venerdì, dicembre 16, 2016

 

Christians want to be safe

Geoffrey Johnston

Iraq is ground zero for the war on Christians in the Middle East. The war-torn Muslim-majority country has been a killing ground, where Assyrians and other Christians have been targeted for extermination by jihadists.
The jihadist army -- often referred to as the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh -- has systematically perpetrated atrocities against Christians in the service of genocide. Now that Islamic State forces are on the edge of defeat in Iraq, the time has come to investigate and document their crimes against humanity.
Ewelina Ochab is dedicated to bearing witness to the crimes of the Islamic State. She serves as legal counsel for ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) International, a Vienna-based legal organization that advocates "for the right of individuals to freely live out their faith."
In an email interview, Ochab stated that ADF International "has been at the forefront of the legal battle to recognize the ongoing ISIS/Daesh atrocities against Christians in the Middle East such as genocide, having successfully engaged with the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the U.K. Parliament, and many more."

Ethnic cleansing
Assyrians are a distinct ethnic group within the Middle East. They have a rich and ancient culture that is being systematically destroyed. Assyrians are the original indigenous people of Iraq, Syria and parts of Turkey. They are not Arabs.
The vast majority of Iraqi Christians are of Assyrian ethnicity. Within the Assyrian nation, there are many religious denominations, including the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean (Roman Catholic), Syriac (Catholic and Orthodox), Presbyterian, as well as Evangelical.
In 2003, there were approximately 1.4 million Assyrians and other Christians in Iraq. Today there are perhaps only 120,000 left. There can be no doubt that ethnic cleansing and genocide have taken place in Iraq.
Ochab recently travelled to Iraq to meet with Christian survivors of the Islamic State's genocidal campaign and to document the stories of the persecuted.
"In November, I visited Iraq where I met Iraqi Christian internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Erbil," Ochab said. And she met with "a number of families" from Mosul and other communities. She also visited a number of liberated towns and villages, including Quaragosh, Karamless and Bartallah.
In addition, the genocide researcher "also met with several NGOs helping Christians in the Middle East, including SOS Chretiens, a number of NGOs collecting the evidence of the Daesh atrocities, including Shlomo and Hammurabi Human Rights Organisations, and a number of religious leaders."
The ancestral home of Assyrian Christians is located on the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq. "After Daesh took over Nineveh Plain in August 2014, the Iraqi Christians fled to Erbil and other parts of Kurdistan," Ochab said. "Hundreds of Iraqi Christians have left the region for Jordan, Lebanon and other countries. However, there are still many internally displaced Iraqi Christians living in Kurdistan."
According to Ochab, "there are four camps for Iraqi Christians in Erbil." And she found that the Christian IDPs are living in "small metal containers." She said that they receive "some humanitarian assistance" and are "reasonably safe."

Return to Nineveh?
"Those who stayed [in Iraq] the last two years and three months still hope that they would be able to go back to their homes," Ochab said. "However, I have seen their homes on the Nineveh Plain and it seems that they will not be able to return any time soon."
Ochab visited several northern towns, and she reports that they have been "destroyed" by Islamic State forces. "Daesh looted one house after another without leaving any stone unturned. The houses, churches, schools, and shops are looted, burnt down, and damaged."
The jihadists paid special attention to Christian houses of worship. "In every church that I have visited, crosses are broken, the statutes of Jesus and Holy Mary are destroyed, Holy Bibles and books burnt," Ochab said. "The destruction sent a very clear message: Daesh specifically intended to destroy Christianity in the area and everything that Christianity is associated with. This is genocide."
As Iraqi security forces, Kurdish units and Assyrian militias liberate northern Iraq from the death grip of the Islamic State, the full extent of the destruction is slowly being revealed. "It's been over four weeks since some of the towns on the Nineveh Plain have been liberated, however there is still a lot of work before people will be able to go back and start rebuilding their lives," Ochab said.
"The Nineveh Plain Units [Assyrian militias] are checking houses for explosives and Daesh tunnels, and making the safe houses," continued the genocide expert. "Some of the houses destroyed by Daesh would need to be checked whether their construction is safe and sound for people to live in. The Daesh tunnels would have to be sealed off. The list of necessary works goes on."

