Human rights charity Open Doors has presented a petition on the situation of Christians in Syria, signed by 309,195 people from 99 different countries, to the United Nations.
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 to safeguard the future of the Christian communities there which have come under immense pressure and attack in recent months.
At the United Nations 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), reports the agency.
Lisa Pearce, deputy CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland (http://opendoorsuk.org), 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.”
The Open Doors delegation in New York met with the Syrian National Coalition and scheduled a meeting with the Syria Permanent Mission.
One of the SNC representatives commented: “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 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 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. For the London team, the day ended with 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 youth advocate Antonia Sheldrake, who has worked hard encouraging friends to sign the petition. Also present was Nadim Nassar, the only Syrian-born Church of England priest.
He commented: “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 explained “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.”
* Sign the petition here: https://www.savesyriacampaign.org
* Petitioning to support Christians in Syria: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19637
* Ekklesia briefing: Human rights 65 years after the Universal Declaration: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19635