27 March 2015
7419th Meeting (AM)

Security Council Urged to ‘Stop the Madness’ as Terrorists Trample Cultural, Religious Diversity of Middle East

‘We Are Being Slaughtered,’ Says Iraqi Lawmaker; Secretary-General Promises Action Plan by September

From Syria and Iraq to Libya and Yemen, the cultural and religious fabric in the Middle East, intricately woven over centuries, was being torn apart by terrorists intent on eliminating the very diversity that had given rise to many of the world’s great civilizations, the Security Council heard today as speakers implored it to help end the fighting and urgently protect the region’s minorities.

“The members of this Council — and all those with influence — must help the people of this region reclaim its historic diversity and dynamism,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council, opening a day-long debate on the victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious grounds in the Middle East.

“I condemn in the strongest terms all persecution and violations of the rights to life and physical integrity of individuals and communities based on religious, ethnic, national, racial or other grounds,” he declared.

Thousands of civilians were at the mercy of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) or Da’esh, whose fighters were systematically killing ethnic and religious minorities and those who disagreed with its warped interpretation of Islam, Mr. Ban said.  In Iraq, information strongly suggested that Da’esh had perpetrated genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and that minorities had been victims of that violence.  In Syria, a lack of accountability had led to an exceptional rise in those atrocities, by Government and non-State armed groups alike.  In Libya, Da’esh-affiliated groups were targeting minorities and attacking religious sights.

For its part, the United Nations was developing an action plan on preventing violent extremism, he said, which it would launch in September, and strengthening efforts to protect diversity in the Middle East.  As well, he planned to form an advisory group of religious, civil, cultural, academic and business leaders to offer insight on inter- and intra-sectarian dynamics.  Next month, with the General Assembly President, he would invite faith leaders to a special event.

In an impassioned address, Vian Dakhil, a member of Iraq’s Parliament, said minority communities were being targeted with crimes unprecedented in the history of the world.  New reports had shown that more than 420,000 Yezidis had been displaced and were living in camps in the Kurdistan region, Syria and Turkey, and that thousands of girls had been sold into slavery.  One girl had been sold for $18, she said, appealing to the Council for support.

“We are being slaughtered, our girls are being sold, our children are being taken,” she said, calling for international protection for minority communities to return to their communities.  She also asked for international support to eradicate the terrorist element — to free the more than 3,000 kidnapped women and to rebuild cities destroyed by terrorist attacks.

Indeed, the situation in Iraq was reminiscent of massacres of Christians a century ago, said Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon.  “We are living the same catastrophic situation.  The so-called Arab Spring impacted negatively on us,” he said.  Positive coexistence should remain a priority for the Council.  He urged support for the central Government and regional government of Kurdistan towards liberating all Iraqi cities, as well as protection for Christians, Yezidis and Shabaks.

As Islamic extremists refused to live with non-Muslims, he said principles based on international law were needed, keeping in mind that there was a silent, peaceful majority of Muslims that rejected the politicization of the religion.  Outlining a proposal to “get out of this vicious cycle”, he advised taking legal decisions and adopting definitive measures on political, cultural and educational solutions that protected the national mosaic and safeguarded all citizens’ rights.  He also suggested updating the Constitution, fostering tolerance in education reform, outlawing support for terrorist groups and promoting human rights.

Speaking via video link from Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that, while it was easy to portray the Middle East as exceptionally fragmented, its history was marked by long-standing acceptance of multiple identities.  Today’s crises had been fanned by discrimination and deliberate failures to respect human rights.

“Da’esh is an abomination,” he said.  An intricately interwoven social fabric in Syria and Iraq was giving way to the “demented obliteration” of difference — any choice not in line with the takfiri world view, which itself was impossibly thin.  In a terrible irony, Da’esh might be more accepting of diverse ethnic origins when it came to its own members — so long as they acted in line with takfiri ideology — than many States were when it came to their own citizens.

“If we attend to minority rights only after slaughter has begun, then we have already failed,” he said, adding that international attention to minorities was too often partial, in that States overlooked abuses of marginalized communities, or sporadic, in that minority rights were often highlighted only after the outbreak of extreme violence, despite preceding years of exclusion.

The United Nations Network on Racial Discrimination and Minorities, which his Office coordinated, helped States devise strategies for supporting those groups, he said as he pressed the Council to end the conflicts and refer Iraq and Syria to the International Criminal Court.

“What good will it be to all of us, if action never comes, or arrives far too late to be effective?” he asked.  Without joint resolution, the common bond would soon disappear, along with the cultures stitched by time into one heritage.

In the ensuing debate, nearly 70 speakers from around the world decried the intolerance, violent extremism and religious or ethnic persecution that had gained ground in the Middle East, notably against Christians, Yezidis, Kurds, Turkmens and Shabaks.  Da’esh had unleashed terror, they said, with mass beheadings, forced conversions, abductions and torture.  Such jihadi terrorism should never be confused with the message of Islam.  Several proposed distinct courses of action.

Laurent Fabius, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, whose delegation organized today’s debate, proposed the creation of a special fund for the return of displaced populations.  He also suggested that the Secretary-General present the Council with an action plan to address the situation of minorities in the Middle East.

Gebran Bassil, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of Lebanon, said he had come directly from a meeting of the Arab League, which was trying to save the rich cultures of the Middle East.  Calling Israel “the father of Da’esh for decades”, he asked for a resolution that would truly protect minorities and create moral and political “red lines” that could not be crossed.  He also called for a trust fund to rebuild devastated cultures.

More broadly, the representative of Iran said a comprehensive strategy against Da’esh must address ideological, social, political and economic dimensions of violent extremism.  “If there is a genuine resolve to combat extremism, it must be translated into specific and effective actions,” he said.  A “united front” that included the disruption of financial and logistical support and the sharing of relevant information was needed.

José Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, suggested a multidisciplinary focus to address the root causes of terrorism and a platform for religious representatives from conflict-affected areas.  “Somebody must stop this madness,” he said “and that somebody is us.”

Striking a different tone, the representative of the Russian Federation said that, from the start of the Arab Spring, his Government had favoured solving regional crises through progressive reforms and building agreement among inter-faith groups.  Yet, its calls to not let the situation fall to religious extremists were ignored.

Likewise, Manuel Augusto, Secretary of State for External Relations of Angola, said the international community’s response to the Arab Spring was a policy of regime change, with the provision of weapons to opposition groups for that purpose.  To promote tolerance, stability and prosperity, the inclusion of youth into all policies was now particularly important.

In that context, Egypt’s representative warned that selectivity in dealing with extremism must be avoided as well.  Protecting certain religions alone presented certain risks; victims should not be identified according to their faith.

Also speaking today were ministers and other senior officials of the United Kingdom, Austria, Canada, Armenia and Cyprus.