Justice
After meeting with Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan, Ochab concluded that they "require urgent assistance to be able to move on with their lives. What struck me the most was that no one is interested in what these people have been through. They were unbelievably grateful to talk about their stories with me," she said.
"They said that the rest of the world has forgotten about them," continued Ochab. "However, another issue that resurfaced during my time in Jordan was the lack of organizations or bodies that would document the stories of the victims."
According to the human rights defender, ISIS/Daesh reportedly carried out crucifixions, torture, sexual abuse, murder and kidnappings. "The fact that there is no fact-finding commission that is documenting the atrocities committed by ISIS/Daesh is of concern."
Without a thorough investigation, asserted Ochab, the extent of the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS will never be known.
"Many of the victims do not know where to go, or where to report the atrocities. Many of them also feel let down and discouraged to talk about the atrocities as the world stands by and watches," she said.

Canada responds to genocide
"Canada is appalled by the atrocities and widespread abuses committed by Daesh, including those committed against religious and ethnic communities," Chantal Gagnon, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, stated in an email. Although Gagnon noted that "Yezidis have suffered terrible and particular losses that require special attention," she did not specifically mention Assyrians or other Christian communities in Iraq.
"In the immediate term, it is important that the survivors of these grave abuses are provided with the assistance they need," continued Gagnon. "In particular, women and children who have suffered sexual violence and slavery require urgent psychosocial and medical assistance."
To that end, Canada has been working with humanitarian partners, including the UN and non-governmental organizations, to assist survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Iraq since 2014. "With Canadian support, our partners have established centres in camps and host communities across Iraq, where women and girls are able to access psychosocial support, specialized medical care and legal and other services," Gagnon said. "Support to women and girls affected by violence will remain at the centre of our humanitarian assistance to Iraq in the years to come."

Canada supports criminal investigation
"Through the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs), Canada is currently supporting the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) and its efforts to prepare for the criminal prosecution of breaches of international criminal and humanitarian law committed by Daesh," stated Gagnon. "The Commission for International Justice and Accountability has developed legal case files focusing on Daesh criminality in Syria and Iraq, including sexual slavery."
In addition, the CIJA in Iraq has attempted to bolster the investigative capabilities of the Kurdistan Regional Government's War Crimes Investigative and Prosecutorial Unit. "Some courts in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) have already begun hearing cases relating to these crimes under Iraqi terrorism law," Gagnon said.
"Canada shares the view of the U.S., UN, U.K. and EU, that the situation must be the subject of an independent investigation and determinations of criminal responsibility must be made by a competent court or tribunal," Gagnon said of the crimes perpetrated by Islamic State forces.
In addition, said Gagnon, Dion has written to the president of the UN Security Council on two separate occasions "to request that the UN Security Council establish a mechanism to investigate violations of international law by Daesh in Iraq and Syria, to determine whether these violations constitute acts of genocide or other serious international crimes, to identify the perpetrators of such crimes and measures to ensure accountability, including a referral to the International Criminal Court as appropriate."
The Foreign Affairs minister's representative stated that Canada has "acknowledged international findings from the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations and crimes perpetrated in Syria (COI) that indicate Daesh continues to perpetrate genocide against the Yazidis."
However, the Trudeau government has yet to acknowledge that Assyrians and other Christians in Iraq are victims of genocide. There can be no justice for the survivors of genocide unless the world fully acknowledges the extent of the crimes perpetrated against them by the Islamic State.
"Without a special fact-finding commission, specifically focused on the ISIS/Daesh atrocities, the victims of ISIS/Daesh genocide will not get justice they deserve," Ochab said.

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