Opening Remarks of His Excellency Archbishop Bernardito Auza
at the side event on “Peace, Reconciliation and Justice:
The Future of Religious and Ethnic Minorities Victimized by Daesh”
United Nations, New York, 2 November 2017
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Speakers, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to this event on Peace, Reconciliation and Justice for the religious and ethnic minorities victimized by Daesh, which the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See is sponsoring together with the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the humanitarian NGO Roads of Success, represented here today by its Vice President, Jacqueline Isaac.
I welcome, in a particular way, the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations, Ambassador Mohamed Hussein Bahr Al Uloom; the Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations, Ambassador Katalin Bogyay; the Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, Ambassador Jonathan Allen; and the Representative of the United States to the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Kelley Currie. Thank you for your much appreciated participation today.
We are all justly repelled by the horror stories we have heard about the atrocities committed by Daesh against religious and ethnic minorities. Today we will hear, in person and via video, from those who have survived these attacks. Their stories cannot but move us to action. We wish that what they endured could have been prevented outright, but while we tragically did not stop their sufferings, we can act to bring justice for them and other victims, help them to rehabilitate and rebuild, and do everything we can to prevent similar barbarity from happening to others.
On September 21, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2379 in which it detailed and condemned what it called Daesh’s “gross, systematic and widespread attacks directed against civilians” and “violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights.” It specified what those attacks, violations and abuses were: “murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, suicide bombings, enslavement, sale into or otherwise forced marriage, trafficking in persons, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, recruitment and use of children, attacks on critical infrastructure, as well as its destruction of cultural heritage, including archaeological sites, and trafficking of cultural property.” It stated that such acts, which it said constitute part of Daesh’s strategic objectives and ideology, “may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide” and expressed its determination to hold accountable those who have committed these atrocities. And it requested the Secretary-General to establish an Investigative Team headed by a Special Advisor to support domestic efforts to hold Daesh accountable. We will hear much more about that today from Member States who have been taking a leading role in this effort of justice and accountability.
The international community must respond to the outrages systematically committed by Daesh also with a rock-solid resolve to prevent similar future abominations from recurring. Those entrusted with protecting the innocent and safeguarding respect for fundamental human rights must live up to their indispensable and inescapable responsibility to defend those in danger of suffering atrocity crimes.
Similarly religious leaders have a grave and specific duty to confront and condemn the abuse of religious belief and sentiment to justify violence and terrorism against believers of other religions; they must constantly and unequivocally affirm that no one can justly kill the innocent in God’s name and say a clear and adamant “no” to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out supposedly in the name of God or religion.
It’s not enough to defeat, punish, and disband Daesh. We also must eradicate the pseudo-religious, dehumanizing, hateful, and indeed barbaric ideology that motivates it and similar extremist groups. Part of doing so involves addressing the social, political and economic issues that demagogues exploit to recruit and radicalize others. It also entails creating the cultural conditions for the rights of religious and ethnic minorities to be respected. Even in places where one religion is accorded special constitutional status, the right of all to equality before the law based on the principle of citizenship regardless of one’s religion, race or ethnicity, must be recognized and defended, and must be the right to freedom of religion or conscience, and to appropriate means for recourse when their rights are violated.
Cultures that do not ensure these rights can become, recent history has shown, the incubators for the type of xenophobia that can devolve into discrimination, persecution, violence, and eventually the types of atrocity crimes we cannot and must not allow to be repeated. We must, through education, interreligious dialogue, and international leadership make sure that we address the polluted environments in which hatred of the other is fomented, and arduously and perseveringly work to change such cultures into ecologies where human dignity and rights, mutual respect, solidarity, fraternity and peace reign.
Finally, justice for the survivors also demands that we seek to return to them, as much as possible, what Daesh pillaged from them. This means ensuring the conditions for religious and ethnic minorities to return to their places of origin and live in dignity and safety, with the basic social, economic and political frameworks necessary to ensure community cohesion. It is not enough to rebuild homes, schools and houses of worship, which is a crucial step, as is happening in various towns in the Nineveh Plain thanks to the generosity of governments like Hungary or charitable organizations like Aid to the Church in Need or the Knights of Columbus. What is also needed is to rebuild society by laying the foundations for peaceful coexistence. Today I am very happy that we will be able to hear first hand about that multilevel rebuilding work from governments and civil society organizations that are present and doing the work on the ground, which is restoring hope not only to the region but to the world.
Thank you once again for coming today.