Persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands and Middle East: Consequences and Solutions
By Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)
Kennedy Caucus Room, Russel Bldg.
Washington, DC 12/5/17
Thank you both Chairman Mike Manatos and National Commander Dr. Limberakis of the Order of Saint Andrew for so effectively advocating for the protection and preservation of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East and the Holy Land—where it all began.
More than ever before, vigorous U.S. leadership and diplomacy are needed to address religious freedom violations in the region and globally. All the tools embedded in laws like the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act which I authored, last year https://chrissmith.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hr1150.pdf need to be rigorously utilized including
- timely and faithful designation of “Country of Particular Concern” and the new “entity of concern” like terrorist groups,
- the meting out of sanctions on CPC designated countries, holding not just countries but individuals who persecute to account including making such individuals inadmissible to the United States—no visa,
- integration of religious freedom into every aspect of U.S. foreign policy,
- enhanced religious freedom training for the foreign service including ambassadors and integrating religious freedom into every aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
The Trump Administration has made clear that they are committed to implementing the new law and to assisting persecuted believers. The pending confirmation of Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Governor Sam Brownback has the knowledge, passion and gravitas to lead effectively and Vice President Mike Pence, an articulate and tenacious defender of religious freedom leaves soon for a trip to the region.
In the past I have not only led human rights trips to places where Christians are persecuted—from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries to Turkey to China to places in Africa like Jos, Nigeria to Vietnam to the Middle East and the Holy Land—but I’ve also chaired numerous hearings including on the Armenian Genocide and the abduction and forced marriage and conversion of Coptic Christian girls.
Right before last Christmas, some of my top staffers and I went to Erbil to meet Christian survivors of ISIS genocide.
We traveled to Iraq at the invitation of Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil—who I met up with again yesterday—to press the U.S. and United Nations to help.
The Archbishop’s message yesterday for me and Vice President Pence with whom he met later in the day was urgency, urgency, urgency. They need our help, now.
The Archdiocese—like other Christian entities in the region—have heroically sustained and ministered to survivors of genocide with food, clothing, shelter, medical care and spiritual strengthening.
Shockingly, for years the U.S. and the U.N. have refused to support the Archdiocese in this vital humanitarian mission. Not a single penny was offered to help these displaced Christians. I chaired 9 congressional hearings on the issue—a tenth a few months ago—and asked tough questions and was both bewildered and angered by the Obama Administration’s refusal to assist.
It was only through the generosity of Christian charities in the U.S. and Europe and more recently, Hungary and Poland that these genocide survivors were able to survive.
In Erbil, we went to an IDP camp with 6,000 of these survivors, which had never once been visited by a US official until just before we arrived—even though it was a mere ten-minute drive from the U.S. Consulate in Erbil.
The U.S. consulate did not want us to visit the camp, saying it was unsafe, even though they could cite no specific threats to me or my delegation.
So we hitched a ride with Archbishop Warda. When we arrived, we met moms and dads dedicated to the gospel and their families. We listened with joy to hundreds of children singing birthday songs to Jesus for Christmas. We saw impoverished Christians who were rich in faith and courage and love.
It was a remarkable and moving sight.
We also sat with Christians and heard stories of ISIS atrocities, the desecration of churches, the murder of young men who refused to renounce Jesus Christ and sexual assault of women and girls.
Throughout it all, we heard people declare their love for God despite it all—of resilient Christians radiating hope, faith, and charity in the direst circumstances. And we joined the faithful in prayer for the persecuted and those who persecute. Hearing the Lord’s Prayer in the language of Jesus was especially moving.
To meet this gaping, unmet need, the House of Representatives passed my bill—the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act https://chrissmith.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hr_390_victims_of_genocide.pdf —HR 390 on June 6th and why we are appealing to the Senate to pass it now.
My sincere request to you is to ask Chairman Corker to release his hold on the bill. With respect, don’t wait any longer—delay is denial.
The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act directs the U.S. government to provide immediate humanitarian, recovery and reintegration assistance to Christians and other religious minorities who survived the genocide.
It ensures that funds reach the victims of genocide by authorizing assistance to entities helping them on-the-ground, including faith-based ones like the Archdiocese of Erbil.
The legislation also supports criminal investigations including the systematic collection and preservation of actionable evidence to ensure that those who commit crimes against humanity and genocide are held accountable in courts of law. All former U.S. Ambassadors –at-Large for War Crimes have endorsed this critical section of the legislation.
We are at a tipping point.
Archbishop Warda warned: “what becomes of these remaining Christians will be decided based upon the actions the world will take now. And I say actions, because there is no time left for words. Truly, these coming months may well decide the fate of Christianity in Iraq: whether it survives and is given a chance for rebirth; or whether it perishes, existing only as a few scattered museum pieces with caretaker clergy, of interest to tourists and academics perhaps, but without the Christian people who had lived there for two-thousand years.”