The eleventh annual session of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) was held in Geneva, Switzerland from July 9 to 13, 2018. The EMRIP was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2007, and provides the council with expertise and advice on the rights of indigenous peoples as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and assists Member States, upon request, in achieving the ends of the Declaration through the promotion, protection and fulfillment of the rights of indigenous peoples. Representatives from states, indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples' organizations, civil society, nongovernmental organizations, and academia participate each year.
Ashur S. Eskrya, President of the Assyrian Aid Society - Iraq (AAS), an NGO headquartered in Nohadra (Dohuk), Iraq, provided testimony on the situation of Assyrians in Iraq today. The AAS was established in 1991 and facilitates various humanitarian, rehabilitation, and educational projects across Iraq.
Read his testimony transcript below.
6th Meeting—UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Good Practices and Lessons Learned (July 11, 2018)
Eskrya: Shlamalokhun [peace be upon you]. Thank you for the opportunity to deliver our message. Madame Chair, congratulations on your position.
Indigenous peoples suffer from multiple kinds of discrimination, and the most critical of all affecting their lives and their future as a nation is their rights to land. The Assyrian Christians in the Middle East in the last one hundred years have been forcibly removed, hence losing rights to lands, territories, and resources—also losing rights to the conservation and the protection of their environment, including the protective capacity.
In 1933, after the Simele Massacre in Iraq, over one hundred Assyrian villages were confiscated entiredly, and Assyrians have not yet returned to their lands and towns to date. In 1963, Assyrian villages were used as a battle field during the Kurdish-Iraqi conflict. From 1968 to 1991, the Iraqi regime made every effort to change the demographics [of] the Assyrian Christian lands in north Iraq and the Nineveh Plain, and destroyed hundreds of Assyrian villages. Today, there are over fifty unsolved cases, and this comes after 1991, the Kurdistan Regional Government failed to [resolve] land grabs of the Assyrian villages in the region.
After June 2014, when ISIS (Daesh) took occupation of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, losing lands, including significant demographic change occurred, which reduced the population of Assyrian Christians in Mosul city from 60,000 in 2003 to less than 30 people to date.
The good practice, noted in the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and it's clear that under Articles 25, 26, 27 until 30 and 32 that the rights of Assyrian Christians and indigenous peoples are related. The lesson learned is that we need to allow the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People the power of the law to ensure that all the Member States follow the Articles in the Declaration. The following recommendation: Our government to establish laws to regulate and put an end to the abuses of land, establish a government body with a full study on land grabs, including a budget with a timetable to address the various violations. United Nations and their agencies should monitor the issues of indigenous people’s land and territories and it fits with the coordination of the government and the indigenous people’s representatives…[microphone cut off for exceeding allotted time] View official statement (PDF).
(Eskrya appears at 1:43:35)
8th Meeting—UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Expert Mechanism on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (July 12, 2018)
Eskrya (translated): Thank you, Madame Chair, for giving me the opportunity to speak.
The expert mechanism is important to address the challenges faced by the indigenous people. There are many challenges faced by these communities, and I would like to highlight some of these that are faced by the Assyrians in Iraq and Syria as part of the indigenous people in the Middle East.
These people have faced genocide, ethnic and religious cleansing at the hands of ISIS. Despite the recognition from Iraq and the international community—it has been recognized that genocide was one of the crimes with which the indigenous people have faced—the Nineveh Plain, after having been liberated two years ago still suffers from lack of services, from insecurity, from inaccessible roads. The repatriation of IDPs is not up to par, and it is different from one area to another.
Christian Assyrians are being [expelled] from Mosul—Assyrians have been a main component of the local community since the city was established thousands of years ago. Only 55% of displaced people have been repatriated to Bakhdida [Qaraqosh]. This is due to the lack of rebuilding 13,000 homes of these indigenous peoples. There is a lack of administrative, services and [unintelligible] reforms. There is lack of trust among the components of the indigenous peoples. An expert mechanism should help restore trust among the various components of the indigenous people to guarantee the return of IDPs. We also recommend that the mechanism conduct studies and programs to restore trust in the areas where indigenous people have been exposed to genocide. The expert mechanism should provide advice to the governments in line with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People and enable the representatives of the indigenous people to participate in various legislative and executive institutions, as well as to enable a better future of the indigenous people in accordance with the Constitution of Iraq. View official statement (PDF).
(Eskrya appears at 1:01:20)
8th Meeting—UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Proposals to be Submitted to Human Rights Council (July 12, 2018)
Eskrya (translated): Shlamalokhun [peace be upon you] and thank you for giving me the floor.
Indigenous people aspire to peace and justice—they aspire to that so that they can live in peace and harmony, guarantee freedom and security for themselves and their children, and safeguard their heritage and their language. That’s what they aspire to do, despite all of the difficulties and the challenges that they face.
One of the most important challenges is of course that of land grabbing, and my people have had their ancestral lands seized, sometimes for economic reasons or religious reasons, sometimes for military reasons—they’re not involved in the wars but they nonetheless lose land as a result. There are also problems where extremist groups come in or where Assyrians lands may be forcibly seized by other [peoples].
When these lands are taken over, efforts are made to destroy the heritage, which is after all the living trace of the history and culture of these indigenous peoples. It’s not been possible in Iraq to put an end to this kind of abuse, despite many demands that these practices be brought to an end and reparations be paid.
One of the main problems that Assyrians and other indigenous peoples face then relates to management and administration of their territories. Despite many promises, we do not yet have legislation that has been enacted to uphold their rights to their lands.
There are also issues related to the Assyrian language, also known as Syriac, and we know that in fact that this is a language that is supposed to be defended and indeed since  there have been pieces of [KRG] legislation that should protect it, and nonetheless it is not protected, and it’s not possible for people to be educated in that language as they should be. We need then to uphold the rights Assyrians in the areas where they live in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. We also call for a study to be taken into their situation and of course then to be reported on. View official statement (PDF).
(Eskrya appears at 15:10)