Date of Meeting: 28 Apr 2016

Meeting Organizer: Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, in collaboration with CitiznesGo, Mas Libres, and In Defense of Christians

ISJC Staff Present: Robert Docter, Luke Cozens

Reporter: Robert Docter, Luke Cozens

Which SDG does this topic cover? 16

Type of meeting: Opening event for the International Congress on Religious Freedom 

Brief summary of presentation of information made

Moderator: Archbishop Bernardito Auza

Opening Remarks: H.E. Ufuk Gokcen, The Permanent Observer of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to the UN

  • Ambassador opened with references to his 2013 articles from The Huffington Post (linked below), about the political dialogue in which the Holy See can be very valuable.
  • Stressed the emphasis of the numerous human rights violations towards Christians and other religious minorities in Syria, and parts of the Middle East, particular the areas under Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) control.
  • Christians are an integral part of the social fabric of this area, which rich history – eliminating this culture is harmful not only for Christians but for everyone.
  • Pluralism, multiculturalism, coexistence, and peace are the essential components that this area can capitalize and grow upon.
  • Quotes the Marrakesh Declaration – a legal framework and a call to action for the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries – signed on by 250 Muslim religious leaders, heads of state, and scholars. (A link for the declarations details is provided at the end of this report)
  • Closes with the emphasis that these actions do not resemble Islam – and shouldn’t be seen so. These are actions based off false beliefs.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus

  • “In wake of the largest humanitarian crisis since WWII”
  • This is a situation that requires a global, inclusive effort from all peoples.
  • The Knights of Columbus raised ten-million dollars in 2014 for relief efforts to those religiously persecuted in the Middle East. They also work to advocate declarations, and public awareness
  • that this situation is genocide. It matches the traits of as genocide – targeted mass casualties, widespread rape, violence, expulsion, and forced conversion to name a few.
  • The Syrian Christian population has shrunk from 1.5 million to 500,000 within the last five years – shrinkage of 2/3. This is due to those fleeing refuge, safety, forced conversion, and deaths.
  • Along with Christians and other religious minorities, Indigenous peoples of Syria are vulnerable to genocide.
  • Knights of Columbus calls for the United Nations High Commission to increase relief efforts to find missing Christians – where many Christians are fearful of even entering refugee camps.
  • This genocide needs to be tackled from multiple angles, including the overarching social and economic inequality.
  • References Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”

Lars Adaktusson, Swedish Member of the European Parliament

  • There’s been a difficulty addressing the issue of genocide, and saying that it targets Christians. This is due to the history of Christian colonialism – and the negative connotation it carries. Therefore, it makes people uneasy along with being afraid in not being “politically correct”.

Thomas Farr, Director of ‘Religious Freedom Project’ at Berkeley Center for Religion

  • Draws the focus in global security, not just rescuing religious minorities – this issue affects everyone.
  • The role of faith-based organizations have been doing a lot of the ground work in the conflict zones of the Middle East in assisting religious minorities. This is helpful for safety and assistance – where many Christians and other minorities are unable to work due to discrimination and fear. Religious Freedom Project works to help those in these situations.
  • Acknowledges European Parliament, Pope Francis, and others calling this a “genocide” as of recent. Article of that by The Guardian is below in the links section.
  • Suggested that the fight against ISIS constituted a “just war” and said he hoped the Vatican would make an official announcement to that effect.
  • Emphasized the importance in not only stopping the atrocities, but combatting the root causes that led to ISIS and other terrorists groups rise in power. Said that even if ISIS is decisively defeated the root causes will remain and may lead to similar groups in future.
  • Noted that the flight of Christians and other religious minorities from these areas meant a loss of religious pluralism which would he suggested would be bad for Muslims and for Islam.
  • Suggested that one possibility would be the creation of an autonomous, pluralistic, multi-religious “safe zone” but noted many difficulties with this proposal including the possibility that Christians would not want to come to such a zone.
  • Concluded that although there are no easy solutions we cannot do nothing and we need a plan for a post-ISIS future.

