The Statement followed extensive engagement with religious authorities by UNITAD which continued during USG Dieng’s visit to Iraq between 1–6 March. The statement is the first time Iraqi religious leaders have formally endorsed a common statement on the need for justice and the rights of victims and survivors of ISIL.
USG Dieng and SA Khan applauded its adoption by His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Hassan al-Taha Chairman of the Iraq Jurisprudence Council, His Eminence Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al-Karbala’i, His Holiness Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Leader, and His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church. In the Statement, religious leaders repudiate and condemn the violence of ISIL as completely contrary to their respective faiths. It also underscores that members of all religions across Iraq have been impacted by the crimes of Da’esh, and that all survivors must be supported in their efforts to continue their lives within their communities.
The Statement also recognizes the many acts of heroism in which members of their respective communities rose up in defense of those from other religious and ethnic backgrounds. USG Dieng and SA Khan were particularly pleased that the religious leaders spoke with one voice in acknowledging the tremendous suffering members of their communities had endured as a result of sexual and gender-based violence and in underlining their commitment to ensure that survivors of such crimes are fully supported and do not suffer from any form of stigmatization.
Noting the particular suffering endured by children impacted by the crimes of ISIL, the religious leaders recognized that such children are blameless and should benefit from love and kindness. The critical importance of ensuring that ISIL members are held individually responsible for crimes committed, through fair trials in a court of law, as well as the investigation of cases of those disappeared and abducted by ISIL, is further underlined in the Statement. In this regard, all religious authorities expressed their strong collective support for the work of UNITAD. USG Dieng and SA Khan emphasized that the collective endorsement of this statement reflected the religious leaders’ joint effort in advancing accountability for crimes committed by ISIL and prioritizing the need for justice and accountability – as well as empathy and solidarity for all victims.
They stressed the crucial role religious leaders can play in fostering a peaceful and inclusive society and noted their essential role in ensuring effective support to the survivors of ISIL, countering violent ideology, mistrust and fear, and in bringing people together on the common ground of humanity.
SA Khan stated “This Statement constitutes an extremely important moment, representing as it does, a coming together of leaders from the Christian, Sunni, Shia and Yazidi communities, around universal values represented and promoted by their respective faiths. Justice for the victims of ISIL, support for survivors and an emphasis on inclusion and support in preference to exclusion, stigmatization and derision are important elements to ensure support for survivors – whether men, women or children. I am particularly grateful to the religious leaders for reiterating their unequivocal support for UNITAD and its mandate to vindicate the rights of victims and survivors to justice.”
USG Dieng stated “This Interfaith Statement constitutes a strong symbol of unity and a renewed call to deepen efforts to address concerns from all citizens of Iraq in their quest for a future together and in peace. It also represents a strong endorsement from these religious communities of the imperative to hold ISIL members responsible for their crimes”. Reflecting his engagement with religious authorities across Iraq during the visit, as well as the statement made by Sheikh Ahmed Hasan al-Taha upon signature, USG Dieng further noted that efforts were also needed to ensure that accountability is delivered for all crimes committed against members of all communities in Iraq. He noted that such work would serve to strengthen the basis for stable and peaceful relations across Iraq, and that in his capacity as Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, he will continue to engage with national governments, UN partners and other actors to promote justice for all victims as well as recognition of their suffering.
Upon endorsing the Statement during a meeting with USG Dieng and SA Khan on 6 March, His Eminence Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al-Karbala’i described the meeting as “an historic day” and he called upon other religious communities to also endorse the Statement. In the same vein, Cardinal Sako proposed a follow-up conference to broaden the endorsement for the Statement by other religious communities and build upon it. USG Dieng and SA Khan noted that the adoption of the Statement represented the beginning of a process of further engagement with other religious leaders in Iraq and both emphasized that the statement remains open for signature and that any and all faith leaders who wish to sign or endorse the Statement and implement the principles reflected within it are welcome to do so.
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