Iraqi church leader asks UN council to help stop Christian persecution

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by Joni B. Hannigan
REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako speaks during an interview in Baghdad, February 28, 2015. Iraqi Christians say they have no intention of leaving the country despite the recent abduction of over 100 Assyrian Christians by the Islamic State.
NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) — Pointing to the jihad that Muslim extremists have waged against Christians, the leader of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholics addressed the United Nations today, urging international leaders to support the government of Iraq in liberating “all Iraqi cities.”

“Frankly, the so-called Arab Spring impacted negatively on us,” Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako told UN delegates, according to Catholic World News. Muslim extremists are not willing to tolerate people of other faiths, and conditions have declined for religious minorities, he added.
Iraq and Syrian refugees who have fled attacks by Islamic State. In Iraq, approximately 1.9 million have been displaced internally as they flee violence and persecution by ISIL, according to the International Gulf Organization (IGO) for Human Rights. These IDPs are in serious need in the refugee camps.

The security council met at the request of the France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, according to “A Demand for Action,” a grassroots organization that raises awareness about issues faced by Christian people (including Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs) along with Yazidis and other threatened minorities of Iraq and Syria.

France currently chairs the council and the talk at the UN was the first addressing the persecution of Christians, Asia News reported.

Sako noted this year marks the hundredth anniversary of the 1915 massacre of nearly 3 million Christians in the Middle East, and told UN delegates, “Now a hundred years later, we are living a similar catastrophic situation, which pushes many families to leave the country.”

Sako called for a “secure zone” with “international protection” and liberation for Mosul and the villages of the surrounding Nineveh plain where inhabitants were forced from their homes for their beliefs.

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

Painting the scene as one where “Islamic extremist groups refuse to live with non-Muslims,” Sako called it an “ideological crisis” that is not “generalized to all Muslims.”

Some families are scattered in an evangelical church in Baghdad that just a few months ago was full to overflowing. Persecution of Christian believers has caused a mass exodus from throughout Iraq.

“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 live with others within the civil sate and according to the law.”

Sako’s lengthy address asserts “peace and stability cannot be achieved solely by military actions” and calls attention to the “more significant threat” posed by “millions of children and young people [who] are deprived of schools and education. Millions of refugees are being in camps without care and attention.”

These conditions, he warned, could “easily develop an atmosphere of revenge and extremism.”

The patriarch proposed four solutions:

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 favour 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.