Statements were also made by representatives of Chile, Jordan, Malaysia, Chad, United States, New Zealand, Venezuela, China, Lithuania, Nigeria, Guatemala, Hungary, Iraq, Brazil, Israel, Kazakhstan, India, Bulgaria, Japan, Australia, Morocco, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Syria, Pakistan, Thailand, Belgium, South Africa, Switzerland, Colombia, Greece, United Arab Emirates, Slovenia, Portugal, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Luxembourg, Turkey, Netherlands, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Ireland, Bahrain, Botswana, Republic of Korea, Latvia and Argentina.

The Special Representative for Human Rights of the European Union also addressed the Council, as did the Permanent Observers for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Holy See.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 6:02 p.m.


LAURENT FABIUS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, which holds the March Council presidency, spoke in his national capacity, saying that today’s debate must go beyond an “alarm bell”.  Da’esh had unleashed terror, targeted attacks and mass beheadings, including against Christians and Yezidis.  Facing the total disappearance of minority groups, the international community must act.  “Minorities were not asking for favours,” he said.  “They were simply demanding their rights.”  The United Nations agencies played a major role and Member States must reinforce their financial support, he said, proposing a special fund for the return of displaced populations.  Military action must keep that in mind so that when Da’esh forces were pushed back, minority communities could return to their homes.  The international community should, among other things, support the coexistence of all communities.  Fighting impunity was also important, he said, proposing that the Secretary-General present the Council with a plan of action to address the situation of minorities in the Middle East.

JOSÉ MANUEL GARCÍA-MARGALLO, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, said the brutal reality of communities being torn apart and massacred was threatening the very fabric of the Middle East, the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of the world’s three major religions.  Jihadi terrorism should never be confused with the message of Islam, and the fight against terrorists was not a “clash of civilizations” but one aimed at combatting barbarism.  Today’s meeting should lead to a step forward in that direction, including countering terrorist ideologies and shutting down their financing.  As Spain had experienced terrorism, he recognized the importance of hearing victims’ voices.  Going forward, he suggested a number of solutions, including a multidisciplinary focus to address the root causes of terrorism and a platform for religious representatives from conflict-affected areas.  “Somebody must stop this madness,” he concluded, “and that somebody is us.”

TOBIAS ELLWOOD, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said the key to ending intolerance in the Middle East was leadership.  Before Da’esh had launched attacks, communities had lived together.  But today, Da’esh was targeting, terrorizing and slaughtering those communities and destroying a shared cultural history.  For its part, the United Kingdom had contributed to supporting victims, he said, urging others to “step up” at the forthcoming pledging conference in Kuwait.  Humanitarian issues must also be addressed, including sexual violence, and his Government was working with Iraq on a range of related issues.  In view of the task ahead, he said “this was the work of a generation”.  Turning to other countries in the region, he encouraged bolstered efforts towards the negotiation of a two-State solution for Israelis and Palestinians and called on Governments to guarantee equal rights for all, which would cause extremist ideologies to “wither and die”.

MANUEL AUGUSTO, Secretary of State for External Relations of Angola, describing widespread threats to religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East, said that the danger posed by extremists had to be met through a clear response, including an information technology strategy to effectively counter propaganda and reduce mobilization of youth for sinister objectives.  The promotion of a culture of tolerance, inclusion, coexistence and understanding were key elements.  Unfortunately, the response of the international community to the Arab Spring was a policy of regime change, with the provision of weapons to opposition groups for that purpose.  The subsequent rise of ISIL proved that broken social and political fabric could not be fixed by such tactics.  In order to now promote tolerance, stability and prosperity, the inclusion of youth into all policies was now particularly important.  The peoples of the Middle East must be assisted to peacefully resolve their conflicts so that the positive changes proclaimed by the Arab Spring could materialize.

ALFREDO LABBÉ VILLA (Chile) said that the present meeting was an opportunity to reflect on the extensive and systematic persecution by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) of communities and individuals belonging to certain ethnic, religious or sectarian minorities.  In that regard, Chile believed that the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of many States — not only in the Middle East — was a global public good to be preserved.  In the Middle East, it was important to denounce the “cruel optimism” of the violence unleashed against religious minorities.  The situation of Christian communities in the region was a source of special concern.  Chile had co-sponsored a joint statement entitled, “Supporting the human rights of Christians and other communities, particularly in the Middle East”, in the Human Rights Council.  From its seat on the Security Council, Chile had also strongly supported all collective action to combat terrorism and violent extremism, while noting that terrorism, as a threat to international peace and security, could not be eliminated by military means alone.  The crimes perpetrated by ISIL and related terrorist groups did not only deserve resounding condemnation — without any “pseudo-justifying overtones” — but also required collective action aimed at the total eradication of a modern scourge that was undermining the very bases of civilization.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan), citing killings, rape, forced displacement and persecution of minorities, including Christians, Turkmens, Assyrians, said they were being deliberately attacked by ISIS, which aimed to annihilate them in the region.  Girls had been enslaved, forced to work as suicide bombers, executioners and sex workers.  Such violence was new to the Middle East, which historically had been known for pluralism and coexistence among its many faiths.  Today’s challenge was to hold to account, deter and prevent impunity.  Violations against ethnic or religious minorities by extremist armed groups must be monitored and documented, and she proposed the creation of a mechanism to monitor the assets seized from minorities.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian crisis must be urgently addressed.  Jordan, a custodian of Islamic sites, was making every effort to protect religious minorities, notably through its policy of tolerance and respect for religion, and it was hosting 2,000 Christians who had fled ISIS-related violence in Iraq.

SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) stressed his country’s commitment to implement resolutions 2170 (2014), 2178 (2014) and 2199 (2015), condemning in the strongest terms acts by violent extremists against ethnic and religious minorities.  In that context, he denounced the ideology propagated by Al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Da’esh, Ansar Al-Sharia, and the Al-Nusra Front, among other such groups.  His Government would work with all partners in combating terrorism and violent extremism under the United Nations framework, he said, noting that such violence in the Middle East affected all communities.  The Palestinian minority in Israel had suffered discrimination — much of it officially legislated by Israel.  He underscored the importance of tolerance and inclusiveness, which must be fostered in pluralistic societies, as well as diversity as a source of strength.  Moderation should guide intercommunal relations, he added.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the Middle East had fallen into an abyss of “unthinkable cruelty”.  Extremists were carrying out mass killings against all who “did not believe in their dogma”, destroying shrines and holding religious leaders in torture chambers.  Terrorism was being conducted under Islamic slogans that had nothing to do with that peaceful religion.  The 2003 Iraq incursion had left religious and ethnic communities to their own devices.  Over time, deep tensions in the region had worsened, particularly in Libya in 2011, owing to bombings by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which had wiped out the Libyan regime and other elements that had held that State together.  In Syria, States had transferred much money and weapons to illegal elements, as well as exerted military and economic pressure.  From the start of the Arab Spring, his Government had favoured solving regional crises through progressive reforms and building agreement among inter-faith groups.  Its calls to not let the situation fall to religious extremists were ignored.  Other cynical actions had led to takeovers by other regimes.  Condemning violence against civilians on ethnic or religious grounds, he said the Russian Federation would continue to strongly protect Christians and other religions persecuted by terrorists.  He urged the international community to renew healthy pluralistic societies.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) said the Middle East was undergoing a deep political and security crisis, amid the growth of terrorist groups.  Ethnic and religious minorities — among them Christians, Yezidis, Turkmens, Sunnis and Shiites — were being targeted by Da’esh, through killings, torture and forced displacement.  Women suffered sexual violence.  Political transitions in the Arab world had both heralded social cohesion and brought about disorder, which had been exploited by terrorists.  Brutality by Da’esh required consistent international and regional efforts to protect minorities.  In that context, United Nations actions must consider heightened international and regional cooperation to combat terrorism.  The Council must regularly consider the protection of minorities.  The framework for legal cooperation must be enlarged, while the restoration of democracy and the rule of law must be encouraged.  Massive assistance to those in conflict zones in the Middle East was needed, including to return home.  The solution was not solely military, he said, stressing the importance of political processes, as well as education and awareness-raising.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said that promoting religious freedom was a priority for her country.  Recent events had seen the brutalization of minorities, including targeted attacks, abductions and sexual enslavement.  There must be accountability for the individuals responsible for those and other “terrible” acts.  As vulnerable communities across Iraq and Syria were being threatened by ISIL’s atrocities and mass killings, her country was working to combat it by halting the flow of finances and foreign fighters.  The actions taken to protect minorities were a priority in that fight, including a mission taken to rescue members of the Yezidi community under attack and ongoing efforts to save thousands of kidnapped women.  Other minority groups, including Christians, were also suffering in the region, and in Syria, the Assad regime had indiscriminately bombed its citizens.  For its part, the United States was contributing to efforts to help civilians in Iraq and Syria.

JIM MCLAY (New Zealand) said the international community must acknowledge the threat posed by terrorist groups such as ISIL and promote inclusive, multicultural societies.  While the upsurge in violence and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities was not unique to the Middle East or any single religion, an immediate priority was to restore security where minorities were particularly vulnerable.  That meant achieving stable and inclusive political solutions and providing support to end the conflicts and instability on which extremist groups and their ideologies thrived.  Strong political will, sustained commitment at all levels of government and inclusive post-conflict initiatives that did not entrench existing divisions were required.  He urged the United Nations and Member States to promote anti-radicalization and counter violent extremism by involving religious, and community and educational leaders.  He noted projects in his region, such as community police training, towards that end.

RAFAEL RAMÍREZ (Venezuela) condemned the brutal violence unleashed by terrorists in the region.  Conflict, as seen in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and assistance to armed groups were triggering tragic consequences by exacerbating hatred and religious intolerance.  The destruction of the social fabric and the State institutions was the fertile ground for breeding terrorism, as could be seen in Libya and now in Syria.  Financing terrorists must end.  However, military action was not enough; attention must be paid to ensuring the creation of equal societies.  The fight against terrorism must be based on international humanitarian and human rights law.  Promoting inclusive development was also important, he said, expressing support for the people of the Middle East to help them put an end to the scourge of terrorism.

LIU JIEYI (China) said recent rampant human rights violations, especially against minority groups, were a grave concern.  As long as peace remained elusive, terrorists and extremist forces would flourish.  Political dialogue and national reconciliation were the only solutions to address those and conflict-related issues and the international community should take a number of steps to combat terrorism.  Those steps included stabilizing the situation in the region as soon as possible and acting in solidarity and coordination, he said, adding that China had actively supported counter-terrorism efforts.  The international community should also take effective measures against terrorists using the Internet to conduct planning, recruitment and funding and ensure that steps were taken to prevent the terrorist threat in the Middle East from spreading to other regions.  Poverty and underdevelopment were among the major root causes of terrorism, and the international community should assist Middle East States in programmes to enable their people to enjoy peace and prosperity, thus removing terrorism’s breeding ground.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said that as radicals and fanatics were threatening existence of diverse communities, the situation in Iraq and Syria was more than armed conflicts, but human, economic and cultural tragedies.  Da’esh fanatics were more than just terrorists, as they now controlled vast areas, illegally declaring statehood.  As terrorism was seeping over borders, into Libya, Mali, Yemen, Tunisia and the European region, the world must use all necessary measures to stop Da’esh.   The face of terrorism had modernized, and so should the international community’s response, including crippling Da’esh and its social media recruitment propaganda, she said, insisting on the full implementation of Council resolutions 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014) on terrorist threats, including choking terrorists’ financial support and ending recruitment.  Strong inclusive Governments should be supported and impunity must end against those responsible for terrorist acts.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria), welcoming today’s discussion, said he hoped it would be expanded in the future to include the situation of minority groups around the world.  External interference, occupation and the proliferation of weapons had all contributed to the current state of affairs.  Greater efforts must be made to end, in particular, the scourge of illicit arms, as well as to promote the implementation of human rights treaties.  His country had put in place a multidimensional strategy to curb extremism beyond military methods.  It was critical to spread tolerance and make known the rights of minorities to live in areas they had inhabited for many generations.  A strong and clear message had to be sent to all extremists, and the Council must show resolve by immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance, he stressed.  His country stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight against violent extremism and other intolerance.

GEBRAN BASSIL, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of Lebanon, said that he had come directly from a meeting of the Arab League, which was trying to save the rich variety of cultures of the Middle East.  Lebanon remained a country of tolerance and coexistence, in the face of the inhumanity of Da’esh, which represented the fall of the global security order.  He wondered if selectivity in dealing with the world’s problems was a reason for the declining situation.  There must be a true mobilization on the ground, bringing to bear all the tools of international justice.  He had come to the Council to defend cultures and ways of life, including Christianity and Islam, the latter of which was being distorted in his region and demonized in others.  The Middle East must preserve its diversity and not be carved into separated communities.  Stating that “Israel was the father of Da’esh for decades”, he asked for a resolution that would truly protect the region’s minorities and create moral and political “red lines” that could not be crossed.  He also called for a trust fund to rebuild devastated cultures.

SEBASTIAN KURZ (Austria) said the acts of Da’esh must be named as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and must not go unpunished.  Thus, the Council should quickly refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  Austria was cooperating, especially with Western Balkan countries, to confront Jihadism, through such measures as closer cooperation between law enforcement authorities, enhanced border security and joint efforts to remove terrorist content from the Internet.  Outlining further steps to take, he said it must be made clear that “this is not a conflict between the Western and Muslim world, [but] between all of us and terrorism”.  He further called for religious freedom and coexistence and to “live our values” for the sake of credibility.  “We must not allow our societies to be divided.  We must stand up against all forms of intolerance and radicalization.  And we have to be united in our fight against terrorism,” he said.

