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PAKISTAN – The Archbishop of Lahore at the funeral of the victims of Youhanabad: “Be men of peace”

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Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – “We do not need and do not want a civil war. We Christians are people of peace. Do not let the pain cloud our eyes. What future do we want to build for Pakistan? A future of harmony and reconciliation”: this is what the Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Shaw said to a crowd of over 10 thousand faithful who took part in the funeral of the victims of the St. John Church (Catholic) and Christ Church (Protestant) attack in Youhanabad, Christian suburb on the outskirts of Lahore.

The celebration of the funeral, which was held in the Catholic church of St. John, was ecumenical: it was attended by the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Lahore. The victims and the families present belonged to both Christian communities: the funeral of the victims of both attacks was celebrated as a sign of profound communion. The funeral was also attended by representatives of civil authorities and some Muslim leaders came as a sign of solidarity with Christians.

In an interview with Agenzia Fides, Archbishop Shaw said: “We have reiterated that violence is not the right path. The Gospel calls us to Always be, in every circumstance men of peace. Today, in this pain, we can pray and seek consolation in God. Christ is our consolation”. The Bishop stressed that “Christians today want peace and security. As Pakistani citizens, we ask the government security and protection, in order to live in harmony and to help build a just, peaceful and fraternal nation”.
The bodies of the victims were taken to the cemetery in Lahore, where they received proper burial. “We are in mourning, but our faith sustains us. The Lord does not abandon us in this ordeal”, says to Fides don Asharf Gill, a priest of the diocese of Lahore. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/03/2015)

VOP:

Blessed are the peacemakersfor they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:9-11

Eye for Eye

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19 (words we must remember and live by)

“In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:10-12

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

In love, we stand with Pakistani Christians and pray for their endurance. Be strong brothers and sisters, God is with you.

Voice of the Persecuted

Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

Urgent Prayer Request for Pakistani Christians

 

Photo:Christians in Pakistan

Photo:Christians in Pakistan

(Voice of the Persecuted) Two suicide bombings at churches in Pakistan have claimed the lives of more than a dozen Christians.

  • Please pray for Pakistani believers who were impacted by the tragic bombings at Christ Church and St. John Catholic Church.
  • Please pray for God’s love and mercy on them, their comfort, peace, guidance and protection.
  • Pray God will fill them with His divine joy in this horrific trial.
  • Please pray they will feel God’s presence and respond with the love of Jesus.
  • Pray that God will change the hearts of the persecutors.
  • And that all people in Pakistan will strive to live in peace with all their neighbors, regardless of their religion.

Please remember the precious Pakistani believers in Thailand. They are seeking and applied for religious asylum to other nations through the UNHCR…yet the Thai government regards them as illegals. Consequently, the Thai government has arrested several hundred of the Pakistani believers. They are being held in the detention centers, including mothers separated from their infants and children. We have received reports the situation has not yet improved.

  • Please pray that God will intervene in this situation in Thailand.
  • Please pray that these saints will know God`s presence and joy in this dark situation.
  • Please pray that God will soften the Thai government`s heart regarding these Pakistani saints.
  • Please pray that the U.N. will take the necessary action and intervene on behalf of these Pakistani Christians fleeing extreme religious oppression.

Trust and believe, our prayers can change the outcome of things!

 Voice of the Persecuted

Pakistan: A “Day of Prayer for our martyrs” after the attacks on churches

praying

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – Time of mourning and prayer for the Church in Pakistan: today, Monday, March 16, the Catholic faithful celebrate a “special day of prayer for the innocent lives of the martyrs“. This was announced in a note sent to Agenzia Fides by His Exc. Mgr. Sebastian Shaw OFM, Archbishop of Lahore, after the twin suicide bombing that yesterday, March 15, hit the Catholic Church of St. John and the Protestant “Church of Christ “, in Youhanabad, an entirely Christian suburb on the outskirts of Lahore, where 15 people died and over 80 were injured.

