(CNSNews.com) – Iraqi Christian leaders are lobbying European lawmakers Tuesday as part of an international campaign aimed at getting Western governments to take the minority’s predicament seriously.
Advocates argue that members of the U.S.-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in 2003 have a particular responsibility to put pressure on today’s Iraqi leaders to provide security for Christians directly targeted by terrorists.
Last week Iraqi Christians, in keeping with local tradition, marked a 40-day commemoration of those killed in the deadliest single act of violence against the minority since the fall of Saddam.
The Oct. 31 attack on
In claiming responsibility, al-Qaeda in
Christian denominations in
A 1987 census recorded 1.4 million Christians in
The delegation visiting the European Parliament this week is led by the Syrian Catholic archbishop of
Last weekend representatives from 16 Christian organizations met in
An English translation of the meeting declaration, provided to CNSNews Tuesday, said the autonomous region must include “an indigenous parliament and a security force.”
The Nineveh Plain is a rural area near
Barnabas Fund director Patrick Sookhdeo quoted Monday from a letter sent by a church leader working with Iraqi Christian refugees in
“Their conditions are no longer bearable,” the letter said. “The people are living behind locked doors, they are compelled to take long leaves of absence from work, in
Sookhdeo said governments and Christians in the West need to hear the message urgently.
“This Christmas the Christians in
“What is crystal clear is that the international community cannot wash its hands of this beleaguered minority.”
‘No Obama policy’
Christians say their plight is being ignored by the Shi’ite government in
Advocacy groups demonstrated near the White House on December 4, calling on the Obama administration to do more to support the minority.
Campaigners frequently point to a letter then Sen. Barack Obama sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in September 2007, asking what steps the Bush administration was taking to protect – and to press the government in
“The severe violations of religious freedom faced by members of these indigenous communities, and their potential extinction from their ancient homeland, is deeply alarming in light of our mission to bring freedom to the Iraqi freedom,” the Democratic presidential hopeful wrote.
In contrast to that expression of concern, a brief White House statement issued in response to the Our Lady of Salvation attack did not even identify the victims as Christians or note that the killings took place in a church.
(Ten days later, after further violence including bombings targeting Shi’ites in Najaf and Karbala, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer issued a condemnatory statement which referred both to those attacks and to the earlier ones “against Christians in Baghdad in their homes and in their churches.”)
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center on Religious Freedom, wrote on National Review Online Monday that the “obliteration” of Iraq’s Christian presence was “an unintended consequence of the U.S. invasion but has never been factored in as a U.S. strategic concern.”
“There is no Obama policy, not even a safe-haven or refugee policy, designed specifically to help
‘Climate of impunity’
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent statutory body, has been calling since late 2008 for
The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act provides for the designation of governments violating religious freedom or tolerating abuses as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), paving the way for policy options including sanctions.
In its latest annual report, the USCIRF repeated its call for CPC designation, saying
“Perpetrators of such attacks [on religious minorities] are rarely identified, investigated, or punished, creating a climate of impunity,” it said.
In its annual religious freedom report, issued last month, the State Department confirmed that few perpetrators of attacks on Christians were punished, but also noted that the Iraqi government “has called for tolerance and acceptance of all religious minorities.”
“[T]he prime minister, along with other high-ranking government officials and political party leaders, made numerous public statements in support of the country’s religious minority communities,” it said.
At the report’s release, the department’s top human rights official, Michael Posner, said the U.S. government had “repeatedly spoken to government leaders in Iraq” about the situation and would “continue to be vigilant.”
‘We helped create the situation’
In a country that joined the
AUA representatives lobbied the government in
The AUA has won support from a federal lawmaker who is also a whip in the ruling Labor Party, Chris Hayes, who in a speech in parliament last month called for a more compassionate response to Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in Australia.
“Unless we can assure these people of their future safety free of threat or terrorism, then as a group they certainly must be considered to be refugeed from their traditional lands and must be considered for repatriation,” he said.
“By being part of the coalition of the willing we helped create this situation, and it is now our responsibility, with our other coalition partners, to deal with the consequences.”
AUA deputy secretary-general Hermiz Shahen told CNSNews Tuesday that although he believed most lawmakers the organization had met with were sympathetic, statements issued by the foreign ministry over the past seven years were “unpromising.”
In a letter to the AUA last June, the foreign ministry said Australian officials in