API Director Testifies at USCIRF Hearing on "Religious Minorities' Fight to Remain in Iraq"


On September 26, 2019, API Director Reine Hanna testified at a United States Commission on International Religious Freedom hearing about the religious freedom situation in Iraq and the conditions that would enable religious minorities to return to and flourish in their communities.


According to USCIRF:


"Iraq has traditionally been home to one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse populations in the Middle East. While a majority Shi’a Muslim and minority Sunni Muslim population together account for 95-98% of the country, Iraq also once boasted a large Chaldean and Assyrian Christian population of around 1.5 million and around half a million Yazidis, in addition to an array of smaller ethno-religious communities such as Shabaks, Kaka’is, Sabean-Mandaeans, and others. However, systematic persecution and the ongoing violent conflict have caused those traditional demographics to undergo seismic shifts, displacing record numbers of people who are seeking to return to their historic homelands.


More than five years after ISIS’ genocidal rampage across northwest Iraq, circumstances for traumatized minorities remain dire. Tens of thousands of Yazidis linger in IDP camps, their villages in Sinjar still in ruin, while Iraqi Christians—of whom only an estimated 200,000 remain in the country—trickle back to towns in the Nineveh Plain while questioning whether Iraq still holds a place for them. The United States and other international partners have pledged tens of millions of dollars to help rehabilitate areas that ISIS left in ruin, and those funds have begun to make a difference—but there still remains substantial, long-term work to help those vulnerable populations return, rebuild, and remain.


Witnesses will highlight U.S. policies and programs in Iraq that support religious minorities, ongoing religious freedom-related challenges in the country such as anti-blasphemy laws and discrimination, and the factors on the ground affecting religious communities’ ability to return to their homes."


Hanna's testimony focused on the conditions that would enable Assyrians to return to the Nineveh Plain and the governance and security policies that would sustain their return. She highlighted the challenges posed by the ongoing political conflict over Iraq's disputed territories, the long-term effort to establish a Nineveh Plain Governorate, and the important role of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU). Read her full written testimony on USCIRF's website here.

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