The Archbishop announced that Catholic schools and institutes are closed today to commemorate the innocent victims, and defines “martyrs” those who “gave their lives in the accident to save thousands of people”. “Their blood was not shed in vain and will bring peace to all citizens of Pakistan”.
Condemning the barbaric acts and calling for greater government commitment to the protection of Pakistani Christians, Mgr. Shaw prays “so that peace and harmony prevail in the country” and called on all citizens to “openly reject violence and terrorism”.
Even His Exc. Mgr. Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi and President of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan has released a statement, sent to Agenzia Fides, in which he says: “The Catholic Church strongly condemns the brutal suicide attacks on churches in Lahore. We beg the government in Punjab and the federal government of Pakistan to take adequate measures for the protection of churches and religious minorities in Pakistan.
We ask the faithful not to react with violence and to cooperate with the police in the investigation. We pray the Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of the injured and the families of the victims”.
“The government, political parties, religious leaders and every citizen of Pakistan – said Mgr. Coutts – are called to speak out against extremist forces, alongside their Christian brothers and sisters. Believers of all religions must promote peace and social harmony and protect each other from terrorism. The Catholic Church and other religious minorities in Pakistan are asking the government to take effective measures to guarantee freedom of religion in the country”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 16/03/2015)

“Hopeless” Cries From Thailand

 

Pakistani Christian asylum seekers at risk of arrest

(Voice of the Persecuted) Hopeless is what the Christians in Thailand are feeling tonight.  Instead of resting comfortably in their living room, they are hiding, and fearful and feel hopeless.  Their children will be subjected to conditions not meant for hardened, or  seasoned criminals.  One description of the detention center for imigrants in Thailand say’s that there was 100 people in a cell built for 20.  One toilet, and it got so bad they had to drill a hole in the side to allow it to escape.  There was so little room that they had to sleep sitting up.  One mother describes fights that broke out and trying to hide her children in a corner so they wouldn’t be hurt.  They separate the women from the men, breaking and separating families, some never to be seen again.

The fear in the voices of Christians  in Thailand who have fled Persecution in Pakistan is poignant and tragic.  Piercing the very soul.  We have shed so many tears, in anguish for these dear brethren. So many children have also been taken with their families. And now we have been told that they are threatening to send them back to Pakistan.  So many have gone into hiding, not knowing what the next minute will bring.  Not knowing if they will survive till morning, or survive the day.

I hear phrases like “we are dead.”  Or “hopeless.”  I hear and feel the desperation in their voice, and their souls.  Not knowing if I will ever hear from them again, is almost too much to bear.  The helplessness, and hopelessness that they and others feel is real, it’s very real.  Our hope is in the Lord.  I pray with them, encourage them, and pray some more.  They are always at the forefront of my mind.

We were informed of the tragedy befalling the Christians in Thailand, they fled a land where false blasphemy accusations can bring the death penalty and many are forced to convert.  A land where it is not uncommon for Christians to be burned to death, whole villages destroyed, or arrested merely for believing in Christ.  They fled to a country that they thought would be safe until the UNHCR would help them.  That help is not coming.  Interviews are put off, or not held.  There is no safety for assylum seekers in Thailand.

Now we have verified that law enforcement personnel in Thailand have leaked that the latest arrests of Christians would be sent back to Pakistan.  A death sentence for most.  At the least a prison sentence, with a death sentence to follow.  Pakistan recently lifted the moratorium on their death penalty.  Letters have been written, and pleas made.  But so far have fallen on deaf ears.  The MSM won’t cover this. I have contacted many pleading for coverage to raise awareness, and nothing.   And if you take away the persecution of Christians that this is encompassing you are still left with an international violation of the law.  Arresting children in any land is a clear violation.  Children have protected rights or at least they are suppose to.  Yet these precious children are not protected.

  • International criminal law is a body of international law designed to prohibit certain categories of conduct commonly viewed as serious atrocities and to make perpetrators of such conduct criminally accountable for their perpetration. Principally, it deals with genocide,war crimes, crimes against humanity, as well as the crime of aggression.
  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(commonly abbreviated as theCRC,CROC, or UNCRC) is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.
  • Currently, 194 countries are party to it, including every member of the United Nations except Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.

Just in one day alone we were told that children that ranged in  age from  6 months to 12 years old,  more than 44 children were taken into  police custody.  And yet the International Community has yet to even call an emergency meeting to address this.  No condemnation, no calls for cease and desist, no aid nothing.  Nothing but silence.  It’s hard to pin down exact numbers but it is in the hundreds by now.  CBN reports that it is 400.  We are attempting to verify these numbers.  It’s hard to reach contacts as they are arrested or in hiding.  So again we ask the question, “If Not For The Children When?”

