enabling them to return home and resume their lives in a normal way. There is also a responsibility for the Central Government to compensate them for the damages incurred.

The major problem lies in understanding the different factors of state: religion, citizenship, individuals, community, the role of woman and the national education, in order to live together in peace and respect.

The Islamic extremist groups refuse to live with non-Muslims. They are persecuting and uprooting them from their homes and erasing their history (the memory). It is an ideological crisis and a way to monopolize the power, disabling institutions and restricting freedom.

This horrifying situation needs to establish principles, based on international laws, aiming to prevent this catastrophic discrimination against the human being and the mankind.

At the same time, it is important to understand that these terroristic acts should not be generalized to all Muslims. In fact, there is a silent and peaceful majority of Muslims that reject such politicization of the religion; they are accepting to live a common life with others within the civil state and according to the law.

Peace and stability cannot be achieved solely by military actions; as they are unable to dismantle this clustered way of thinking that destroys human beings and stones – the civilization.

This indicates that the international community including the Arab League and the Conference of the Islamic Countries are required to take legal decisions and definitive measures. This could be achieved by adopting political, cultural and educational solutions. These solutions should be appropriate to protect the national mosaic represented by individuals, persons and groups regardless of their religion and ethnic background. They have to safeguard the rights of all citizens and strengthen the relations among them.

Particular attention should be paid to a more significant threat. Millions of children and young people are deprived of schools and education. Millions of refugees are being in camps without care and attention. The growing frustration, unemployment and poverty could easily develop an atmosphere of revenge and extremism. Therefore there is the necessity to take care of these refugees responding to their needs and decreasing their pain.

A practical process is proposed to get out of this vicious cycle:

1. To claim, through the United Nations, the executive policy-based on updating of the constitutions and laws. This would promote justice, equality and dignity for all, as citizens without discriminating a group in a favor of another. It is imperative that our countries acquire civil governments where equality is granted among all citizens. These governments are responsible for the protection of all individuals and preserve the integral rights of all their citizens.

2. To encourage religious leaders so as to adopt a moderate discourse that deepens the sense of citizenship. They have to adopt a culture of belonging to their country and not exclusively to their religious denominations or tribes. A necessary factor is the reform of educational programs that would enhance the principles of respect between citizens and promote tolerance and communication. This would condemn division, hatred and spirit of revenge. All this will protect generations from the consequences of extremism, violence and terrorism. In order to achieve this, the Religious Hierarchy has to present an appropriate exegetic explanation of the religious texts, with zero tolerance to extracting the religious texts from their contexts.

3. To pass a law that criminalizes all states and individuals who support terrorist groups financially or intellectually or with arms, and held them accountable, and consider their acts as a crime towards social peace.

4. To promote the development of organizations for human rights and civil society. These organizations should be supported such that they don’t only have a consulting role, but rather an executive one and thus on both levels: the regional and the international one.