Human rights crisis in Iran, Syria overlooked; Christians facing extinction

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The world should not turn a blind eye to the plight of Christians in Syria and the increasing number of human rights violations in Iran, rights groups and religious leaders in the region say.

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, said on March 16 that two-thirds of Syria’s Christians have left the country. The bishop blamed the rise of radical Islamic terrorism.

Some 1 million Christians have been driven from Syria, an Aleppo bishop said.
Some 1 million Christians have been driven from Syria, an Aleppo bishop said.

“I think now there are maybe 500,000,” the bishop told reporters in Geneva. He said there were about 1.5 million Christians in the country before the start of the conflict in March 2011.

In Aleppo, only some 40,000 of its once 160,000-strong Christian community remain, Audo said.

“You cannot imagine the dangers that we face every day,” he said. Wealthy Christians have all left, while “the middle classes have become poor and the poor have become miserable.”

The bishop refrained from casting blame on President Bashar Assad, saying “there is no persecution of Christians” by the government. Rather, they are being “targeted” by jihadists such as ISIL in a bid to “destabilize the Syrian society and transform the war into a confessional war.”

The bishop said he believed 80 percent of Christians in Syria would support Assad if he stood for re-election.

He added that Syria had long served as a model for how Muslim and Christian communities could live side-by-side and said the hatred on display had been “imported.”

“I think… this war is not coming from inside Syria… I think all is organized from outside to destroy Syria.”

Meanwhile, a group of human rights organizations are calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to look into human rights violations in Iran.

“When a country has about 900 political prisoners and 1,000 annual executions and refuses to cooperate with nearly every UN mechanism, the Human Rights Council needs to monitor it closely,” said Mani Mostofi, the director of Impact Iran.

The groups, which include Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International wrote a letter to the international body, noting that “despite repeated recommendations from UN treaty bodies, the UN Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, no significant progress on human rights has materialized in Iran. Those living in the country continue to suffer from serious and systematic violations of their civil and political rights, while the economic, social, and cultural rights of several groups remain severely restricted.”

The letter pointed out that the Islamic Republic executed about a thousand people last year, most for “drug-related offenses in grossly unfair trials,” as well as for vague crimes such as “enmity against God,” “spreading corruption on earth,” and “insulting the Prophet.”