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ICC Note

Since Islamic State has invaded parts of Iraq and Syria, Christians have taken refuge in Kurdistan. While the government in Kurdistan has claimed religious freedom in their laws, the Christians now residing in Kurdistan are experiencing discrimination because they are treated as second-class citizens to the Sunni Kurds. On the USCIRF report, Kurdistan is considered as a “Tier 2” country, which means it should still be closely monitored due to the violations of religious freedom and poor treatment of religious minorities from authorities.

06/05/2017 Iraq (CNA) – After the Islamic State ravaged large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, religious minorities targeted for genocide fled into Kurdistan – but a new report alleges continued discrimination against them.

“We praise the Kurdistan Regional Government for sheltering and protecting these oppressed groups and urge it to continue to take steps to ensure that these communities realize their rights and fully participate in society,” said Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

He made his remarks in the wake of the release of the commission’s report on the situation for persecuted religious minorities in Kurdistan.

The report, “Wilting in the Kurdish Sun,” was prepared for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) between May and August of 2016 and released on June 1.

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion around the world and making policy recommendations to the State Department on international religious freedom.

In their new report, USCIRF explains how religious minorities in Northern Iraq – Yazidis, Christians, Shabak, and Turkmen – fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 into Kurdistan. Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims were labeled by the U.S. as genocide victims of ISIS, while other minorities were said to be victims of “crimes against humanity.” They took shelter in Kurdistan, including around 70,000 Christians in Erbil.

This has added to the ethnic and religious diversity of the region, which had already become more diverse since the U.S. invasion in 2003 resulted in minorities moving to Kurdistan, the report explained.

However, despite the freedom of religion of these minorities being “comparatively robust” in Kurdistan to other areas in the region, they still face discrimination, violence, and restrictions upon their movement there, the report alleged.

Furthermore, the region’s “strained resources and security situation” threaten to contribute to future unrest and ethnic and religious conflict, the report warned.

Laws in Kurdistan are on the surface “favorable to religious freedom,” USCIRF said, and “senior religious leaders are frequently consulted by ministers and government officials.” Minorities are represented in the regional parliament as mandated by law.

However, “many religious groups complained to researchers that they remain second-class citizens compared with Sunni Kurds,” the report said. And while laws may be friendly to religious minorities, they may not experience such support from their neighbors in their communities.

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