GENEVA – Religious minorities are among the most vulnerable groups in war-torn regions. The plight of Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS is only one sad and recent example. On 7 March 2018, the Permanent Mission of Poland, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See and ADF International co-hosted an event addressing this worrying problem.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, in the lead up to the side event. “Christian refugees fleeing ISIS told us first hand that they had felt completely abandoned. While the world was watching ISIS and its carnage on YouTube, the international community did very little to protect religious minorities. We should revisit our political and legal mechanisms to ensure that human rights are protected, especially in times of crisis. In the future, we should respond quicker and with more resolve to situations like the genocide of Christians and Yazidis perpetrated by ISIS.”
Religious minorities in armed conflicts
Expert speakers addressed the situation of religious minorities in armed conflicts and identified ways to protect this vulnerable group.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, presented his Annual Report, stressing that no matter the relationship between state and religion, all governments should have the duty to protect religious minorities and guarantee the right to religious freedom to every citizen.
Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See, underscored the importance of protecting and promoting religious freedom in violent regions: “We must seek to guarantee freedom of religion and belief to everyone. This is the first step towards peaceful coexistence.”
Justice and accountability
Farida Abbas, a representative of the Yazidi community and a survivor of ISIS captivity, described the current situation of religious minorities in Iraq: “Thousands of men, women, and children were either killed or abducted. While ISIS forcibly converted children and trained them to become terrorists, women were used as sex slaves. Almost all of our houses, schools, and community buildings were destroyed to prevent that those who fled could ever go back. It is very important to rebuild our villages because many cannot go back as they have nothing to go back to. Even after the threat of ISIS, without protection and support, soon there will be no Yazidis left in Iraq.” She concluded her testimony with a call for justice: “It is my dream to see ISIS brought before an international court.”
Robert Clarke also focused on the need for accountability and justice: “How can people of faith – targeted for their religious identity – feel safe knowing the perpetrators are at large? I had the privilege of spending time with a teenage girl who had suffered unspeakable things at the hands of ISIS fighters. When I asked what she hoped to do in the future, she said she wanted to be a lawyer. More than the gun, she saw the power of the rule of law to safeguard minority religious communities, and its power to hold to account those who think they are above it.”
Protecting the rights of Middle Eastern Christians is a duty
Saja S. Majali, the Permanent Representative of Jordan then addressed the significant role of religious minorities within a society: “The targeting of minorities, mass killings, and beheadings have become a plague in our region. We are facing a mass migration of Christians leaving the Middle East. We have to prevent that. All governments in the Arab world must recognize equal citizenship for everyone. Protecting the rights of Middle Eastern Christians is a duty rather than a favour because of their important role within the Arab society.”
ADF International showed the video “Voices of Erbil” during the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwkru-9_2mA
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