United Nations Economic and Social Council
Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
Working Group on Minorities
25 to 31 May 1999
Agenda item 3(a): Reviewing the promotion and practical realisation of the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities [E/CN4/Sub.2/AC.5/1999/1/Add.1]
Thank you for the opportunity granted to the Assyrian people to participate in this fifth session of the Working Group on Minorities.
In this intervention I seek to refer to the matters falling under item 3(a) of the provisional agenda for the fifth session of the Working Group.
Year after year, we Assyrians have wished that we could attend such an honourable forum as this, and announce the occurrence of some positive developments towards the promotion and practical realisation of the Declaration as it affects the Assyrians, in such states as Turkey, Iraq including the safe haven of North Iraq. Regrettably, this has not been the case to date.
In Iraq, the dictatorial control of the state machinery and its political dominance have sought and succeeded to exclude Assyrians from any form of recognition, let alone power, participation and representation. This is despite the fact that Assyrians are the original people of that land, and although they have become a minority in number by the genocidal acts of the government of Iraq.
Today, the Assyrian population is continuing to be eliminated by operations of human rights and international humanitarian law violations, resulting in terror, discrimination and forced deportation, displacement and relocation, summary and arbitrary executions, torture and cruel and inhuman punishment.
For this reason we respectfully support and honour the Commission on Human Rights, in adopting a resolution on 26 April 1999 during its fifty-fifth session, “which strongly condemned the systematic widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq.” We equally support the extended mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year.
In a state such as Iraq where even the most fundamental human rights, are not respected, then effective and practical realisation of the Declaration may not be so simple. Mechanisms are certainly always proposed and theoretically available, but such mechanisms are based on a presumption of a democratic system.
The constitution of Iraq provides for freedom of speech and of press, which in practice, do not exist; freedom of assembly, which the government restricts; freedom of religion, which is severely limited particularly to the Assyrian Christians. Assyrians want to preserve their identity which is distinct from that characterising the majority. For that, they are in need of protection. Accomplishing such protection requires support of UN Agencies and programs, regional organisations, NGOs and representatives of minorities. Such support and co-operation is not presently available from the Government of Iraq.
Implementing the principals contained in the Declaration so as to give effect to the promotion and practical realisation of the Declaration is very crucial. Clearly, the circumstances of all minorities do not always have similarities such that common methods of implementation may apply.
Accordingly, in circumstances such as an Assyrian minority, it is respectfully submitted that the international and UN Agencies become more active such that the co-operation intended by your working group can be placed in an appropriate framework. This may involve direct dialogue with such Governments as Iraq, by the relevant Government agencies, organisations and representatives who have specific knowledge of the situation of the minority in question.
In regards to the Assyrians, in the case of the Assyrian minorities, there are a number of significant issues and problems:
1. Historically, Assyrians are the ancient and original people of the modern day Iraq,
2. Their ethnicity is distinctly different to all the other groups of Iraqi population which also includes Arabs, Kurds, Turkomen, Yazidis and Armenians.
3. Linguistically, the Assyrian language is different to the language spoken by all the other mentioned groups in Iraq.
4. Culturally and historically, Assyrians are also different.
5. Religiously, they are all Christians and therefore form a religious minority as well as an ethnic minority.
However, in Iraq, Assyrians have not been recognised as a distinct ethnic minority but rather as a religious minority. In the north of Iraq, Assyrians are referred to as “Kurdish Christians”, and elsewhere in Iraq they have been considered as “Arab Christians”.
When 2 million Assyrian minorities are either “Arabized” or Kurdicized”, then except for any rights which may be granted to them as the religious minority, there can technically be no practical realisation of the declaration as far as their ethnic linguistic and cultural situation is concerned.
As a consequence, rights such as teaching, learning or speaking the mother tongue (Article 2.1 of the Declaration) can never be an exercisable right in the practical realisation of the Declaration. Indeed, linguistic pressure has been brought to bear against the Assyrian community in the region which has become known as the safe haven region of northern Iraq. The official educational language of the whole country of Iraq, which is Arabic, can never be replaced by the Assyrian language even in the autonomous region of the north because of the non-recognition of that language as a distinct language of an ethnic minority. Programs, if such programs ever became available, could never be utilised by an Assyrian ethnic minority in Iraq.
When a Government perceives as opponents, its minority groups, then there is a serious problem in the promotion and practical realisation of the Declaration. Assyrians are not opponents of the Government. Indeed, Assyrians have not made any moves whatsoever in the disturbing of the territorial integrity of Iraq. What Assyrians are striving to achieve, is a recognition in their own and only land, the land of their ancient ancestors. Assyrians are striving to achieve the most fundamental and justified human rights including:
1. The right to preserve and enjoy their own language, culture, history and religion, (2.1) and maintain their own associations (2.4).
2. The right to learn, teach and speak their mother tongue. (Article 2.1).
3. The right to be entitled to democratic and constitutional rights of citizenship, voting, running or being elected for office and having the right to participate “effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life” and “in decisions on the national, and where appropriate regional level concerning the minority to which they belong or the regions in which they live.”. (Article 2.2 and 2.3)
4. To be entitled to certain state guaranteed rights (Article 4) if their recognition as a genuine ethnic cultural linguistic religious minority is to be ensured and these guarantees include but are not limited to:
· Guaranteed electoral seats;
· Constitutional creation of “minority” Electoral Districts.
· Minority Legislative Veto or Reserved Powers.
· Special programs aimed at the promotion of Assyrian ethnicity culture, language religion and history.
If there is to be practical realisation of the Declaration, then the states in question must also be present before the working group in order to listen and to respond to the accusations, questions and recommendations of the minority groups present before you. States must be urged to understand that if the Declaration of human rights and the Declaration of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic religious and linguistic minorities are not observed, then success in the practical realisation of the Declaration cannot be fully achieved.
This working group which has become a forum of experts, governments, special agencies and representatives of minority groups, will undoubtedly agree that promotion and protection of minorities contributes to the strengthening of states including the territorial integrity of states.
The experiences and real life situations presented here throughout the meetings of the working group are such that, we trust will encourage you in your very complex task of developing the methods needed in the promotion and practical realisation of the Declaration, including the possible solutions to problems involving specific minorities such as Assyrians.
Thank you Mr Chairman.