Advocates delivered hundreds of thousands of signatures to the United Nations on Friday, calling on the body to declare that genocide is occurring against Christians and other religious minorities.
“We’re here at the United Nations headquarters to file more than 400,000 signatures from citizens from all over the world asking the Security Council of the United Nations to declare what’s happening right now with ISIS in Syria and Iraq a genocide,” Ignacio Arsuaga, president of the advocacy group CitizenGO, stated at a Friday press conference outside the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
The petition asked the U.N. to “take a step forward to protect Christians and other religious minorities that live there,” so that “religious freedom may prevail in that region of the world.” It was delivered to the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.
Religious leaders like Nigerian Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri and Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria joined representatives of CitizenGO outside the U.N. The event was part of a three day-long conference on international religious freedom, #WeAreN2016, or “we are all Nazarenes.”
ISIS members had spray-painted the Arabic letter “nun” standing for “Nazarene” on the homes of Christians in Mosul, Iraq, targeting them specifically for persecution.
Specifically, the petition asked the office of Ban Ki-moon to press the U.N. Security Council to declare genocide for Christians and other religious victims of ISIS, and to enforce “mechanisms” to protect genocide victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
It also called for member nations to act “to stop the war in Syria” as well as help internally-displaced persons in Iraq and Syria return to their homes. “Safe havens” for internally-displaced persons should be created, as well as an “action plan to rescue kidnapped and enslaved Christian and Yazidi women and girls.”
Christians have left Iraq and Syria in droves in recent years, and make up 80 percent of minority victims of religious persecution, the “Call to Action” said.
Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities “are victims of the deliberate infliction of life conditions that are calculated to bring about their physical destruction by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’: They are being murdered, beheaded, crucified, beaten, extorted, abducted, and tortured,” the petition added.
In addition, women and children have been enslaved, women have been raped and trafficked, children have been “forcibly recruited,” and churches and communities have been destroyed.
Christians in Nigeria have also been targeted by the terror group Boko Haram. According to the group Open Doors, there were over 4,000 Christians killed and almost 200 church attacks in Nigeria in 2015.
The U.S. State Department, the British House of Commons, and the European Union Parliament have already declared that genocide is taking place in Iraq and Syria. Multiple U.N. advisory bodies have already stated that genocide may be taking place, the petition noted.
“So we are here to support our brothers and sisters, Christians and other believers that are suffering persecution, that are suffering killings, that are suffering discrimination in this part of the world, the Middle East,” Arsuaga announced at the press conference.
After the press conference, Archbishop Jeanbart explained to CNA why it is so important for the U.N. to take action on the issue.
“We are undergoing a real genocide,” he said of his diocese in Aleppo, “and we are afraid that they want to take us out of our life, but also of our country, of the place where we were born, where the Church was born.”
“There are two kinds of genocide, human genocide and Church genocide,” he said. Not only are people dying, but the Church itself is “disappearing” from Syria.
“The Church of the first Christians is now collapsing,” he said, noting that the first Syrian Christians were Jews from the Diaspora who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, and were among the 3,000 baptized by Peter and the Apostles.
“They went back to their cities and they began Christian life there,” he continued, and they ministered to St. Paul when he converted to the faith. “That’s why it’s very important to keep this Church alive,” he said.