If you feel so inclined one Christian suggested we call the UNHCR in Geneva to ask for intervention at least for the Children.  Here is their number:  +41 22 739 81 11

And they also asked if we could call the UNHCR in Thailand, and ask them to at least grant these families assylum to relocate to other countries.  Here is the number:  0066 2 665 2523

Voice of the Persecuted

Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

Attacks Rock Asia & Africa – Today, Evil Knows No Boundaries Or Benevolence

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(Voice of the Persecuted) While the media, western leaders and so called experts and analysts focus and downplay the connected ties that evil has, attacks rocked from Pakistan to Nigeria.  One close to us lost a friend in the attacks on Christian Churches in Pakistan.  Today, evil knows no boundaries or benevolence. Images show even children who were wounded. The militants belonging to a religious ideology that loves death more than life, joined together terrorizing from multiple regions of the world, as we’ve warned in the past.   Using them as a cover for arms traffic as well.  There has been a superhighway of terror flowing from the Middle East, to the coasts of Africa and Asia for some time.

While the Taliban was committing a genocidal attack on Christians in Pakistan, Boko Haram was burning whole villages, using an IDP camp to hide bombs ready to be detonated.  The AFP reported the bombs were found in the city’s Yerwa primary school, prompting panic until soldiers destroyed the bombs from a distance. The school was converted into a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) after Boko Haram Islamists captured the town of Bama, some 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Maiduguri, last July. 

We’ve shared that refugee camps were infiltrated by rebels using these camps to gather information, as a base for terror, frequently kidnapping, raping and torturing. Many refugees flee these camps for when they recognize militants in the midst.

On Saturday, Boko Haram set fire to homes in the town of Bama.  The military was reportedly on it’s way to retake the town, when Boko Haram suddenly told everyone to leave. They then set fire to their homes.  But not everyone was able to escape—the sick, the weak, and the elderly couldn’t leave and locals fear that they were burned alive in their homes.  Those who could fled toward Maiduguri.  There has been a renewed call from the UN for all African Nations to start a monetary fund for fighting Boko Haram, while France seems to be providing logistics. There are reports that hired mercenaries were making their way through Northern Nigeria also to take down the Boko Haram. The Nigerian government denies hiring any foreign mercenaries. But others suggest the use of mercenaries is far more extensive than previously known. Several hundred mercenaries, including pilots of helicopters and fighter jets – are believed to be involved in the battle against the Boko Haram insurgents. One diplomat told Reuters that the hiring of foreign mercenaries “appears to be a desperate ploy to get some sort of tactical success up there in six weeks for the electoral boost.”

ISIS appears to be extending their reach, with the recent renewed pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram. And hints that Al-Shabob will be following suit. Uniting under one goal, and that is to destroy the West, Christianity and anything else that stands in their way.  The media is beginning to talk about this evil spreading across 1/4 of the globe, but is it too little too late? Western leaders are still scrambling to put 2 sentences together about them.

The Pope spoke out today and condemned the Pakistan attack.  CNA quoted him saying,

 “With suffering, with much suffering, I have learned of today’s terrorist attacks against two churches in the city of Lahore, Pakistan, which have caused numerous deaths and injuries,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 15.

Francis noted how both of the churches targeted, only a few meters apart, “are Christian churches, the Christians who are persecuted,” and grieved how “our brothers shed their blood solely because they are Christians.”

In addition to praying for the victims and their families, Francis implored God “for the gift of peace and harmony for that country, and that this persecution against Christians – which the world tries to hide – will end, and that there will be peace.”

Pray for peace and pray endurance for our brethren, globally facing so much suffering.

C. Refsland, VOP Advocate/News Analyst

Voice of the Persecuted

Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

Breaking: Churches In Pakistan Attacked With Twin Suicide Bombings

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Photo: Christians in Pakistan (Facebook)

 

To cause the most damage, twin bombings took place while the Youhanabad churches were filled for worship. A splinter group from the Tarik-i-Taliban, the Jamat- ul- Ahraa, who rejoined the Pakistan Taliban in August of last year, has claimed responsibility.

Reports claim the suicide bombers were stopped at the gates and detonated their explosives.  It was shocking to the Christians in the community as this area has been relatively peaceful. Although NBC and Al-Jazeera report that 10 were killed we are hearing that 14 were killed and 75 were injured.  The number is likely to rise.

Youhanabad is a suburb of Lahore, Pakistan. It is the largest majority Christian area in the city with about 200,000 inhabitants, though DAWN says it is at least 1 million.

