AUA – Americas Chapter Recommendations for
The Africa-Middle East Regional Forum on “Conflict prevention and the protection of the human rights of minorities” – June 15, 2021 to June 16, 2021
The minoritization of communities and the accompanying breakdown of the social contract are often the result of contemporary conflicts Disparity in the exercise of power coupled with absence of punishment for the abusers, as decided by the regional and/or central governments, exacerbates violence. Furthermore, it directly affects civilian populations in general and minorities most adversely. Contemporary conflicts are deadlier, longer lasting, and more complex to decipher: power is no longer the dominant explanatory factor. Diversity – of causes, actors, and intensity of violence – makes enumerating and typologizing these wars a risky enterprisei. Such diversities further place an adverse effect and negative implications on the indigenous peoples and minority communities. To prevent such conflicts, concrete actions are required to address the violations of rights of indigenous peoples and national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities.
The frequency of incidents arising from such conflicts calls for intervention by central government and international human rights agencies.? The following recommendations, to prevent, mitigate and eliminate contemporary conflicts, are submitted by the Assyrian Universal Alliance – Americas Chapter (AUA Americas)ii on behalf of the Assyrian people in their ancestral homeland.
Assyrians, as also referred to as Aramaen, Syriacs, or Chaldeans, are a distinct, ethno-religious and linguistic community with a heritage stemming from the pre-Christian, pre-Islamic and pre-Arab civilizations of Mesopotamia. The indigenous Assyrians are politically non-dominant, mostly profess to various early traditions of Christianity, and were historically the first to settle in many of the territories they currently reside. They speak Assyrian, also known as Syriac and Aramaic and commonly known as “Suret” which served as the lingua franca of Western Asia before the advent of Arabic. Their language has been designated as “definitely endangered” by UNESCO and faces the threat of extinction in the lands where it originated.iii
The Assyrians’ ancestral homeland is spread over Iraq, Syria, southeastern Turkey, and north-western Iran. The region from the Hakkari Mountains in Turkey to Mosul in northern Iraq is the Assyrian nation’s ancestral homeland, with Nineveh as its historic political capitaliv at Assur, its religious capital. Assyrian Christians fall within the criteria of indigenous peoples adopted by the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and should be entitled to the associated rights afforded to the members of the indigenous communities.v
In what follows, we discuss in detail the situation on the ground pertaining to Assyrians in Iraq as it is the most aberrant of those countries that operate with an institutional and civil framework. The situation in Syria is markedly different given the complete breakdown of an institutional framework and of civil society therein. However, there are important developments in Syria which Assyrians would and should capitalize on.
(I) Syria – Human Rights Issues: We will not enumerate herein the countless kidnappings, beheadings, sexual assaults, rapes, and pillaging of Assyrians and Assyrian properties in Syria since the advent of Da’esh as they have been carried out by Da’esh and equivalent Moslem extremist groups and not by the Syrian government.
For Syria, we highlight the Syria Draft Constitution of 2017vi which is the framework for drafting the new Syrian constitution by the 45-member drafting committee selected by the United Nations from among the 150 members that will ratify the new constitution.
First and foremost, Assyrians and Assyrian Universal Alliance (“AUA”) demand a seat at the table—namely, we demand to be members of the drafting committee and the ratification committee. While tribal leaders and women seem to have been included in this committee, Assyrians as the most indigenous community of Syria have been left out. Assyrians demand that this egregious wrong be righted by the United Nations at the earliest.
Second and most importantly, Assyrians and AUA laud the secular, egalitarian, pluralistic and power-sharing framework for the Syria Draft Constitution of 2017. The concepts of majority and minority—the root causes of institutional conflict and human rights abuses—are eradicated in this drafted constitution. Secularism and pluralism are the cornerstones upon which a power-sharing framework is built in this draft of the constitution, thereby guaranteeing the rights of all communities regardless of religion and ethnicity.
AUA Americas, offers the following recommendations to the government of Syria:
- Adopt the secular, egalitarian, pluralistic and power-sharing framework of the Syria Draft Constitution of 2017.
- Appoint Assyrians as members of the constitutional drafting committee and constitutional ratification committee.
(II) Iraq – Human Rights issues: (A) Voting suppression, (B) Freedom from Discrimination in the Right to Own Property and Businesses (C) Right to Dignified Housing; (D) Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health; and (E) Rights to all levels of Education.
