The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) views with grave concern the acts of violence, killings, and forced displacement perpetrated by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) within the territories they are controlling. These wide scale abuses restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of Syrian and Iraqi citizens, and it is with particular concern that we condemn the most recent actions of ethnic cleansing against Christians. In a tragic escalation of events, Christians in Mosul have been issued an ultimatum to denounce their religion and convert to Islam, to pay a tax, to leave the city, or to face imminent execution. As a result, hundreds of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes in communities where their families have been present for centuries.
Although U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that the persecution of Iraqi Christians could constitute a crime against humanity, these events have none the less largely passed without international outcry, or the implementation of any practical steps to end these atrocities.
As a human rights organization, we join with other voices of conscience to condemn in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of minority populations in Iraq by ISIS and associated armed groups. Furthermore, we reiterate the fact that any systematic attack on the civilian population or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity.
As a Palestinian human rights organization, the HRA represents communities with a shared history of persecution and displacement. Given our position, we are compelled to act in solidarity with Iraqi citizens who are facing a similar curtailment of basic rights and freedoms.
Iraq’s Christian communities date back to the first century and until their forced exodus over the weekend, they had been continuously present in Mosul for approximately 16 centuries. Before the 2003 U.S. invasion, more than a million Christians lived in Iraq, including more than 600,000 in Baghdad, 60,000 in Mosul, and a substantial number in Kirkuk and in Basra. Since then, the Christian community has been a frequent target for militants, and attacks on churches, worshippers and clergymen have prompted many to leave the country. Church officials now estimate the size of the community to stand at approximately 450,000.
The HRA affirms the historical fact that Iraqi Christians are a major component of Iraq’s national ethnic makeup. They took part in building their old civilization, and continue to rebuild their nation as citizens in cooperation with other ethnic groups. They are looking for a national unity which brings into it all ethnic groups of Iraq; to live in harmony, tolerance, reconciliation and equality.
The HRA emphasizes that the current conflict is not rooted in religion, and that ISIS do not represent the values of Islam or the Muslim population. Rather what we are seeing is indiscriminate wide scale oppression of anyone who opposes the authority of ISIS, which hasn’t been restricted to just Christians.
The HRA calls on the international community to take a responsible stand in supporting the rights of Iraqis, who have in the past decades endured foreign occupation and internal violence, to live now in peace, dignity and with full respect for their human rights. At this critical time, we especially call for support of the Christian communities, to enable them to live as full equal citizens, in their home country without risk of violence or dispossession. Finally, we call on the Iraqi Government to take a firm approach and effective action to protect its Christian citizens in Mosul and to facilitate the return of people to their homes and work in a safe environment.