Participants watch a film at the beginning of a panel discussion on improving the lives of refugees in host countries Sept. 21 at the U.N. Church Center in New York City. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Victims of Islamic State in focus at UN forum

By  Catholic News Agency
  • November 7, 2017
NEW YORK – Persecuted religious minorities in Syria and Iraq deserve a better future after suffering at the hands of the Islamic State group.


That was the message of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the U.N. He said justice for the survivors “demands that we seek to return to them, as much as possible, what Daesh pillaged from them.”

“This means ensuring the conditions for religious and ethnic minorities to return to their places of origin and live in dignity and safety, with the basic social, economic and political frameworks necessary to ensure community cohesion.”

The Holy See and the U.N. NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief co-organized the Nov. 2 event, held at the U.N. building in New York City. The event served as a forum for victims of Islamic State and for the civil society leaders who wanted to hold the group accountable. There was a speakers’ panel with Archbishop Auza; Michael Farris, president of ADF International; and ambassadors from Iraq, Hungary, the U.K., and the U.S.

According to Archbishop Auza, rebuilding homes, schools and houses of worship is a “crucial step.” He praised the assistance of Aid to the Church in Need, the Knights of Columbus, and other groups.

However, this reconstruction is not enough. There must be “foundations for peaceful coexistence.” All these efforts are “restoring hope not only to the region but to the world,” he continued.

“We must, through education, interreligious dialogue, and international leadership make sure that we address the polluted environments in which hatred of the other is fomented, and arduously and perseveringly work to change such cultures into ecologies where human dignity and rights, mutual respect, solidarity, fraternity and peace reign,” he said.

Other speakers included Ekhlas Khudhur Bajoo, a 17-year-old Iraqi woman from the Yazidi ethno-religious group. The Islamic State slaughtered her family and enslaved her for six months before she escaped.

Also speaking was a Syrian man held in captivity by Islmaic State, and psychologically and physically tortured.

Archbishop Auza commented: “We are all justly repelled by the horror stories we have heard about the atrocities committed by Daesh against religious and ethnic minorities… Their stories cannot but move us to action. We wish that what they endured could have been prevented outright, but while we tragically did not stop their sufferings, we can act to bring justice for them and other victims, help them to rehabilitate and rebuild, and do everything we can to prevent similar barbarity from happening to others.”

The archbishop cited the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 2379, adopted Sept. 21, which condemned the Islamic State’s “gross, systematic and widespread attacks directed against civilians” as well as its violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. Such acts may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, the resolution said.

The U.N. Security Council has created a team to investigate crimes committed by the Islamic State group in Iraq.

For Archbishop Auza, the response to Islamic State must include a “rock-solid resolve” to prevent atrocities in the future.

“Those entrusted with protecting the innocent and safeguarding respect for fundamental human rights must live up to their indispensable and inescapable responsibility to defend those in danger of suffering atrocity crimes,” he said.

“Similarly religious leaders have a grave and specific duty to confront and condemn the abuse of religious belief and sentiment to justify violence and terrorism against believers of other religions,” the archbishop said. “They must constantly and unequivocally affirm that no one can justly kill the innocent in God’s name and say a clear and adamant ‘no’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out supposedly in the name of God or religion.”

“It’s not enough to defeat, punish, and disband Daesh. We also must eradicate the pseudo-religious, dehumanizing, hateful, and indeed barbaric ideology that motivates it and similar extremist groups,” he said.

Part of this effort means addressing the social, political and economic issues exploited to recruit and radicalize others. Further, the response must create cultural conditions in which the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are respected. The archbishop stressed the need to defend a citizenship-focused attitude of equality before the law, regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity.

There also must be a right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience that has legal recourse when such rights are violated.

Other forum participants included leaders from ADF International and Aid to the Church in Need.

“It would be better to prevent crimes,” said Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International. “But when crimes cannot be prevented, they must be prosecuted. Otherwise law is shown to be meaningless. The laws that protect freedom of religion are not meaningless, and now is the time to prove it.”

“No person or group should live in fear of being killed, tortured, or oppressed because of their religious beliefs,” he said. While the Islamic State appears to be falling apart, evidence of their atrocities must be collected and preserved and the perpetrators must be held accountable.

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