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National statements

Security Council Open Debate: Attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious grounds in the Middle East

Thematic issues

  • Extremism
  • Human Rights
  • Iraq
  • Lebanon
  • Middle East
  • Syria
  • Women
  • Yemen


Statement by H.E. Gillian Bird, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Mr President, thank you for bringing this important issue to the Council's attention today.

I also thank the Secretary-General and High Commissioner Zeid for their insightful briefings and I welcome the participation of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and the Honorable Mrs Vian Dakhil, Member of the Iraqi Parliament, and recognise the important contribution they and many others make to the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights of freedom, equality and dignity.

I welcome the Secretary-General's announcement of a UN Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism and his proposal to convene an advisory panel on inter- and intra-sectarian dynamics.

The Middle East has long been the home of great ethnic and religious diversity. A majority of the world's population belong to a creed that has its origin in the Middle East. The peoples of that region have long taken pride – and rightly so – in the mosaic of languages, cultures and confessions that call it home.

Through immigration, the Middle East's diversity has enriched Australia, where many of the region's peoples and their descendants have found a home.

Sadly the Middle East's religious diversity is under threat as never before. The emergence of extremist groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda and their affiliates has led to horrific atrocities, forced conversions and the deliberate targeting of those they consider unbelievers. The reckless destruction of antiquities is an assault on thousands of years of heritage.

We note with alarm the Human Rights Council's recent report that Daesh may have perpetrated genocide against Iraq's Yezidi community.

Australia is working in support of the Iraqi Government, and with other regional partners, to confront the threat posed by Daesh.

Of great concern, conflicts in Syria and Iraq have taken on a sectarian dimension. Terrorists have targeted places of worship with shocking consequences, as we saw just last week in Yemen.

Australia firmly believes that freedom of religion is a core human right. This freedom must be respected in all countries. Australia stands with the peoples of the region – from all religious and ethnic groups, including a great many of those from local majorities – who wish to preserve their rich cultural heritage.

We urge Middle Eastern states to fulfil their responsibility to protect ethnic and religious minorities. In resolutions 2139 and 2165, the Security Council demanded that the Syrian authorities do so.

We ask that the States of the region give particular attention to enabling the protection of women and girls in these vulnerable communities from sexual and gender-based violence.

We urge all Member States to look at the role they can play in supporting freedom of religion in the region – including helping those states burdened by displaced populations, and preventing the travel of foreign fighters, many of whom have been responsible for shocking atrocities.

Mr President

There are, however, positive examples in the region. Jordan has long protected religious minorities. And Lebanon's experience in its Civil War shows the high toll that conflict between religious communities can exact – but also that over time, wounds can heal and followers of many religions can again share a proud national identity. It points us to the urgency of a political solution in Syria, one in which all of Syria's communities can have a voice in that country's future.

Diversity once lost is hard to regain. All states must do what they can to protect freedoms of religion and respect for ethnic diversity throughout the Middle East.

Thank you Mr President.

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Last Updated: 16 June 2015
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