“Pare la guerra . . . Stop the war!”
Those were the final words uttered by Sr. Maria de Guadalupe, a missionary who has lived in Syria, as she ended her presentation at a United Nations gathering last month titled “Defending Religious Freedom and Other Human Rights: Stopping Mass Atrocities against Christians and Other Believers.” Organized by the Holy See Mission, in collaboration with CitizensGO, Más Libres, and In Defense of Christians (all human-rights NGOs), the April 28 event brought together a dozen witnesses to the horrors occurring daily in the Middle East.
The stage was set by Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus—the world’s largest fraternal organization—who led a fact-finding team to Iraq in February to collect evidence of persecution on the spot from witnesses, victims, and aid workers. Anderson told the audience that State Department officials had “requested our assistance in making the case that Christians are victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS.” The result was a 280-page report, made public on March 10 at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during which Anderson called on Secretary of State John Kerry to “exercise moral leadership.” In a March 17 press briefing, Secretary Kerry acknowledged for the first time that ISIS was in fact committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities. The Knights of Columbus report had a big impact indeed. (http://stopthechristiangenocide.org/en/report-photos.html),
The European Union has also taken note of the ISIS atrocities, as was reported by the next speaker, Hon. Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat Swedish Member of the European Parliament. Adaktusson labored ceaselessly for a resolution recognizing the systematic annihilation of Christians and other minorities by ISIS as genocide. The resolution was passed unanimously in early February (http://www.newsweek.com/european-parliament-recognizes-isis-killing-religious-minorities-genocide-423008). In the United States, a similar motion proposed by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nevada passed unanimously in the House of Representatives in March https://fortenberry.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/house-unanimously-passes-fortenberry-isis-genocide-resolution). These measures were steps along the way to urging the United Nations Security Council to agree to a similar declaration.
At the UN gathering, witnesses described horrific experiences. Most heart-rending were stories of what happened to families, especially children, who were captured by ISIS. One teenage girl from the Yazidi community was wrenched from her family as her father and other male relatives were slaughtered. Samia Sleman tearfully told how she was kidnapped by ISIS, repeatedly raped, and held hostage for several months before being released; she eventually emigrated and resettled in Germany. Her trauma was deeply felt by the audience as she received a standing ovation when she finished her story.
A Chaldean priest, Fr. Douglas Al-Bazi from Erbil, Iraq, also told of being kidnapped and tortured. He brought along a bloodied shirt from his captivity as evidence of the brutality inflicted on him as a Christian witness. Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, from a town in northern Nigeria beset by Boko Haram raids of similar brutality, made the point that Christian persecution had spread well beyond the Middle East. The parents of Kayla Mueller, the American volunteer aid worker who bore Christian witness in the face of ISIS captivity, recounted the experience of their slain daughter as pieced together from letters smuggled out of her ISIS detention outpost in Syria, and from reports of others who had shared her ordeal but unlike her were not killed.
A representative of one of the NGOs aiding ISIS victims dared to reveal some of the evidence that was gathered first-hand of the unspeakable crimes committed especially against mothers and their children. One woman told the aid worker how her young daughter had been plucked out of her arms during a house raid and taken away. The terrorists returned a few days later, knocked on the mother’s door, and handed her a black plastic bag. The bag contained the body parts of her daughter.
Sr. Maria de Guadalupe lived for four years in Aleppo, Syria’s once prosperous economic capital and largest city. During that time it was systematically bombed and rendered commercially lifeless. There were house-to-house searches for Christians with ISIS terrorists demanding instant conversions to Islam or immediate payment of a tax—or both. Beheadings, expropriation of household goods, and property destruction were part of the searches. Survivors struggled to stay alive as water, electricity, and food became scarcer and scarcer. Those who would forage for food outside their homes risked deadly encounters with roaming bands of ISIS warmongers. People who had the means fled Aleppo, joining countless other refugees seeking safer surroundings in which to rebuild their lives.
Even as this UN gathering was taking place, Aleppo was being subjected to further destruction. An April 29 Wall Street Journal headline read: “Fighting Pushes Aleppo Toward ‘Disaster.’” Having heard Sr. Maria de Guadalupe one would think this headline superfluous. But the story related even more atrocities, these resulting from airstrikes aimed at civilian targets such as hospitals. The only pediatrician, and two other doctors, in a rebel-held area of the city were among the confirmed dead. According to one source more than 40 airstrikes in eastern Aleppo resulted in 31 civilian casualties “including women and children.”
The Wall Street Journal story also noted that “The rising bloodshed coincided with the formal end of another round of United Nations-mediated peace talks in Geneva and pleas by Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura for intervention by the U.S., Russia, and other powers to salvage the partial cease-fire they had brokered in February.”
Also on April 29, CitizensGO, Más Libres, In Defense of Christians, and other NGOs presented a petition to the UN Secretary General urging that august body to live up to its obligations to protect Christians and other religious minorities (http://www.citizengo.org/en/pr/34037-wearen2016-join-our-global-call-action-asking-united-nations-preserve-religious-freedom-and).
Sr. Maria de Guadalupe’s plea should not fall on deaf ears.