According to recent change by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Iraqi citizens abroad will no longer be able to participate in the elections. In 2003, the Assyrian population was 1.5 million; currently the Assyrian population is around 142,000, leaving many Assyrians in the diaspora.vii This change will have a direct impact to the Assyrians living in Iraq. The indigenous Assyrians rely on those in diaspora to advocate for them locally, by participating in the elections, and internationally. This recent change will have a direct impact on the results of the elections concerning Assyrian candidates running for office. “By one report, 3,500 candidates have placed their names in the running for 325 seats. Of those, at least 34 Christian candidates are on the electoral lists. A minimum of five quota seats are reserved for Christian minorities, allocated to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohuk, and Nineveh.” viii
Systematic policies, of unlawful expropriation and state-sanctioned efforts, to effectively alter the demographic characteristics of the indigenous territories have both violated Constitutional safeguards and served to undermine the right of Assyrians to own property free from discrimination.
In the Kurdistan Region, unconstitutional confiscation and illegal (unlawful) occupation of lands belonging to Assyrians has escalated inter-ethnic conflict and continues to undermine the right of indigenous Assyrians to own property without discrimination. Challenges in resolving such issues have also highlighted the bias held by both law enforcement and the region’s judicial system against the aggrieved Assyrian landowners.
Assyrians are now among the internally displaced people (IDPs). As IDPs, the Assyrians are burdened by unreasonably high rents for their housing, overcrowded and otherwise inadequate housing conditions, which deprives them of the right to housing under Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), that includes, inter alia, the right to affordable and habitable housing with legal security of tenure. ix To fully guarantee equal access to education and housing, the State must prioritize the needs of the IDP Assyrians, as a severely disadvantaged group, by implementing necessary measures that overcome such threats to their physical and financial security.
Financial constraints in accessing critical healthcare prevents IDP Assyrians from enjoying the right to the highest attainable standard of health under Article 12, which the Committee notes, must be economically accessible to everyone, especially the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population. x
Assyrians have largely been ignored by Iraq’s educational system. Texts typically refer to Iraq’s ethnic mosaic as one of “Arabs, Kurds, and others.” In late 2010, a coalition of Iraqi minority civil society organizations provided amendments to state textbooks for grades five through nine in four subjects: history, geography, civics, and Arabic language, with the aim of better reflecting their heritage and contribution to Iraqi society. However, despite the support of Iraq’s Education Ministry, many of the amendments were not incorporated, and updated textbooks continue to include lessons that promote intolerance ND factual fallacies. For instance, current textbooks in the KRG continue to regard Simko Shaikh as a national hero, whereas Simko Shaikh was a renegade Kurdish chieftain that was chiefly responsible for assassinating His Holiness Mar Shimun XXI Benyamin, the late Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.
The AUA America offers the following recommendations to the government of Iraq:
- Institutionalize the?eradication of concepts of minority and majority and devise a power-sharing structure with Assyrians.
- Institutionalize and preserve the rights of indigenous communities, Assyrians being the most indigenous.
- End policies resulting in voting suppression targeting the Assyrians and minorities.
- Reinstate laws allowing Iraqi citizens abroad to vote in Iraq’s elections.
- End policies resulting in unlawful expropriation of Assyrian properties.
- Ensure Assyrians enjoy equal access to the judiciary and law enforcement when raising property disputes.
- Enforce all judgments calling for the return of unlawfully expropriated Assyrian properties.
- Amend existing laws or implement new legislation to grant full rights to the Assyrians, as the most indigenous people of Iraq, and end all discriminations on the ground that the Assyrians predominantly have a religion that is different from that of the majority.
- Amend existing laws or implement new legislation allowing all Iraqis the right not to state religious allegiance on personal identity cards and other government documents that refer to the religion of the subject parties.
- Implement long-term subsidized housing programs and income-generating opportunities for IDP Assyrians in areas where they are displaced and/or to areas in which they are returning to.
- Improve access to the right to the highest attainable standard of health by ensuring critical health services are affordable to IDP Assyrians.
- Ensure that the heritage of the indigenous Iraqis and their contribution to the Iraqi society is clearly reflected in the State’s textbooks and school lectures.
- Remove all mention of Simko Shaikh as a national hero in the State’s education curricula.
- Provide safe and affordable means of transportation for students to access educational institutions, especially in areas with large IDP Assyrians.