June 13, 2017
Wilberforce A!ert: The 11th Hour
With every passing day, the likelihood of sustaining Christianity in the cradle of Christendom diminishes. Experts in the field believe that it is currently the 11th hour for the Christian community in Iraq, and if something drastic is not done within the next year, only a remnant will remain.
In a positive move last week, the House unanimously passed H.R. 390, the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act. The bill, which was introduced by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and co-authored by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (CA-18), authorizes the Administration to fund groups that are effectively providing humanitarian aid to genocide survivors, addressing vulnerabilities that might force survivors to flee, identifying warning signs of violence perpetrated against religious minorities, supporting criminal investigations into perpetrators of genocide, and encouraging other foreign governments.
In a press release by Congressman Smith, he noted that:
“On March 9, 2016, the House passed Jeff Fortenberry’s genocide resolution (with a vote of) 393-0. A few days later, Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIS atrocities to be a genocide. Despite this, the existential threat to Christians and Yazidis and other minorities continues to this day.”
With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, and as families continue to feel forgotten in what is about to be their third year of displacement, many are being pressured by their families in the United States, Canada or Australia to leave the region since they have lost all hope in the – so far – empty promises of the West to provide adequate aid in the region.
In addition, there are ever increasing concerns by minorities who have found temporary safety within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as President Masoud Barzani has called for an independence referendum to be held on September 25, 2017. The KRG is an autonomous government in northern Iraq near its borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran. There are roughly 30 million ethnic Kurds in a small area of the region (see map), who are widely recognized as the largest stateless national group in the world. Throughout ISIS’ genocide campaign, many ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq fled to the KRG-controlled area.
In a highly unusual, independent report recently released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Wilting in the Kurdish Sun: The Hopes and Fears of Religious Minorities in Northern Iraq, the Commission acknowledges that in comparison to the rest of the region, the Kurdistan region has provided a safe haven for many religious minorities in Iraq. However, it goes on to state:
“Even so, minority religious and ethnic groups face specific challenges, such a systemic discrimination within the authorities or wider society. In addition, the deteriorating political and economic situation in the region, combined with poorly enforced protections and relatively weak rule of law, could put minorities increasingly at risk in the future.”
Considering that many religious minorities within the KRG appear to remain “second-class citizens,” there are very grave concerns that should the KRG go through with the referendum, the religious minorities will once again be victimized as they are caught in the cross-hairs. If mechanisms such as those required by H.R. 390 are not put in place quickly in order to ensure continued aid, reconstruction and security for these religious groups, we will be out of time and once again, we will have failed our promise of “never again.” It is time we sign legislation into law to help these people before the clock runs out.
Abigail Berg, Director of Government Relations