LYNNE YELICH, Minister of State of Canada, said it was crucial to address the widespread persecution of religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East, which was characterized by the coexistence of Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Yezidis and others.  ISIL and other groups sought to wipe out that diversity, as had been seen in February with the beheading of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya and the kidnapping of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in north-eastern Syria.  By some estimates, the near-total disappearance of Christians from the region was unfolding.  Condemning such acts in the strongest terms, he said Canada stood in solidarity with the victims, whose only supposed crime was to oppose ISIL’s warped ideology of hatred.  Canada was part of global efforts to counter ISIL and was speaking on behalf of persecuted religious communities through its Office of Religious Freedom.  He urged the Council to address persecution on religious or ethnic grounds, and supported the High Commissioner’s recommendation that it address any information that pointed to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said that it was disappointing that on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations there was a new wave of violence, vandalism and hatred.  Among other attacks, on 21 March, Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist groups attacked the predominantly Armenian population of the town of Kessab, on the border of Syria and Turkey.  Armenia, as a nation that had survived the first genocide of the twentieth century, had a moral responsibility to protect the rights of religious and ethnic groups.  Describing the destruction by terrorists of the Saint Martyrs Church in Syria, “a symbolic link between old and new crimes”, he said that the international community should work hard to address gaps in the protection of religious and ethnic groups and empower them to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms.

STRAVOS LAMBRINIDIS, Special Representative for Human Rights of the European Union, said violations against civilians in the Middle East demanded accountability and an end to impunity.  Syrian and Iraqi citizens were on the front line, amid reports of gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations and sectarian violence, which were of grave concern.  He condemned the crimes against humanity and human rights violations outlined in the ninth report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  Acts by Da’esh could not go unpunished.  The kidnapping of more than 200 Christian Assyrians in the Hassakeh region of Syria last month was just the most recent in the long list of brutal acts by Da’esh.  While the group’s first victims were Sunni Muslims, it was clear that it posed a more deliberate threat to minorities — Christians, Yezidis and Shabakis among them.  It also jeopardized the survival of the multi-ethnic and religious character of the Middle East.  Military action was essential, as was addressing the underlying violence in Syria and Iraq.  Citing regional efforts, he said European Union ministers had adopted a strategy for countering Da’esh.

NIKOS CHRISTODOULIDES, Government Spokesman of Cyprus, said ethnic and religious clashes were a pretext for nearly every conflict in the world.  In Syria, it was clear that long-term oppression and intolerance had cultivated the ground for terrorism, with unbearable violence by ISIL/Da’esh and other groups.  The international community should send a strong message condemning terrorism in all its forms and including the organizers, financiers and sponsors of such violence.  In Iraq, ISIL/Da’esh could only be defeated with political unity and by addressing the security and political crisis, which was essential for regional stability.  Also, events in Libya should prompt support for the political process in that country.  Cyprus aligned with the international coalition against terrorism and had promoted actions aimed at protecting ancient communities and religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

UFUK GOKCEN, Permanent Observer for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that “the alarming developments in Syria and Iraq should not be seen as civilizational or religious confrontation”.  The start of the terror campaign of Da’esh particularly targeting Christian and Yezidi Iraqi citizens and forced deportations under the threat of execution was a serious threat aimed at tearing apart the social fabric of the Iraqi people.  The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation had publicly condemned the inhuman acts of Da’esh, and underlined that such atrocities contradicted the organization’s principles.  Its Secretary General had also condemned attacks against Christians in Syria and Iraq and warned against a “slide towards a sectarian dimension” in the Syrian crisis.  It remained concerned about attacks and vandalism targeting Islamic and Christian holy sites in the occupied East Jerusalem.  “It is vital that religious leaders, as moral leaders of their communities, play a responsible role to ensure communal peace and harmony,” he said, describing a number of initiatives in that respect.

MÓNICA BOLAÑOS PÉREZ (Guatemala) said that diplomacy and dialogue were needed to bridge divisions across the Middle East, although the situation had grown more complex with the activities of non-State actors.  She firmly condemned all acts of violence, including those by ISIL and others whom she said were committing war crimes.  Outlining the precarious situation of minorities in the region along with the atrocities committed by extremists, she reaffirmed the rights of those people to live in peace and dignity.  She also called for the end of destruction of cultural heritage, as well as impunity for such actions.  The Council must attribute responsibility on a consistent basis and the international community must stand firm on ending ethnic and religious hatred.  She welcomed the Secretary-General’s words this morning in that regard.  All steps to prevent further atrocities must be made, she stressed.

KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary) said it was the common responsibility of the international community to stop the expansion of violent extremism and terrorism, which posed the greatest global challenge.  Hungary strongly supported all initiatives aimed at defeating Da’esh and other terrorist groups, and believed a sustainable solution required comprehensive action, ideally under United Nations auspices, and the committed participation of all stakeholders.  With no immediate solution in sight, however, vulnerable populations such as ethnic and religious minorities must be protected.  Furthermore, there must be no impunity for the “horrendous” acts committed by Da’esh and other terrorist groups in the Middle East.  Bearing in mind that the primary responsibility lay with the Iraqi State, its acceptance of the International Criminal Court jurisdiction under article 12(3) of the Rome Statute might also be an option, and she urged that country to become a party to the Statute.  If that did not happen soon, the Council could consider referring the situation in Iraq to the Court.  Regarding the crimes committed in Libya, Hungary had requested the International Criminal Court prosecutor to expand her investigations originally initiated as a result of the Security Council referral in 2011 into the recent execution of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM (Iraq) said that his country took pride in thousands of years of cultural diversity.  Under its new Constitution, all Iraqis were equal before the law.  Recent events had caused “double danger” to all Iraqis and to minorities in particular.  Iraqi groups such as Christians, Yezidis and others contributed to the inclusive elected Government, which fostered national unity and provided a decent and dignified life to Iraq’s citizens.  Today, however, there was significant danger, as ISIS had imposed itself by armed force and had managed to extend its might over large areas of Iraq and Syria.  The Da’esh group targeted minorities, but its actions had engulfed all Iraqis without exception.  The group undertook systemic aggression against private and religious places, raped women and abducted children.  Thousands of Christian and Yezidi girls had been captured and sold.  Such violence and persecution threatened the Iraqi social fabric.  Calling the actions of Da’esh “war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide”, he went on to say that hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced as a result of the violence.  The solution did not lay with the relocation of minority groups.  Instead, the very existence of Da’esh must be eradicated, he said.

GUILHERME DE AGUAIR PATRIOTA (Brazil) described the widespread and systematic persecution of individuals on ethnic and religious grounds as one of the ugliest aspects of the recent surge of violent extremism in the Middle East and elsewhere.  The international community could not remain indifferent in the face of such savagery.  Brazil, as a pluricultural, multi-ethnic nation, assumed diversity as a defining trait of its identity.  It thus strongly condemned the persecution of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity or belief and rejected any act of intolerance or incitement to religious or ethnic hatred.  Violent extremism was a multidimensional threat and would only be efficiently countered by considering its underlying causes such as political instability, poverty and exclusion.  The Middle East and the world could no longer bear the burden of unresolved conflicts such as one between Israel and Palestine, he said, and called for a political solution in Syria, Libya and Yemen.  Initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations would contribute to dispel stereotypes that associated terrorism with specific cultures, religions or ethnic groups.