LAHORE, Pakistan – Bombs outside two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed 10 people and wounded more than 55 during Sunday services, officials said, and witnesses said quick action by a security guard prevented many more deaths.  via Pakistan Church Bombings: Twin Blasts Kill 10, Wound 55 in Lahore – NBC News.com.

Christians have been a major target in Pakistan for years.  Churches and Christian communities have been attacked, Christians have been pressured to convert and often accused or arrested on false charges. The government of Thailand is attempting to make things difficult for Pakistani Christians seeking asylum. It is believed the pressure from the government is an attempt to make them want to leave the country on their own. The UNHCR offers little help for the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers. They often feel abandoned and are losing hope.

Christians Arrested in Bankok From Christians in Pakistan Facebook

The UNHCR has sorely lacked in it’s response for these refugees.  Clearly ignoring their plight, and stepping away from International law, especially where children are concerned.

One quarter of the world is in chaos with Christians attacked in every corner of the middle east and even Africa.  The UN response has been lacking.  Images from this latest attack in Pakistan are disturbing. Please pray for the victims and their families.  Pray for those fleeing, and those remaining.

Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

Patience to PRAY ON (Matthew 26:36-44)

VOP-brown-pray-banner

Praying for the Persecuted Church

 

(Voice of the Persecuted) Patience to PRAY ON Matthew 26:36-44 (ESV) “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.”

The above description of Christ with Peter, as well as “the sons of Zebedee”, more than likely James and John, who are called this in Mark 10:35. Went to a secluded place to pray, he prayed steadfastly and asked the disciples to do the same, how Jesus found the three – sleeping. Were they so tired that praying was a task for them? Do you believe the stressors they had were matched to what Jesus was enduring? (Luke 22:44). In love Jesus asked Peter “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” and a second time they were found asleep, but this time he did not say anything he went on to pray more stating the same as he did earlier, “”My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Praying not only in a secluded place, but possibly even feeling alone, knowing his three disciples were asleep, not keeping watch.

As you read this, our friend and brother in Christ, Pastor Saeed Abedini has been in an Iranian prison for over 900 days; that is 2 years and 5 ½ months in a prison. Thousands of us around the world have been praying, daily, sometimes twice a day. Many of us may be like Peter and the sons of Zebedee, with good intent motivated by our spirit, but our flesh gets in the way and we fall short of continuing to pray.

I am writing to encourage all of us to pray for Families of persecuted Christians, one of the seven points of prayer that we’ve prayed during the prayer vigils on September 26th (the date that Saeed was imprisoned). But not only for the families but for the support of those persecuted. Yes, that means for you and those who acknowledge praying for Pastor Saeed and others persecuted. Therefore, we pray another point of prayer for revival in our cities as we gather in unity to pray for the persecuted Christians. That the Lord would use this time to awaken the churches and the Body of Christ in our cities and in our countries. Pray On, do not get weary, pray and watch, and see Gods hand at work.

I encourage you to pray on, to rejuvenate your willingness, your good intent, and your patience for prayer, by stopping what you are doing now to pray specifically for Saeed’s protection, his release, and for his support. And as you pray for Saeed, replace his name with the persecuted church and pray the same for them. Pray for Naghmeh, if we grow weary of praying, keep in mind the emotions which our sister in Christ endures, and the mountain of expectations she must carry. You have heard this before, I will share it now, Galatians 6:9 (ESV) “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Do not get tired of praying, of doing well, in Gods timing we will see, don’t stop until it is complete, be watchful as Jesus told Peter. For what reason? So that we may not fall into temptation. There is a direct correlation of praying (talking to God) and temptations; if we are not praying, growing in God, what are we doing? Being stagnate in our faith? Opening doors for temptations.

Allow the following three bible verses to be a source of encouragement; strength to your personal walk and a prayer source towards all of us. Pray as you are led but use the content following the specific verses if you’d like:

• Psalm 27:14 (ESV), “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

a. Lord, help me to be strong, to wait for you to watch and take courage in all of what is happening. I pray for my brothers and sisters for them to do the same, that we will not lose courage in you, we can be strong for one another. We ask you to remind those who are persecuted to remain strong and encouraged by the words in this verse, “Wait for the Lord” it is your timing, your will be done, not ours.”

• Philippians 4:6 (ESV), “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

a. Lord, I worry for the littlest things, I ask that your words in Philippians 4:6 penetrate my heart that I am freed from worrying, and thoughts of concern, of anxiousness arise in me that I can pray and begin to thank you for the source.

• Roman 8:25 (ESV), “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

a. Lord, we hope for so many things in you, you are our living hope. Grow our patience as we wait for your coming, provide the patience in us to show the world, You. I pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted that their hearts are revived in You, the living hope (1 Peter 1:3; 1 Timothy 4:10).

In closing I encourage all of us to pray, as it states in Isaiah 40:31 (ESV), “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Let us wait, renew so that we are not weary and faint. Pray for one another, pray for the persecuted Church and pray for our brother Saeed and his family. With the hope of Christ as our motivation and the power of prayer that we have seen and heard of as our encouragement and the Word of God shared and known to all of us, allow your hearts to wait, watch, and Pray On.

by Dr. Jim Seward

Voice of the Persecuted

European Parliament Passes Resolution Calling for Assyrian Safe Haven in North Iraq

An Assyrian house in Telsqof, Iraq destroyed by ISIS.

An Assyrian house in Telsqof, Iraq destroyed by ISIS.

(AINA) — The European Parliament has passed a non-binding resolution calling for the establishment of an Assyrian safe haven in north Iraq. Citing the attacks by ISIS on Assyrians in Iraq and Syria, including the abduction of nearly 300 Assyrians, the killing of dozens of Assyrians in the attacks on their villages in Syria, the destruction of Assyrian cultural heritage such as the city of Nimrud, the resolution “is shocked and saddened at the brutal actions by ISIS/Da’esh extremists against the Assyrians in Syria…” and “Strongly condemns ISIS/Da’esh and its egregious human rights abuses that amount to crimes against humanity…”

The resolution “Calls upon the international coalition to do more to prevent abductions of minorities, such as the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northern Syria; underlines the importance of ensuring a safe haven for the Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs and others at risk in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq…”

Here is the full text of the resolution:

The European Parliament,– having regard to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948,

— having regard to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1950,

— having regard to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966,

— having regard to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion and Belief of 1981,

— having regard to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities of 1992,

— having regard to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,

— having regard to its previous resolutions on Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt, in particular that of 10 October 2013 on recent cases of violence and persecution against Christians, notably in Maaloula (Syria) and Peshawar (Pakistan) and the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini (Iran)(1), that of 18 September 2014 on the situation in Iraq and Syria, and the IS offensive, including the persecution of minorities(2), and that of 12 February 2015 on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria, in particular in the IS context(3),

— having regard to the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief,

— having regard to the statements by the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (VP/HR) on violence and persecution against Christians and other communities in the Middle East, in particular that of 16 February 2015 on the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya,

— having regard to the Joint Communication from the Commission and the VP/HR to the European Parliament and the Council on elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da’esh threat,

— having regard to the statement by the UN Security Council of 25 February 2015 condemning the abduction of more than 100 Assyrians by ISIL,

— having regard to the UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic entitled ‘Rule of Terror: Living under ISIS in Syria’, of 14 November 2014,

— having regard to the annual reports and interim reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief,

— having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights and civil liberties are fundamental principles and aims of the European Union and constitute common ground for its relations with third countries;

B. whereas, according to international human rights law and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in particular, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; whereas this right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching,; whereas according to the UN Human Rights Committee, the freedom of religion or belief protects all beliefs, including theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs;

C. whereas the European Union has repeatedly expressed its commitment to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion or belief and has stressed that governments have a duty to guarantee these freedoms all over the world;

D. whereas the United Nations and other international organisations have reported widespread serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by ISIS/Da’esh and associated groups in Syria and Iraq, in particular against minority ethnic and religious groups, including through targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, selling of women, slavery of women and children, recruitment of children for suicide bombings, sexual and physical abuse and torture; whereas there are serious concerns for the welfare of those still trapped in areas controlled by ISIS/Da’esh forces, as almost no international humanitarian assistance reaches those areas;

E. whereas ISIS/Da’esh has embarked upon a campaign to eradicate all traces of religious and faith communities other than those representing its own interpretation of Islam, by killing or expelling its adherents and destroying their holy places, historical sites and artefacts, including unique and irreplaceable heritage recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage and described as ‘cultural cleansing’ by this organisation;

F. whereas in the areas under its control, ISIS/Da’esh is extracting an unacceptable and irreparable price from millenarian civilisations; whereas, notably in Iraq and Syria, but also in other parts of the wider Middle East, the situation facing Christian communities is such as to endanger their very existence, and if they were to disappear, this would entail the loss of a significant part of the religious heritage of the countries concerned;

G. whereas ISIS/Da’esh targets Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shi’ites, Shabak, Sabeans, Kaka’e and Sunnis who do not agree with their interpretation of Islam, and other ethnic and religious minorities, but whereas some of these communities were already targeted by extremists well before the advance of ISIS/Da’esh; whereas Christians in particular have been deliberately targeted by various extremist or jihadist groups for many years, forcing more than 70 % of Iraqi Christians and more than 700 000 Syrian Christians to flee their countries;

H. whereas in Iraq the 250 000 Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs comprise a distinct ethno-religious group and it is estimated that up to 40 000 Assyrians lived in Syria before the country’s civil war broke out in 2011;

I. whereas on 15 February 2015 ISIS/Da’esh released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya; whereas the Copts, who were migrant workers from an impoverished part of Egypt, had been kidnapped in Sirte, Libya;

J. whereas on 23 February 2015 an estimated 220 Assyrians were abducted by ISIS/Da’esh near Tell Tamer on the southern Khabur River bank in north-east Syria; whereas during the same campaign the extremists also destroyed properties and holy places of the Christians; whereas dozens of Assyrians were killed during the IS assault; whereas IS reportedly issued a declaration in February 2015 requesting Assyrian villages in the Syrian Hasaka Province to pay the jizya, a tax on non-Muslims dating to early Islamic rule and abolished in 1856 across the Ottoman empire, to convert to Islam or else be killed; whereas major ISIS/Da’esh attacks have been reported on Assyrian Christian towns in the Khabur River area since 9 March 2015;;

K. whereas since 1 March 2015 ISIS/Da’esh has released several dozen Assyrians, mostly infants and elderly people, following negotiations with tribal leaders, but most Assyrians are still held captive and the terrorists have threatened to kill them if the coalition bombings do not stop;

L. whereas as part of a deliberate policy of cultural and religious cleansing, IS has reportedly destroyed more than 100 churches in Iraq, and at least 6 churches in Syria, as well as a number of Shia mosques in Iraq; whereas in February 2015, IS fighters deliberately publicised their destruction of statues and other artefacts in the Mosul Museum dating back to the ancient Assyrian and Akkadian empires; whereas IS subsequently bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and, most recently, it reportedly destroyed the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hatra; whereas the Syrian regime has reportedly shelled churches in opposition neighbourhoods, for example in Homs in 2012 and Idlib in 2013;

M. whereas ISIS/Da’esh continues to persecute, maim and murder, sometimes in extremely cruel and unimaginable ways, members of ethnic and religious minorities, journalists, prisoners of war, activists and others; whereas war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continue to be perpetrated on a daily basis and on a massive scale by other conflict parties as well, including notably by the Assad regime;

N. whereas one of the roots of the ISIS/Da’esh violence is Salafism, notably the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam;

1. Is shocked and saddened at the brutal actions by ISIS/Da’esh extremists against the Assyrians in Syria and the Copts in Libya, and condemns them in the strongest terms; expresses its solidarity with the families of the victims and with the Assyrian Christian community in Syria and Coptic Christian community in Egypt, as well as all other groups and individuals affected by ISIS/Da’esh violence;

2. Strongly condemns ISIS/Da’esh and its egregious human rights abuses that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and which could be called genocide; is extremely concerned at this terrorist group’s deliberate targeting of Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shi’ites, Shabak, Sabeans, Kaka’e and Sunnis who do not agree with their interpretation of Islam, as part of its attempts to exterminate any religious minorities from the areas under its control; underlines that there must be no impunity for the perpetrators of these acts and that those responsible should be referred to the ICC; recalls, in this context, the unresolved kidnapping of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi by armed rebels in Aleppo Province, Syria, on 22 April 2013;

3. Condemns, furthermore, the attempts by ISIS/Da’esh to export their extremist totalitarian ideology and violence to other countries in the region and beyond;

4. Supports the international efforts against ISIS/Da’esh, including the military actions of the international coalition, coordinated by the United States, and encourages the EU Member States who have not already done so to consider ways of contributing to these efforts, including tracing and interdicting ISIS secret funds held overseas;

5. Calls upon the international coalition to do more to prevent abductions of minorities, such as the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northern Syria; underlines the importance of ensuring a safe haven for the Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs and others at risk in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, an area where many ethnic and religious minorities have historically had a strong presence and lived peacefully alongside each other;

6. Urges the EU and its Member States to take a proactive and preventive approach towards the threat of ISIS/Da’esh expansion into countries and regions beyond Iraq and Syria; in this light, is extremely concerned about the situation in Libya, not least because of its geographical proximity to the EU as well as to conflict areas in Africa;

7. Urges the EU and its Member States, as well as NATO partners, to address the issue of certain countries’ ambivalent roles in the conflict, in particular where they contributed, or still contribute, actively or passively, to the rise of ISIS/Da’esh and other extremist groups; is very concerned, in this context, about the financing of the dissemination of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam by public and private entities of countries from the Gulf region and calls upon these countries to stop this financing; furthermore, urges these countries to stop the financing of terrorist organisations from within their territories; calls upon Turkey to play a positive role in the fight against ISIS/Da’esh and without delay allow Christian minorities and other persecuted people fleeing from Syria to cross the border into Turkey and seek safety;

8. Encourages the cooperation with newly emerging regional and local forces, such as the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, Kurdish groups elsewhere, such as the role of YPG in the liberation of Kobane, and the Syriac Military Council, as well as local self-governing entities in the region which have shown more commitment to human rights and democracy than their countries’ rulers; salutes, in particular, the courage of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who have done so much to protect endangered minorities;

9. Is concerned about reports of Christian minorities not having access to refugee camps in the region because they would be too dangerous for them; requests that the EU make sure its development assistance targets all minority groups displaced by the conflict; encourages the EU to use the experience and well-established networks of local and regional churches, as well as international relief organisations of churches, to provide financial and other assistance, in order to ensure that all minority groups can benefit from the protection and support of European aid;

10. Considers it imperative that the Council and the European External Action Service (EEAS) start working with international and regional partners on a post-ISIS/Da’esh scenario, taking into account the urgent need for cultural and religious dialogue and reconciliation;

11. Denounces the destruction of cultural sites and artefacts by ISIS/Da’esh in Syria and Iraq, which constitutes an attack against the cultural heritage of all inhabitants of these countries and of humanity at large;

12. Urges the EU and its Member States to cooperate with international and local partners to safeguard as much Assyrian and other cultural and religious heritage as possible from the territories occupied by ISIS/Da’esh; furthermore, urges the Council to take action against the illicit trade in ancient artefacts coming from these territories;

13. Confirms and supports the inalienable right of all religious and ethnic minorities living in Iraq and Syria to continue to live in their historical and traditional homelands in dignity, equality and safety, and to practice their religion freely; in this light, urges all UN member states to clearly speak out against the violence and in particular in favour of the rights of minorities; believes that in order to stem the suffering and the mass exodus of Christians and other indigenous populations of the region, a clear and unequivocal statement by regional political and religious leaders, in support of their continued presence and full and equal rights as citizens of their countries, is necessary;

14. Rejects without reservation and considers illegitimate the announcement by ISIS/Da’esh leadership that it has established a caliphate in the areas it now controls; emphasises that the creation and expansion of the ‘Islamic caliphate’, and the activities of other extremist groups in the Middle East, is a direct threat to the security of the region, as well as European countries;

15. Confirms its commitment to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief as a fundamental human right guaranteed by international legal instruments to which most countries in the world have committed and which are recognised as holding universal value;

16. Supports all initiatives, including in the EU, aimed at promoting dialogue and mutual respect between communities; calls on all religious authorities to promote tolerance and to take initiatives against hatred and violent and extremist radicalisation;

17. Urges the EU to further explore counter-terrorism policies, within the human rights framework, other than those already in place, and to continue to work with Member States to enhance policies that counter radicalisation on EU soil, the spreading of hate speech and incitement to violence online; urges EU Member States, furthermore, to work together with the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly to stop the spread of extremist and jihadist ideology worldwide;

18. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Syrian National Coalition, the Government and Parliament of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Council of Deputies in Tobruk, Libya, and the Libyan Government, the League of Arab States, the UN Secretary-General and the UN Human Rights Council.

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