On International Human Rights Day, as the world mourned a great champion of freedom, justice and reconciliation, Open Doors, an international charity supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, spoke up for Christians in Syria, presenting a petition signed by 309,195 people from 99 different countries. The petition urges all those with influence and power to do everything possible to protect the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of all the people of Syria and in particular safeguard the future of the Christian communities.
This blog has followed the situation Syrian Christians find themselves in for some time now and having asked readers to sign the Save Syria petition last week, it seems only right that some feedback on its presentation to the United Nations, parliaments and embassies is given.
At the UN in New York the day was filled with meetings, including the missions of the five permanent members of the Security Council: China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA.
Lisa Pearce, deputy CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, was one of the Open Doors delegation. She said, “It was humbling and deeply encouraging to feel that every signature on the petition was presented and represented, knowing that across the world ambassadors were getting the same message, hearing the voices of Christians in Syria from Open Doors colleagues.”
One significant meeting in New York was with the Syrian National Coalition. One of their representatives said “It is very rare to see any kind of consensus on Syria, so to see a petition signed by so many people is beautiful.”
She went on “The coalition has to do more to make sure that the voice of the Syrian church is heard. I’m absolutely clear about that. The language of your petition is something that we support wholeheartedly. We don’t disagree with any of it. We can address the need to establish the mechanism by which the voice of the church can be heard. We will make sure that this is heard at the highest levels of the SNC. Please stay in touch and come back to us with any other ideas on specific things we can be doing.”
In Europe, Open Doors CEOs from France and Germany presented the petition to MEP Elmar Brok, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He pledged to “support this action and support the petition” to the European Parliament. The petition was also sent to Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union.
In London, the Open Doors delegation sat down for tea with the Russian Ambassador. He declared that “Russia has a full understanding of the problem. Russia is doing its best to protect all minorities including the Christians who are suffering heavily. We believe in a settlement that includes respect for minorities’ rights: there must be a place for everyone in Syria. This should be part of a solution to the Syrian crisis”.
Every embassy of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council was visited: every Ambassador of the non-permanent members received the petition by letter. It was handed in at Downing Street – and for the London team the day ended by attending a Human Rights Day reception at the Foreign Office, where they were able to present the petition to UK government minister Baroness Warsi, who in her speech declared that Freedom of Religion or Belief was a government and a personal priority.
The delegation included Open Doors youth advocate Antonia Sheldrake, who has worked hard encouraging friends to sign the petition. Outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square she said “This is something that is really on my heart. I don’t take my own freedom as a Christian for granted. To think that people are being attacked for their faith I find really heart-breaking. I want to stand alongside those people and give them a voice.”
Also present was Nadim Nassar, the only Syrian-born Church of England priest. He said “It has been great to have this opportunity to explain the suffering of Christians in Syria. Christians are being killed every day. This is unacceptable in the 21st century. We need to raise our voices and say ‘enough killing, enough violence: it’s time for dialogue, to sit down and build the future of Syria for all the Syrians’. Christians are, and want to be, catalysts for peace, catalysts for reconciliation, for forgiveness—we want a Syria for all, for all the peoples of Syria.”
Stephen Rand, Open Doors UK Advocacy Director said, “The petition has helped us to amplify the voice of Christians in Syria. We will continue to make sure the voices of the Christians in Syria are heard whenever the future of Syria is under discussion; especially in Geneva next month. It is a thousand days since this crisis began. We are working and praying there will be a real breakthrough for a meaningful peace.”
The Save Syria petition full wording:
The crisis in Syria has resulted in the people of Syria experiencing terrible suffering and facing enormous challenges. In particular, the Christian community – around 8% of the population and rooted in two thousand years of history – is paying a high price for living in a war-zone. It is threatened with complete destruction.
We therefore urge, on behalf of the Christians of Syria, that all those with influence and power do everything possible to:
· Protect the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of all the people of Syria
· Safeguard the existence of the Christian community and in particular stop the assaulting, kidnapping, torture and killing of Christians by extremist and criminal groups
· Guarantee safe fair and proper access for all to humanitarian assistance, both inside and outside Syria
· Make it possible for Christians to remain in and/or return safely to their homes without fear or threat of violence
· Safeguard the right of Christians to be able to worship in peace and safety and allow them space to offer compassionate care and contribute to making peace
· Ensure the establishment of a new Syria with a society and constitution that in theory and in practice guarantees and respects the right to freedom of religion and belief for all