RON PROSOR (Israel) described persecution against Jews in Arab lands, where 1 million of them had lived for 2,500 years, following the United Nations vote to establish a Jewish State.  Thousands had been murdered in riots and hundreds of thousands more had been forced to flee.  Having succeeded in ridding their lands of Jews, extremists were now turning to Christians and other minorities, he stated, describing recent atrocities by ISIL and others.  Calling the Kurds the “leading force” against ISIL, he urged support for their political independence.  Citing persecution of minorities in what he called “tyrannical regimes” in the Middle East, he said that there was only one place in the region where minorities had the freedom to practise their faith, change faith or practise no faith at all, and that was Israel.  Christians in areas under Palestinian leadership were under threat.  It was time for the Security Council to break its silence on such persecution and give the world’s people a reason to believe in it.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) expressed concern that extremist and terrorist groups were creating quasi-State entities to combat legitimate Governments and sow enmity and hatred.  The determined and concerted efforts of all Member States and relevant stakeholders, led by the United Nations, were the only way to combat that violent extremism.  His delegation endorsed the Secretary-General’s proposal for setting up an international panel of experts, and the French presidency’s initiative to convene a global conference as a follow-up to the present debate.  He also called for an end to all impunity with a greater use of the International Criminal Court.  Echoing the sentiment of other speakers that religious and spiritual leaders must promote mutual respect and harmony, he said that every three years, Kazakhstan had convened the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions as a platform for that purpose.  The fifth congress would be held in June and would focus on dialogue among religious and political leaders for peace and development.

BHAGWANT S. BISHNOI (India) also condemned violence perpetrated in the name of religion or ethnicity in the Middle East and elsewhere, and expressed deep concern over the activities of proscribed outfits, radicalized and extremist groups in the region.  “Efforts must be taken by all parties and stakeholders in the region to curb these dangerous sectarian and extremist trends,” he said.  There could be no justification for terrorism and violent extremism.  The issue required a consolidated, rather than a fragmented, approach, including through developing a legal framework for fighting terrorism at the international level, especially by through the early adoption of the comprehensive convention on international terrorism, as well as by developing suitable regulatory frameworks for the prosecution of terrorists.  The primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights rested with States, and it was imperative that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity if all Member States be taken into account “when considering our response”.

STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria), associating with the European Union, said that the international community must act with resolve to end the systematic persecution of minorities in the Middle East, particularly what he called the barbarity of Da’esh.  He supported adding “cultural genocide” to the list of internationally recognized serious crimes, and called for crimes in Iraq and Syria to be brought before the International Criminal Court.  A road map to preserve the diversity of the Middle East was also needed.  As humanitarian aid was essential as well for those suffering in the region, his country had contributed assistance to those fleeing the violence in Syria and would continue to do so.  Robust mobilization of the Council and the international community was necessary, however, to put an end to the suffering caused by Da’esh and other extremists.

MOTOHIDE YOSHIKAWA (Japan) stressed the need to mobilize against terrorist attempts to eradicate the diversity of the social fabric of the Middle East.  Pointing out that citizens of all backgrounds had become victims of extremists, he recalled the murder of two Japanese nationals at the beginning of the year.  He firmly condemned what he called such inhumane and despicable acts, and said that fighting it required the international community to work together.  For its part, Japan was steadily implementing Council counter-terrorism resolutions, while assisting Middle East countries to do so.  In addition, Japanese cooperation promoted employment and the growth of a middle class, which also countered extremist violence, while its diplomacy encouraged moderation.  Concluding, he called on the international community to stand firm against violent extremism, pledging his country’s determination to play an active part in the endeavour.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that human rights and coexistence of peoples were under attack by groups such as Da’esh and called for firm action to uproot them.  All members of a religious group must not be targeted in the fight against extremism, however, as that would only fuel the fire of hatred.  Specifically, ISIL’s activities should not be used as an excuse to attack Islam.  Selectivity in dealing with extremism must be avoided as well, he warned.  Protecting certain religions alone presented certain risks; victims should not be identified according to their faith.  Christians, he stressed, were an integral part of the fabric of the Middle East and of his country.  He pledged that Egypt would spare no effort to protect its entire population against extremist violence.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said the people of the Middle East had long taken rightful pride in their mosaic of languages, cultures and confessions.  Through immigration, the region’s diversity had enriched Australia.  Sadly, the Middle East’s religious diversity was under threat as never before with the emergence of extremist groups that perpetrated horrific atrocities against anyone they considered to be unbelievers.  The reckless destruction of antiquities was an assault on thousands of years of heritage.  Freedom of religion was a core human right which must be respected in all countries.  She urged Middle Eastern States to fulfil their responsibility to protect ethnic and religious minorities.  They needed to give particular attention to protecting women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence.  All Member States must look at the role they could play in supporting freedom and religion.  Citing Jordan and Lebanon as positive examples in the region, she stressed the urgency of a political solution in Syria, where all communities could have a voice in their country’s future.

ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) said that the massacres of communities and destruction of heritage sites by terrorist groups were aimed at “erasing our collective memory”.  Those atrocities could not be ignored or tolerated, or worse, go unpunished.  Unanimous condemnation, however, would not “ease our conscience”; collective action was needed to establish strategies to prevent those barbaric crimes while addressing their root causes.  The world was undergoing an unprecedented “identity crisis”, with vast changes in the economic, financial, social and cultural arenas.  Political decision makers, civil society and schools needed to be at the forefront of efforts to establish tolerance.  The Rabat Plan of Action, adopted in October 2012, had concluded a series of workshops on that matter, and building on the adoption of that plan, the city of Fez would soon host a meeting on alliances against intolerance.  Morocco hoped to share with the world its positive experiences with the harmonious coexistence of all of its many elements.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) strongly condemning the widespread targeting and killing of ethnic monitories by Da’esh terrorists and other extremists, and said that “violent extremism has emerged as an unprecedented composition of narcissistic, dogmatic and violent entities with a global agenda”.  That new force was a unique global terror network, active in recruiting as many as 90 countries, sharing terror tactics and romanticizing violence and bloodshed.  They continued to use social media to reach out to young people.  The terror network was “unparalleled in its brutality”, and its members falsely called themselves Muslims.  The international community’s inconsistent, incoherent policy and strategy in combating extremist groups fundamentally undermined efforts to confront them and even served to embolden them.  Indeed, a comprehensive strategy against Da’esh must address ideological, social, political and economic dimensions of violent extremism.  “If there is a genuine resolve to combat extremism, it must be translated into specific and effective actions,” he said, calling for a “united front” with a clear message and a coordinated strategy including the disruption of financial and logistical support and the sharing of relevant information.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), associating with the statement by the European Special Representative, stressed the importance of preserving inclusiveness in the Middle East and cherishing it as a social good.  His country was engaged in projects in favour of minorities in the region, including Yezidis and Christians, as well as work to protect the unique multicultural heritage.  He strongly condemned the violence by Da’esh and others against minorities, while recognizing that the first victims of those groups were Muslims.  Long-term cultural initiatives were key, as was strengthening capacity to warn of impending violence, through United Nations initiatives that had been supported by Italy.  A post-2015 development agenda that promoted peaceful and inclusive societies would also help.  Also critical were the promotion of dialogue and outreach to all communities, reconciliation, the fight against impunity and preservation of cultural traditions.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal to draft a concrete action plan on the issue.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, urged the Council to push for a political solution that could put an end to the suffering of all communities in Syria.  Regarding atrocities committed against minorities in the region, he demanded that those responsible be prosecuted.  Aside from the immediate suffering of the affected, he regretted that a region that was once home to a mosaic of communities — Christian, Jewish, Mandean, Muslim, Yezidi and Zoroastrian — risked being reduced to a political entity of “paralysing uniformity”.  Diversity must be preserved.  Noting humanitarian aid from the Nordic countries, he stressed the need to take responsibility, in the absence of a political solution, for those who fled persecution and conflict.  Inclusive political action in Syria and Iraq, including reconciliation, was necessary to end the suffering.  The need for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was also ever more pressing.  Noting that all countries, including his own, were susceptible to sectarian and gender-based violence, he concluded:  “The strongest counter-narrative against polarization is inclusive participation.”

HARALD BRAUN (Germany) said Da’esh had aimed at methodically and systematically destroying the mosaic diversity of the region, as seen in targeted attacks against Yezidi settlements and crimes that could amount to genocide, and its brutalization of other groups, including Shiite and Christian communities.  Some had said only a dictatorial State could counter Da’esh, but Syria had shown that tyranny could neither guarantee nor enable genuine religious tolerance to grow.  What was needed was to stand up for pluralism, diversity, inclusiveness and human rights alongside military support for partners on the ground.  Germany was equipping and training Iraqi security forces and was supporting the country’s new Government in promoting the inclusion of all groups in society.  An inclusive political process was also needed to resolve the Syrian conflict.  The international community should do all it could to support victims, from providing a safe haven for refugees to ensuring a safe return home for displaced persons.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that his country for centuries exemplified coexistence to a degree not seen elsewhere.  However, that was now under attack by unprecedented terrorism that thrived because of assistance by Member States, some of which were represented in the room.  There were no minorities in Syria, only component groups that were now defending their existence.  Security Council resolutions on combatting terrorism must be implemented and those arming and otherwise assisting terrorists must be stopped.  Attempts were made by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to export exclusionist thinking, which was alien to Syrian society.  Da’esh did not emerge out of the blue; there was Zionism and other precursors in the region.  Social networks used by the terrorists could be eliminated, and Member States must stop backing so-called moderate opposition groups that supported terrorism.  Recent events showed that Da’esh and the Al-Nusra Front were allied with Israel and its partners inside and outside the region.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that the recent escalation of violence and terrorism in the Middle East was an affront to humanity and all civilized norms.  Deeply offensive and unacceptable were attempts by some vested interests to blame Islam as the source of the current chaos.  It was clear that disorder and the collapse of State authority across North Africa and the Middle East had turned the Arab Spring into a “brutal winter”.  The partial or complete breakdown of State authority in Iraq and Syria had allowed the rise of violent groups, such as Da’esh, inured by extremist ideologies and radical agendas.  “The quest for power by cynical and brutal leaders, wrapped in religious cloaks, is not surprising in the circumstances,” he said.  Military and police action could deal with the symptoms of the phenomenon, but not the disease.  That required a more comprehensive approach, one that offered a path for the constructive involvement of youth in the economic, social and political life of their societies and States.  Most importantly, it required an effective and thoughtful response to the narrative of many extremist groups:  that Muslims had been historically oppressed and could regain their rights and freedoms only though violent means.

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand) said that the chronic conflicts in the Middle East had claimed too many lives and deprived people of their right to live in dignity over the past six decades.  That horrific situation was now exacerbated by increasing widespread and systematic persecution of innocent people, based on ethnic groups or religious grounds.  “Peace prevails only when the principles of human rights and justice are fully observed,” he said.  Thailand, therefore, strongly supported the rights-based approach to intercultural and interreligious dialogue.  The international community must make concerted efforts to promote peaceful coexistence of cultures, religions, beliefs and faiths, as well as to stop terrorism and violent extremism.  “Together, we must send a strong message that disrespect or intolerance of religious, cultural or ethnic differences, no matter what the motivations are, must end,” he said.

BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET (Belgium) said the last century had seen the number of Christians in the Middle East fall to 5 per cent from 30 per cent.  In the face of the “horror” of terrorist threats such as Da’esh, Christians and other minority groups were paying a disproportionate price.  That group was a “global menace” and, for its part, Belgium had joined the coalition against Da’esh in 2014.  The fight against terrorism was not a war of civilizations nor was it a choice between brutal military regimes or radical extremists.  Concrete action was needed to combat that scourge, including tackling the radicalization of youth and promoting tolerance.  In addition, fighting impunity was essential to establish lasting peace in the region, and the Council had a key role in referring cases, including the situation in Syria, to the International Criminal Court.  Concluding, she said it was also critical to ensure that minority groups could return to their homes.

EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa) said that it was the collective duty of Member States to reject all forms of intolerance and its manifestation regardless of where it occurred.  “Our own country’s history has taught us that racial, religious or ethnic intolerance is immoral,” he said.  It was, therefore, imperative that the international community reaffirm the rights of the individuals who were suffering persecution to live in peace in their countries.  “We should also be particularly firm in focusing on the eradication of the root causes of all forms of intolerance, and find ways of addressing fundamental ideologies that create hatred,” he said.  There was a need to understand and address the conditions that made terrorism an attractive option to the disaffected, and to develop strategies to address them.  Concerted efforts must be made to resolve conflicts in all parts of the world, including the Middle East.

OLIVIER ZEHNDER (Switzerland) condemned in the strongest possible terms the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by Government armed forces and non-State armed groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.  He called on all parties to armed conflicts to meet their obligations under international law and to respect humanitarian principles, pointing out that respect for and the protection of human rights was the primary responsibility of States.  In all situations, States must do everything within their power to protect their populations.  Actions taken as part of the struggle against terrorism did not justify any weakening of measures to protect and respect human rights and the rule of law.  He further stressed the importance of accountability nationally and internationally for all violations and abuses committed against civilians, and for attacks against cultural property and places of worship.  Preventive engagement should be encouraged, he said, noting that preventing violent extremism was one of Switzerland’s priorities in its efforts to promote peace and combat terrorism.

