A hearing on the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria was convened Wednesday at the U.S. House of Representatives.
Entitled Genocidal Attacks Against Christian and Other Religious Minorities in Syria and Iraq, the hearing was sponsored by Chris Smith, U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 4th congressional district, and was attended by other members of the House.
According to the Assyrian news agency AINA, Congressman Smith underlined that Christians, along with other religious minorities Yezidis, Shabaks, and Turkmen Shiites “are facing annihilation–genocide–by fanatics who see anyone who does not subscribe to its draconian and violent interpretation of Islam as fair game for enslavement, forced conversion or death.” (full statement).
In her testimony Pascale Warda, President of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and former Minister of Immigration and Refugees in the Iraqi Government, recommended that the Nineveh Plains be made a safe haven, protected by an international force to stabilize the region, and that all displaced persons be compensated for their property and income losses. She also advocated an autonomous region for Assyrian Christians and Yazidis, and the creation of Assyrian Christian and Yazidi manned units within Iraqi police, military, security and other institutions.
Johnny Oram, president of Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce of California and speaking on behalf of Patriarch Louis Sako, said the international community must immediately intervene to provide direct humanitarian aid to the displaced Christians and other minorities in the regions of Erbil and Dohuk, and likewise argued for international protection of Christians and other minorities in the Nineveh Plains.
Peter Galbraith, a former advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government, urged the West recognize that ISIS is committing genocide and inflicting intolerable physical conditions “with the announced intent of destroying the Christian and Yazidi religious groups in their entirety”.
Noting the Sept. 11 memorial, Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, said: “What we are facing in Iraq and Syria today has deeply troubling similarities to 9/11, both in its origins and its threat to American national security” but the difference is that while Christians in the Middle East were under mounting pressure in 2001, today “their very existence is at risk.”
Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, stressed that the Iraqi people need and deserve a government that not only represents all of their voices but also provides basic government services and security.
In her testimony, Anne Richard, also assistant secretary in the same bureau, highlighted the extent of the refugee problem: the UNHCR estimates that the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq now host more than one million people, a mix of displaced Iraqis (850,000) and Syrian refugees (215,000).
Thomas Staal of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said ISIS violence is enflaming sectarian violence and singled out its abhorrent treatment of women and children as unconscionable. “These circumstances demand–and are receiving–our focused attention and utmost effort,” he said.
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