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ICC Note:

A group of 800,000 people have presented a petition to the United Nations which calls for the United Nations to protect Christians in Iraq and Syria. The petition also encourages faith leaders to play a role in rebuilding Iraq in a post-ISIS state. Late last week, Iraq was declared completely liberated from ISIS. As the country moves towards developing a strategy for governing a post-ISIS Iraq, it is vital that the authorities treat Christians fully like the citizens they are by protecting their rights.

12/13/2016 Iraq (Slight Magazine) – A petition signed by more than 800,000 people was being presented at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday, calling for the protection of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, and recognition of the key role faith leaders can play in rebuilding efforts post-Islamic State.

The ‘Hope for the Middle East’ petition will be handed over by 12-year-old Noeh and his father, Hathem, from Karamles, northern Iraq, to representatives of the UN General Assembly, diplomats and members of other international bodies.

”We all hope to have our full rights in Iraq…This is the most important thing we need to continue staying in Iraq,” said Fr Behnam Lallo, a Syriac Catholic priest from Bartella, northern Iraq, who is also part of the delegation. “The material things are really important. But to continue staying, to continue existing, we need to gain our full rights as real citizens of Iraq.”

Another Iraqi priest, Fr George, who is coordinating the Church Supreme Board for Reconstruction in Qaraqosh, said the petition is “very important for Christians here because…our issue…will be empowered by support of other Christians in the world. So the political decision will be made stronger as well, to support our life here and to stay here in this land”.

The petition, an initiative of the charity Open Doors, calls on the UN and other decision-making bodies to collaborate with religious leaders and faith-based organisations in establishing and maintaining peace, and rebuilding Syrian and Iraqi societies.

It says there is a need for legal frameworks that protect the rights of all citizens, irrespective of race and religion.

According to a June report by three Christians charities, including Open Doors, for many of Syria and Iraq’s Christians the emergence of IS in 2014 was only the “tipping point” for their displacement, and it will require more than just protection from IS, the army or other militant groups, for them to return.

An estimated half a million Christians fled Iraq in the 10 years before IS swept across the Nineveh Plains in 2014.

Another Iraqi priest, Fr Thabet, who oversees the reconstruction of buildings in Karamles, says “there is a lot to do…to help the Iraqi government create a just situation of freedom for all components of society, and especially for the Christians. To stop the ‘bleeding’ of emigration and to help the Christians to continue in their active role in society.

“We will need international support and protection. That is the only way our future as Christians in this country can be guaranteed.”

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