MARIA EMMA MEJIA (Colombia) said that the gravity of human rights violations compelled her country to express solidarity with the values of humanity.  Terrorism threatened all countries equally; she condemned the attacks by extremist groups in the Middle East such as ISIL, as well as those in Africa such as Boko Haram, which amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Terrorism must not be linked to any religion, and the international community must act together with a united purpose and with consistency to respond to such unprecedented crimes.  Joint work must identify the problems and solutions and also build inclusive societies.  In addition, strong humanitarian commitments must be made to those who had to flee their homes, she added.

CATHERINE BOURA (Greece), associating with the European Union, said the protracted conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the horrendous crimes committed by terrorist groups had resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the region.  Stressing the need to closely monitor the situation of religious and ethnic groups, she said that could serve as an indicator of the overall political atmosphere in the Middle East.  Efforts towards regional peace and stability would require consensus on supporting the historical presence of those communities in their homeland.  The international community should support the efforts of religious institutions and civil society in promoting moderation and peaceful coexistence.  Greece was working on convening an international conference with the aim of addressing the issue in a comprehensive way.

LANA NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said a generation of children was growing up believing that discord was a natural state of being in the Middle East.  “This is simply not true,” she said.  Throughout history, religious minorities had been protected against those who had sought to harm them.  Peaceful coexistence was best seen in Jerusalem.  Great civilizations and peoples were part of that city’s rich history, and it must not be turned into a next theatre of conflict.  Da’esh was committing atrocities in Iraq, Libya and Syria, threatening the region with its totalitarian world view — “the desperate lies of a demented few”.  The rich cultural tapestry of the Middle East did not need to be relegated to antiquity.  More than 200 nationalities lived and worshiped freely in her country.  It was vital to shore up States’ economic, social, legal and institutional infrastructure.  The Council must condemn the systematic persecution of minorities and consult regional States.  “We understand the issues and the context,” she said, urging that impunity be addressed and that Governments be encouraged to extend protection to all their citizens.

MATEJ MARN (Slovenia) said that his delegation was appalled by the misuse of religion to fuel provocation, confrontation, religious hatred and extremism.  Many women and girls belonging to different religious minorities were victims of rape, torture, sexual enslavement and forced marriage with Da’esh fighters, among other cruelties.  The international community must find a way to end impunity for those crimes, he said, underlining the crucial role of the International Criminal Court in that regard.  “When formulating our response to tragic events related to international terrorism, we should keep in mind that we are dealing with a multifaceted and fluid phenomenon that should not be directly associated with religion, race or belief,” he said.  Any generalizations of guilt should be avoided as they could create stereotypes.  The international community’s response should not only focus on repressive means, but should also tackle the root causes of radicalization, he said.

ALVARO MENDONÇA E MOURA (Portugal) was appalled at the increasing and serious human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations, including mass killings, extrajudicial and summary executions and deliberate targeting of civilians.  Human rights violations by States could foster radicalization and recruitment.  Hatred of ethnic or religious communities stemmed from a social, cultural, economic and political legacy that was usually found in discriminatory policies, as well as in exclusion, State repression and endemic corruption.  States were obliged to ensure that people belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities could exercise their human rights.  The international community should hold States and non-State armed groups to account.  Stability in the Middle East required respecting human rights and tackling the causes that allowed extremist ideologies to flourish.  States must also promote a culture of tolerance, notably through human rights education.

SIMONA MIRELA MICULESCU (Romania) said the strategies of gangs, such as so-called Da’esh, were as simple as their beliefs were backward.  “Let us not forget the victims,” she said, stressing that Yezidis had likely suffered the most since the emergence of Da’esh.  She urged a ratcheting up of efforts to preserve the mosaic of ethnic and religious communities that had been part of the Middle East for centuries.  The United Nations should raise awareness about minorities through the Alliance of Civilizations.  She also supported the Secretary-General’s development of an action plan, and the holding of a conference on the topic, announced by the representative of France.  She hoped to see more debates aimed at fostering understanding of discrimination based on religion or ethnic origin.  Societies must speak openly about how terrorism fostered discrimination and marginalization.  Quoting former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, she said:  “The United Nations was not created to bring humanity to heaven, but rather, to save it from hell”.

ANDRIY TSYMBALIUK (Ukraine), supporting resolution 2199 (2015) on terrorist organizations, said his Government was committed to countering the ISIL threat.  He agreed that inclusive political transition in Syria and inclusive political governance in Iraq were crucial for regional stability.  Strongly condemning the widespread and systematic persecution of minorities in the Middle East on ethnic or religious grounds, he also was deeply concerned at ISIL’s destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria.  He supported the Council’s decision that all States should take steps to prevent the trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property.  He also condemned abductions of women and children, their exploitation and abuse by ISIL, Al-Nusra Front and others associated with Al-Qaida.  “This activity must be stopped by all possible measures and this issue should stay on the Security Council agenda,” he stressed.

BOGUSŁAW WINID (Poland), associating with the European Union, said that, as a country with a centuries-long tradition of tolerance, the current attacks on minorities were of grave concern to Poland, which was contributing aid to persecuted groups.  Unfortunately, every day brought new horrors, including the attack in Tunis, in which three Polish nationals, among 20 others, had lost their lives.  Destruction of cultural heritage, some of which was especially meaningful to his country also continued, in an effort to wipe away all non-Sunni traces from the Middle East.  “The history of the twentieth century teaches us about the need to act in the face of similar developments to prevent even bigger-scale atrocities,” he said.  The situations in Syria, Iraq and Libya required concrete action by the Security Council.  Further inaction would only fuel extremism and deepen the suffering of millions, he stressed.

OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg) said all forms of extremism could only survive if protected by ignorance.  The brutality being unleashed by Da’esh on minority groups was “madness” and amounted to an attempt to eradicate the region’s diversity.  The horrific acts Da’esh had committed against a range of minority groups were tantamount to war crimes, as new reports had shown.  Turning to Syria, he said the Council must act to address the dire situation there and to implement measures, including resolution 2139 (2014).  Given the current crisis, he called on the Council to refer that situation to the International Criminal Court.

LEVENT ELER (Turkey) said people of the region had lived for centuries in peace, but recently, legitimate demands for democracy had risen alongside disturbing xenophobic trends.  Terrorism and extremism were not a Middle East phenomenon nor should they be associated with any religious or ethnic group.  In Syria, the regime had continued to oppress its people and had attacked its citizens with, among other things, barrel bombs.  Discussions on Da’esh should not get confused with the need to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.  In Iraq, his country was supporting the Government to assist people in need and had “opened our doors” to refugees, without regard to their ethnic or religious background.  On the situation of Palestinians, he said they were living in occupied lands and their rights needed to be respected.

