Congressman Juan Vargas Praises Final Passage of H.Res. 683

Washington, DC - Today, Representative Juan Vargas (CA-51) praised the House for unanimously approving House Resolution 683.   H.Res. 683 expresses the sense of the House of Representatives on the current situation in Iraq and the urgent need to protect religious minorities from persecution at the hands of Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), as it expands its control over areas in northwestern Iraq.

“I am pleased the House of Representatives is shedding light on this important topic and supporting our nation’s need to be vocal in the face of the horrific crimes taking place against Iraqi civilians,” said Rep. Vargas. “This resolution expresses the urgent need to protect religious minorities who are fleeing persecution in Iraq’s ISIL-held territories.  Religious freedom is the cornerstone of any free society and we must do everything in our power to provide immediate protection and humanitarian assistance to individuals facing horrific crimes because of their religious beliefs.

Iraq is currently embroiled in a political and religious insurrection stemming from an ISIL-led offensive that began in the Anbar province and has spread to locations such as Mosul, Tikrit and Samarra, engulfing the region in violence and instability.  Iraq’s population is approximately 31.3 million with 97 percent identifying themselves as Muslim and approximately 3 percent religious minorities, including Christians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Bahais, Shabaks, Kakais and Jews.  Over 500,000 people have been displaced by the current situation in Iraq and reports have surfaced of targeted harassment, persecution and the killing of Iraqi religious minorities by ISIL with little to no protection from the Iraqi government and other security forces.

Once ISIL established its control over northwestern Iraq and Syria, it declared a caliphate, warning Christians living under its jurisdiction to convert to Islam, pay a cumbersome religious tax, or be executed.   Since this declaration, over 10,000 Iraqi Christians have packed their belongings and fled to neighboring communities in Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.   The last 1,500 families to leave were robbed at an ISIS checkpoint and there are reports that there are no more Christians in Mosul.  This mass exodus represents the largest forced displacement in the Middle East in about 100 years.

Rep. Vargas worked with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18), whom had together introduced similar legislation, to incorporate additional language into the preamble and the resolving clause sections of H.Res. 683, that was originally included in H.Con.Res. 110.

The resolution approved reaffirms the House of Representatives’ commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom around the world and providing relief to minority groups facing persecution.  Additionally, it deplores and condemns the religious bigotry, vandalism and destruction of property, and violent attacks on and intimidation of innocent Iraqi civilians by armed extremists.  The resolution calls on the United States Department of State to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi Central Government, neighboring countries, the diaspora community in the United States, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other key stakeholders to help secure safe havens for those claiming amnesty.  Furthermore, it requests the addition of a Special Representative for Religious Minorities to be included in Iraq’s newly reconstructed government.

Lastly, the resolution calls on the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on a sustained basis to document human rights abuses against Iraqi civilians and develop an immediate plan to facilitate safe humanitarian access to potable water, health care, fuel, electricity, and basic security for the most vulnerable civilian populations.  It also calls upon the Government of Iraq to take immediate steps to protect the safety and constitutional rights of all Iraqi citizens.

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