The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission in charge of defending the universal right to freedom of religion by making policy recommendations to the U.S. administration, has raised concerns about the situation in northeast Syria, according to UCANews.
USCIRF said towns and villages in northeast Syria — including some that are traditionally home to Christians, Kurds, Yazidis and Arabs — have been experiencing persistent shelling by Turkish and allied militants, human rights and religious freedom abuses and ethnic cleansing. Moreover, it said badly needed humanitarian aid has also been cut off, especially in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was able to see for myself the devastation brought upon Christian villages near the area Turkey had invaded. I met with religious and community leaders and heard about the remarkable religious freedom conditions under the autonomous administration and how that is now nonexistent in the area that Turkey occupies,” Nadine Maenza, USCIRF’s vice chair, said during a commission roundtable in Washington D.C. with experts on northeast Syria last June 10.
USCIRF urged the U.S. government to support “Syria’s vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities under the terms of the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018”; to fund and develop programs that “promote religious tolerance and advance religious freedom and human rights” in the autonomous administration of Kurds and Christians governing the region; and to exempt the area from U.S. sanctions under the Caesar Act. The legislation sanctions the Syrian regime, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, for war crimes against the Syrian population.
Syrian Christian political leader Bassam Ishak, who heads the Syriac National Council, agreed: “It is very important to focus on practical steps to help as soon as possible these minorities, because if these minorities find a way to leave, even if Turkey is forced to withdraw at some point, I don’t see how these Yazidis and Christians will come back.” (…) “That’s why there is a need for urgent help for these people, to make sure that they can remain and not leave,” Ishak told Catholic News Service.