FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 14, 2014| USCIRF
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today urged the U.S. government to emphasize the plight of religious minorities and the protection of religious freedom for all Syrians during the upcoming Geneva II peace conference, scheduled to begin on January 22nd. USCIRF increasingly has become concerned about the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict which poses a growing danger to the religious freedoms of all Syrians, and how the potential spillover jeopardizes religious freedom regionally.
"What began as peaceful protests has descended into sectarian violence, exacerbated by the al-Assad regime's targeting of Sunni Muslims and those who opposed him or did not actively support him,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
If Syria is to survive as a religiously diverse nation, religious freedom must be on the conference's agenda and religious minorities must be given a voice in these negotiations. "The Alawite and Christian communities, who are not aligned with either side of the conflict, are inadequately represented by the opposition coalition and the Assad regime does not represent their concerns. The United States needs to work to ensure their views are considered and heard,” said Dr. George.
Along with the violence, destruction and deaths experienced throughout Syrian and by members of religious minority communities, NGOs report that over 1,000 mosques have been destroyed, with many more vandalized. Over 90 Christian churches, monasteries, shrines and buildings also have been destroyed or severely damaged. During the conflict, the Assad regime and terrorist organizations have targeted religious leaders, including Sunni Clerics who support the opposition or have left the Baath Party and Christian religious leaders and laity. Two senior clerics, Greek Archbishop Boulous Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yuhanna Ibrahim, have been missing after being kidnapped reportedly by rebels more than 6 months ago. Twelve nuns kidnapped in December still are being held, also by rebels. In addition, Lebanon and Jordan are hosting over 2. 3 million refugees, and millions more will be added in 2014, at great cost to those countries' security and stability.
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