19 May 2022-Baghdad: The United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and the United Nations Investigative Team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Da’esh/ISIL in Iraq (UNITAD), jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held, the Second High-Level Conference on the Interfaith Statement on the Victims and Survivors of ISIL/Dae’sh.
The conference aimed to build on the momentum generated by the adoption of the landmark Interfaith Statement adopted in March 2020 by the religious leaders of the Chaldean Catholic, Kakai, Shia, Sunni and Yazidi communities of Iraq, under the auspices of the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and UNITAD. It also aimed to ensure that accountability, as an integral part of sustainable social cohesion, remains at the heart of the support which the United Nations is providing to religious leaders and actors in Iraq, to advance healing, trust building, reconciliation, and social cohesion, by countering hate speech. More than 40 faith leaders from across Iraq took part in the conference, including some of the leaders representing parties to the Interfaith Statement.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General (USG) and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Ms. Alice Nderitu said that “moving forward, bringing peace and building a joint future requires accountability as well as re-knitting the social fabric of the country, from the highest levels in the government institutions in Baghdad to the smallest villages at the heart of the country. This is in the hands of each and every one of Iraq’s citizens and religious leaders have a key role to play. This requires the involvement of all communities, and we are here to support you.”
Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator to Iraq, Ms. Irena Vojáčková-Sollorano, stated that “the United Nations recognizes the important role of religious leaders in promoting coexistence, preventing violence and extremism, and addressing the needs and grievances of the Iraqi people. While we recognize that the government has the primary responsibility to protect populations, many actors, such as religious leaders who have a strong influence on the lives and behavior of those who follow their faith, shall play an important role in strengthening mutual respect in communities. That is why today’s event is so important.”
In his opening remarks, Special Adviser (SA) and Head of UNITAD Mr. Christian Ritscher stressed that “ensuring accountability for Da’esh/ISIL international crimes and serving justices to the victims from all Iraqi communities are key in ensuring viable reconciliation in Iraq”, adding that “the Interfaith Statement came as an important acknowledgment by faith leaders of the tremendous suffering which Iraqi communities endured as a result of Da’esh/ISIL crimes. It reflected a core belief of UNITAD, and the UN at large: there is no hierarchy in victims. The magnitude of ISIL/Da’esh crimes affected all Iraqi faiths and communities, and to us, each and every victim of such international crimes matter, from all communities that suffered from ISIL crimes.”
UNDP Resident Representative for Iraq, Ms. Zena Ali-Ahmad says, “Today’s conference demonstrates a unified approach to peacebuilding in Iraq. Engaging with interfaith religious leaders across the country is key to promoting cohesion between groups and is a necessary step to building a strong social fabric. UNDP is committed to working with our partners to ensure all Iraqis are supported during the journey towards sustainable peace through our ongoing work to promote moderate religious discourse, prevent violent extremism, combat hate speech, and encourage reconciliation and reintegration of Internally Displaced Persons back into their communities.”
During the conference, the United Nations senior officials reiterated their full and unwavering commitment to victims of ISIL/ Da’esh crimes, which targeted a broad range of communities whether Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak, Shia, Turkmen, Sunni or Yazidi.
Participants at the event discussed challenges and opportunities to ensure that justice for all victims and survivors can be achieved, highlighting the importance of holding ISIL/Da’esh perpetrators accountable for the serious allegations of international crimes committed by them through national courts.
The attending religious leaders renewed their commitment to dialogue and mutual understanding between religious communities in Iraq in areas most impacted by ISIL/Da’esh crimes. They also identified challenges faced by survivors of ISIL/Da’esh crimes, particularly those who have been subject to sexual and gender-based crimes. They also explored means of further coordination with the UN co-hosting entities to effectively engage religious communities in Iraq in promoting accountability as an integral part of viable social cohesion.
Religious leaders and actors reiterated the commitment expressed in the March 2020 Interfaith Statement and renewed their repudiation and condemnation of the violence committed by Da’esh/ISIL as completely contrary to their respective faiths. The Statement also underscored that member of all religions across Iraq have been impacted by the crimes of Da’esh/ISIL, and that all survivors must be supported in their efforts to move on with their lives within their communities. The Interfaith Statement built upon the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide’s Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Counter Incitement Which Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.
Following liberation from ISIL/Daesh, UNDP has engaged with over 2,500 leaders through its Social Cohesion Programme, and lately during 2021-2022, UNDP-Iraq facilitated dialogue forums among 300 religious leaders from different sects in Anbar, Diyala, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din. UNDP has also provided training for 82 religious leaders from various faiths on moderate religious discourse and combatting hate speech, and supported the establishment of a coexistence network to foster dialogue, coexistence, and tolerance amongst targeted communities in Anbar, Baghdad, Erbil and Ninewa.