The World Council of Churches (WCC) has asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an urgent mission and joint report – including the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief – drawing on the experiences of minority communities in northern Iraq victimized by the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (IS).
The statement comes after a WCC delegation’s visit to the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Peter Prove, the WCC director for international affairs, who led the delegation in Iraq, said upon his return, “We were able to speak to and take testimony from a large number of people displaced from Mosul, the Nineveh Plain and other places now under the control of the IS.”
Prove said, “their stories tell of the Islamic State’s inhumanly brutal, violent, coercive and repressive efforts to eliminate any and all diversity in society in the region.” He stressed the need for a “clear international commitment to maintaining and protecting religious diversity in Iraq”.
The WCC statement urges the Human Rights Council to promote increased humanitarian support for the displaced population, and recommends a further binding Security Council resolution containing effective measures to deprive IS of financial and material support.
The statement was presented at the UN Human Rights Council Special Session on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq on Monday 1 September at the UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland.
The statement calls attention to the plight of approximately 100 people known to have remained in Qaraqosh – a town taken by IS. “These people are indeed being held captive…. We will be providing to OHCHR a list we have received of names of some of these people for whatever urgent attention the UN system can give to these cases,” reads the statement.
Based on findings from the WCC delegation’s visit to Iraq, the statement highlights the situation of women. “We fear especially for the women and girls in this group, having heard accounts of women held captive in cages, and bought and sold as slaves by IS jihadis.”
While in Iraq the WCC delegates met with displaced people from Christian, Yazidi and Kaka’i (Sufi) communities, as well as with church leaders. They observed initiatives by local NGOs in distribution of essential food and non-food items to the displaced persons. They also met with people in emergency camps and shelters provided by the local churches.
Human rights violations
Beyond the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the WCC raises concern about the collective suffering of religious minorities and longer-term consequences of these events. “IS is destroying – indeed, in the areas under its control, has already destroyed – the presence and very identity of the religious minorities, tearing the social fabric and heritage of inter-religious co-existence in the region.”
The statement points out that the city of Mosul, which has been the home of Christians since the dawn of Christianity, has been emptied of its indigenous Christian population, while churches, monasteries and sacred texts were being destroyed.
“Neutralizing the aggressive military capacity of IS, and rooting out its poisonous ideology, should be of utmost importance to the entire international community, but especially to our brothers, sisters and friends in Islam, in whose name IS commits its atrocities,” the statement reads.
The statement also urges an “end to the culture of impunity in Iraq and in the whole region” while suggesting a special tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria.
The WCC, which represents 345 member churches around the world, has on several occasions expressed solidarity with the Christians, Yazidis and members of other religious and ethnic communities in Iraq faced by violence at the hands of IS.
In an appeal to the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the WCC’s associate general secretary, asked him to help “ensure the physical protection of all people there and support for their human rights including the right to religious liberty”.
CCIA statement for Special Session on Human Rights Situation in Iraq
Prayers and solidarity for churches in Northern Iraq(WCC news release of 8 August 2014)
Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
WCC programme on human rights
Solidarity with churches in the Middle East