Stephen Rasche explains genocide designation for plight of Christians

Aug 11, 2016

Stephen Rasche, Esq. has two roles in the Catholic Church in Erbil. He is vice chancellor for external relations for the Catholic University in Erbil, which opens for its first year of degree candidates this coming October.

Additionally, he serves on the pastoral staff of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, essentially managing all the humanitarian relief funding efforts for the archdiocese. An American lawyer by profession, he has worked in the Mideast for the past 10 years and with the Erbil Archdiocese in various capacities since 2010.

“In our conversations with the U.S. State Department prior to the genocide designation, we (the Christian Leadership in Iraq) had been told that the genocide designation was a complex determination, and that usage of it was reserved for only the most extreme situations,” Rasche said.

“The prevailing view within the State Department at that time was that while the actions of ISIS against Christians in Iraq did certainly constitute crimes against humanity, it was not clear that sufficient hard evidence existed to support a genocide designation.

“Much of this analysis relied upon a mistaken belief that the Christians, as so-called ‘people of the book,’ were being offered the option of paying a tax (“jizyah”) which would allow them to continue to live as Christians in the ISIS-controlled area.

“Ahead of the final date for determination of genocide, the State Department requested the Knights of Columbus to prepare a legal brief addressing the existence of hard evidence to support such a designation. In preparing the brief, the Knights sent investigators to Iraq, where they worked in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Erbil to gain first-hand testimony of what had actually occurred under ISIS.

“The resulting brief detailed the full range of systematic atrocities that had been inflicted upon the Christian community by ISIS, and also through direct testimony from priests from Mosul and Nineveh, forcefully rebutted the argument that the ‘jizyah’ tax was available as an alternative.

“In the face of the massive and compelling evidence contained in this brief – nearly 300 pages in entirety – the State Department reversed its stance and formally declared the persecution of Christians in Iraq as genocide in late March of this year.”

Rasche said regarding the humanitarian relief for the displaced Christians in and around Erbil – approximately 10,000 families – it is important to understand that these families are not receiving any meaningful aid from the United Nations or United States.

“Rather, nearly all our aid is sourced from private donors, primarily those with relations to the church, such as ACN (Aid to the Church in Need) and the Knights of Columbus. All of this aid, and the implementation of the projects which it supports, are administered through the Catholic Church and its representatives on the ground in Iraq. These efforts form the basis of much of my work in Iraq,” Rasche said.

“The reasons for which the Christians receive no aid from the U.N. and U.S.A. are primarily the result of policy standards within the U.N. and national governments which prohibit preference to any community based upon religion. Rather, aid support is dependent completely upon an individual needs analysis.

“In the case of the Christians in Iraq, the level of care that we have been able to provide our people utilizing private funds only, exceeds at present the minimum standard of the U.N. and other aid agencies. As such, Christian individuals are not being considered as necessary recipients of U.S. and U.N. aid funding when compared to the significantly greater number of Muslim displaced persons in Iraq whose economic situation is comparatively worse.

“As representatives of the Christians of Iraq, however, we are in ongoing discussion with both the U.S. and the U.N. regarding the problem inherent in this analysis – namely, that it ignores the peril facing communities as a whole even while it focuses in good faith on the plight of individuals.

“Prior to 2003 there were nearly 2 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are barely 200,000. An aid analysis which does not take into account the fragility of this disappearing community risks, in a very real way, having stood by while the community perishes right in front of them.

“In concrete terms for the Christians of Iraq, if our private aid donors dried up, we would face starvation and massive homelessness within 60 to 90 days. Moreover, even with the current aid we are able to raise privately, this provides life at a bare subsistence level, rather than a level that encourages Christians to stay in their ancient homeland.

“In our discussions with the U.S. and U.N. we are continually making these points. But changes in policy at these institutions are very slow decisions, and for us our challenge is to feed and house our people every day that is in front of us.”

“In all this it is critical that our fellow Christians around the world do not forget us, that they pray for us, and that they pay attention to our plight,” Rasche said.

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