Spotlight on “Existential Threat” to Syrian Christians

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week had a chance to hear details about the dangers faced by religious minorities, including Christians, in war-torn Syria. In announcing the hearing, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the subcommittee focused on human rights, pointed to “an alarming pattern of religiously-motivated violence against minority religious groups, such as Christians, Jews, Yezidis, and Druze. Viewed with suspicion by both sides of the civil war, these groups are caught in the middle.” Similarly, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, added, “As we have learned from Egypt and Iraq, many Christians fled for fear of losing their lives and now religious minorities in Syria are faced with the same existential threat. This hearing will examine how the United States can come up with a comprehensive strategy to promote religious freedom and protect Syria’s religious minorities.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia, head of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, told the Committee that the U.S. government is tracking abuses in Syria and has “been absolutely clear that those responsible for serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law must be held accountable.” 

Another witness was particularly emphatic about the plight of Syrian Christians. Referencing a UN Human Rights Council finding in December, Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, testified that Christians in Syria face a specific “existential threat.”  She declared, “The Christians, however, are not simply caught in the middle, as collateral damage. They are the targets of a more focused shadow war, one that is taking place alongside the larger conflict between the Shiite-backed Baathist Assad regime and the largely Sunni rebel militias. Christians are the targets of an ethno-religious cleansing by Islamist militants and courts.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: June 28, 2013