H.E. Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, Bishop of Kafanchan, Nigeria

  • Began by suggesting that Christians do not believe in reprisals, revenge or vendetta,
  • Explained that 35million Christians in the Northern region of Nigeria are facing persecution, representing 31% of that population. Lamented that this was not made know to the international community.
  • Explained that Sharia law was inserted into the constitution and was difficult to remove creating what he called a “dual ideology” pitting Shari law against democracy.
  • Noted that 61% of Christians killed in 2014 were Nigerian according to an online Newspaper.
  • Said that interreligious dialogue is essential and that the international community needs facts rather than propaganda.

Carl & Marsha Mueller, Parents of Kayala Mueller, a young aid worker and ISIS/Daesh hostage who was killed in Syria

  • Detailed their daughter’s story. They understood that her last 5 months were spent as a personal hostage of a senior leader in horrific conditions. They do not know how she died.
  • Expressed the wish that the world could see the truth.

Fr. Douglas Al-Bazi, Chaldean Catholic Church parish priest kidnapped by ISIS, Erbil, Iraq

  • Explained that Christians have been in Iraq for nearly 2000 years but that numbers are rapidly decreasing. Said that in 2003 there were over 1.5 million Christians in Iraq but that now there are less than 300,000.
  • Noted that the UK House of Commons had labelled the situation as genocide.
  • Noted that many lament the cultural loss of a decreasing Christian population in Iraq but said that primarily the loss is of the Iraqi Christians themselves who are living thinking human beings.

Sr. María de Guadalupe, Missionary in Syria

  • Shared the story of her time as a missionary in Syria as part of 18 years missionary service in the Middle East.
  • Said that armed groups arrived overnight in Syria, they quickly ran out of resources and fuel, had running water for only two hours every ten days, tried to feed millions using canned supplies, nowhere was safe, Christian neighborhoods were particular targets. Children collected bullets as they were so prevalent on the streets.
  • “We have to pray, they need our prayers”
  • Asked that we tell the world what is happening, said we need to help.

Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, Academic

  • Details the genocide characteristics affecting women – the sexualized violence that comes in genocides – a cultural and biological component of it in order to take away deep bonds and culture. The intent to destroy body, identity, heart, and soul.
  • There are currently 1804 captured women and girls held by ISIS.
  • Details the destruction of religious sites in conflict zones of the Middle East – where 70% of Yazidi shrines are believed to be destroyed.

Jackeline Isaac, VP of Roads of success, and Lawyer

  • Shared her experiences on the grounds of Iraq and Egypt where “girls were treated like merchandise”, and many girls and women committed suicide due to trauma.
  • Shared gruesome stories of the sexualized violence, violence against mothers and children, and the psychological trauma it instilled on the communities.
  • Calling it genocide by European Parliament is a step towards justice and a step in the healing process. Goal is to get this to Security Council to UN to sign on.

Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Archbishop from Aleppo, Syria

  • Christians are in grave danger – and the most important goal is to restore a peace that once existed between the majority Muslim population in harmony with Christians and other religious minorities.
  • Christians are victims of this destructive war. Extreme hunger and food supplies being cut off, little health provisions.
  • Calling for “Freedom to be Muslim, Freedom to be Christian”
  • Closing remarks from Pope Francis letter: “we must be protagonists of change”

What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

  • The Salvation Army may want to consider publishing an ethical reflection on the situation in Syria.
  • Continued help is needed in both Syria and Nigeria and public attention is needed on both.
  • The Salvation Army working to provide support to Christians and other religious minorities in the areas – many of whom are afraid to find and receive services.

Web links for more information

Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen published articles on The Huffington Post

Marrakesh Declaration

The Guardian Article on genocide in Middle East – “Calls grow to label attacks on Middle East Christians as genocide”

Knights of Columbus Report submitted to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Tags: United Nations, SDG16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions