UN Human Rights Council Urged to End Virtual Silence on Iraq’s Endangered Minorities

By Patrick Goodenough | August 19, 2014 | 4:32 AM EDT

National flags at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, home of the U.N. Human Rights Council. (U.N. Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Iraqi Christian and Yazidi representatives will gather in Geneva on Tuesday to urge the U.N.’s top human rights body to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the plight of their imperiled communities. The Human Rights Council has largely ignored the issue up until now.

The rally comes 10 days after a coalition of human rights advocacy groups and lawmakers from several countries urged U.N. high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay to call for an emergency HRC session on the deadly jihadist campaign against Iraq’s religious minorities.

As of early Tuesday the coalition had received no reply, confirmed U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, whose Geneva-based non-governmental organization led the initiative. Pillay’s spokesman did not respond to queries by press time.

Tuesday’s event will feature Iraqi Christian figures and an Iraqi diplomat whose father, Prince Tahseen Saeed Bek, is head of the Yazidi minority.

Christians and Yazidis have faced the brunt of a violent campaign by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) fighters in the minorities’ historical heartland in northern Iraq. Reported atrocities committed against them have included mass killings, beheadings, crucifixions, convert-or-die ultimatums, destruction of churches, rapes and sexual slavery.

Iraq’s non-Muslim minorities had struggled for many years but ISIS’ advance across northern and western Iraq dramatically worsened their situation, prompting fears of genocide at the hands of the Sunni extremists.

Mosul, Iraq’s second city and an important center for Christians, fell to ISIS on June 9. One day later, the HRC opened a three week-long regular session in Geneva.

During the course of that session, the council adopted resolutions were adopted on the situations in Syria, Belarus, Eritrea, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and Ukraine.

U.N. high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay addresses a “special session” of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the Gaza Strip on July 23, 2014. Iraqi Christian and Yazidi representatives are urging her to call for a special HRC session on the plight of their communities at the hand of jihadists. (U.N. Photo/Violaine Martin)

When Iraq was discussed, it came up during a general agenda item on human rights situations requiring attention. Delegates from Germany, France, Ireland, Japan and Iraq raised the issue, as did several NGO representatives. No resolutions were drafted, and no action taken.

By the time the session ended on June 27, ISIS advances had triggered the displacement of more than half a million people, including Christians who had fled from Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain. Still the HRC, the world body’s top rights institution, remained silent.

Three-and-a-half weeks after the session ended, the HRC convened again, this time for an emergency “special session” on the situation in the Gaza Strip. Pillay addressed that session, which ended with a resolution slamming Israel over its offensive against Hamas and setting up a commission of inquiry.

That is the type of urgent meeting that Tuesday’s rally, and last week’s letter to Pillay, is advocating.

Since the HRC was created in 2006 it has held 21 special sessions on crisis situations around the world. One-third of them have targeted Israel; none have focused on Iraq, or the plight of Christians anywhere in the Middle East.


In order for a special session to be held, at least 16 – one-third – of the HRC’s 47 member-states must support the request.

But Neuer said that as high commissioner, Pillay’s support would be instrumental in getting one scheduled on the Iraqi minority situation.

“Procedurally, it’s just 16 states,” he explained. “Practically, however, the H.C. has enormous clout and can create the essential momentum in otherwise sleepy Geneva. Momentum on such matters is critical.”

Neuer recalled that Pillay’s predecessor, Louise Arbour, had called for a special session on Darfur in late 2006 – “and then it happened.”

“Both democracies and also some of the milder non-democracies would be inclined to support a session on Iraq if Pillay would call for it,” he said. “So she’s the lynchpin here.”

In their earlier letter to Pillay, the human rights groups and lawmakers – including parliamentarians from Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Estonia – drew attention to atrocities committed against members of the Christian, Yazidi and other minorities.

“It is unconscionable for the world’s highest  human rights body – which is pledged, under [the U.N. resolution that created the HRC] to prevent human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies – to continue turning a blind eye to the massacre, abuse, and intimidation of Iraqi civilians,” they wrote.

The signatories called for the convening of a special session; for the setting up of an independent fact-finding mission to investigate acts by ISIS “committed to destroy, in whole or in part, various national, ethnic, racial and religious groups in Iraq”; and for the mandate for a U.N. “special rapporteur” on Iraq, which was allowed to lapse in 2004, to be revived.

While the HRC has failed to act on the Iraqi minorities situation other elements of the U.N. human rights apparatus have expressed concern.

Pillay herself, in a June 13 statement about civilians caught up in the fighting, said she was “especially concerned about the risk to vulnerable groups, minorities, women and children.”

Various U.N. rights experts also voiced concern about Iraq’s minorities in statements on July 25 and August 12, and on Monday the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discussed the issue.