KAREL VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said every individual must have the freedom to express identity, including religion and the right to choose no religion.  As such, the Netherlands was worried about the current unparalleled ethnic violence.  The country was committed in the fight against violent extremism, deploying military trainers and aircraft to the region, as well as supporting humanitarian efforts.  The international community had a responsibility to protect all groups from persecution.  Military action was not enough; ending impunity and strengthening accountability were also essential.  Should national efforts fail, the Council must refer relevant situations to the International Criminal Court.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said he hoped today’s debate would prompt action to address the grave barbaric terrorist acts being committed against minority groups.  The terrible acts committed by Da’esh could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity and the perpetrators must be held accountable, including by the referral of cases to the International Criminal Court.  The action plan proposed by the Secretary-General today should encompass a number of measures, including the fight against impunity and discrimination and the preservation of ethnic and religious diversity.  The Middle East was the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Under current conditions, Christians in the Middle East had suffered targeted attacks and their population had dwindled sharply.  He hoped action would be taken to protect them and other minority communities.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) said Islam faced a dual attack.  From within, extremists falsely cloaked in religious garb, were carrying out killings and persecution, largely against Muslims.  From without, an inflammatory media campaign was being waged which included violence against Muslims in Europe, Myanmar and elsewhere.  He wished today’s meeting had not limited itself to attacks against minorities in the Middle East.  Islam did not discriminate among religions.  The persecution of religious minorities violated the laws of Islam.  That was used often to justify the oppression and marginalization of Muslims, whether at the hands of unjust regimes, such as in Syria, or Israel, which persecuted Palestinians.  He urged action based on two pillars:  combatting all forms of terrorism and isolating its supporters, and implementing international justice and rule of law — between and within States.  He pressed the Council to devise a “profound” remedy to the region’s problems, notably by acknowledging Palestinians’ right to self-determination and reaching a political solution to the situation in Syria.  Hizbullah and Houthis must be prevented from imposing their will through armed force.  Saudi Arabia continued to combat those who persecuted minorities.

FRANTIŠEK RUŽIČKA (Slovakia), associating with the European Union and describing the brutality of ISIL and Boko Haram, said that terrorism and extremism were not issues of religion but were linked to globalization, migration and social problems, as well as the lack of education and hope.  There was no clash of civilizations but rather a clash of humanity versus brutality based on personal or group hatred.  The international community had a duty to fight all such brutality in an urgent manner and to build the capacity of States to protect their populations against it.  It also must hold all States and non-State armed groups to account and make them aware of their responsibilities.  Slovakia was ready to actively support any actions in that regard.  Reiterating the need for immediate action, he stressed that diversity was the richness of the region and must not become the cause for its decline.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that the fate of those for whom this debate had come too late should motivate action to prevent further abuses.  Christians and other religious minorities of the Middle East sought to be heard in the Council in a manner that was truly conscious of their suffering and their fear for survival in the region and beyond.  Noting the atrocities and flight suffered by Christians there, he expressed gratitude to the leaders who openly defended them as an integral part of the cultural fabric for the past 2,000 years.  He conveyed Pope Benedict XVI’s support for the concept of “responsibility to protect” as well as Pope Francis’ call for the international community to “do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities”.  Delay in action, he stressed, would only mean more people would die.

TIM MAWE (Ireland) said attacks based on religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds had tragically become regular occurrences, particularly in the Middle East, which remained the homeland of many diverse religious communities.  The descent of Syria, Iraq and Libya into violence had left many of those communities exposed to atrocities.  The relocation of communities was not the answer, he said, underlining the fundamental duty of States in the region to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens.  Special attention should be paid to the role of women, as both victims of extremism and agents for change.  In the lead-up to the post-2015 development agenda, the linkages between peace, development and respect for human rights must be recognized, he said.

JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain) said dialogue was the basis for achieving peace, security, justice, development and democracy.  The use of hate speech was incompatible with humanity and civilization.  For its part, Bahrain was an oasis of multiculturalism and multiracialism and had woven a “social fabric”, which was open and welcoming to all, no matter their religion or doctrine.  Manama contained mosques, churches and synagogues, and the Parliament included Christian and Jewish members.  Extremist thinking must be fought and minority communities must be protected as they faced ongoing attacks that ran counter to all religions.

CHARLES T. NTWAAGAE (Botswana) said that it was deeply regrettable that the world had become more brutal and more vicious.  There was an unprecedented pattern of violence among religious groups across regions, from Africa to Asia and the Middle East, where people were turning against each other in the name of religion and culture.  In many of those violent conflicts, Christians had been abducted, sexually and physically abused or killed, and had their churches destroyed.  Some had been forced to convert religions.  For those victims, the International Criminal Court remained the “only ray of hope”.  Botswana, therefore, called on the Court to continue to conduct investigations and prosecute persons responsible for those heinous crimes.  Concluding, he joined the international community in strongly condemning acts of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations.

PAIK JI-AH (Republic of Korea) said the rise of violent extremism based on religious hatred and ethnic intolerance, as seen in Syria, Iraq and Libya, was cause for serious concern.  The concept of the responsibility to protect obliged States to protect their populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, while imposing a corresponding duty on the international community to help States take action in such cases.  His Government had voted in favour of a 2014 resolution that referred crimes against humanity in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  While the text had not been adopted, his Government had advocated the need for accountability.  “We still hold on to that belief,” he said, supporting France’s efforts to build on the outcome of the 19 February Summit on Countering Violent Extremism held in Washington, D.C.

JĀNIS MAŽEIKS (Latvia), aligning with the European Union, strongly condemned all forms of violence, persecution, discrimination and intolerance based on religion or belief, ethnic origin or any other grounds, as well as the “unspeakable atrocities” committed by ISIL/Da’esh and other terrorist groups, particularly against vulnerable populations.  Those abuses and violations must be properly investigated and the perpetrators held accountable.  It was the primary responsibility of States to protect their civilian population and to promote and protect human rights, including of persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups.  Concerted international action was vital to counter violent extremism; therefore, Latvia had joined the Global Coalition to counter ISIL.  It was also important to address the underlying causes and to implement preventive measures to reduce radicalization and recruitment, especially of young people.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) urged the international community to support minorities’ historic presence in the Middle East, saying that States should respect the right to freedom of religion.  She rejected ISIL’s violations against religious and ethnic minorities.  In multilateral, regional, subregional, and bilateral relations, as well as in domestic politics, Argentina respected ethical and legal principles, which were inalienable and served as the moral and legal basis of the United Nations.  Her Government also respected the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  Respect for diversity offered the possibility of a truly human world.  “We all must be prepared to accept each other and learn to live as a single humanity,” she said.  Serious crimes and crimes against humanity by extremists on religious or ethnic grounds must be condemned and the perpetrators must be punished.  Those violations must be fought by using a legal framework that included sanctions and the referral of cases to the International Criminal Court.  Arms flows to any party in the Syrian conflict must stop.

For information media. Not an official record.