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UN Warns that Northern Iraq is Facing 'Cultural Cleansing'

UN Agency Chief Warns that Northern Iraq is Facing 'Cultural Cleansing'

9 August 2014

UNHCR distributing aid near Duhok in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region. Photo: UNHCR/E. Colt

As United Nations humanitarian agencies and partners are extending aid to hundreds of thousands of families on the run in northern Iraq from armed militants, a senior UN official is calling for an immediate stop to what she termed an “emerging cultural cleansing.”

Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), called for an immediate end to the attacks and for the protection of the diversity that has “forged the wealth and vitality of Iraqi culture over the millennia, as a unique testimony of the development of civilization and peaceful coexistence.”

Attacks against civilians and minority groups are “a direct blow on the cultural diversity, which is a defining characteristic of humanity,” she said. “It is unacceptable that people are denied their most fundamental rights, that they are systematically persecuted and killed because of their beliefs, ethnic origin or cultural expressions.”

Ms. Bokova joins a growing group that has voiced alarm in recent days about the displacement and attacks on ethnic and religious minorities. The Security Council andSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon have expressed concern about reports that the group, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), attacked civilians in the cities of Kirkuk, and Qaraqosh, and earlier attacks in Tal Afar and Sinjar district of Ninewa Governorate, affecting mainly the vulnerable communities of Christians, Turkomen, and Yezidis.

“The protection of people is inseparable from the protection of their cultures, living expressions and heritage,” Ms. Bokova underscored.

The situation remains particularly dire on Jebel Sinjar, or Sinjar Mountain, where an estimated 50,000 people, many of them women, children and the elderly, are believed to be trapped since ISIL forced them to flee their homes nearly a week ago.

More than 200,000 other people are believed to have made their way to Dahuk governorate in the Kurdistan region, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which has stressed that the numbers of those displaced are fluid and unverified.

They had been without aid until yesterday's airdrops by the Iraqi Government and the United States military, the UN agency confirmed in its latest 'Crisis Report'.

The United Nations is coordinating humanitarian assistance for the latest influx of civilians displaced into the Kurdistan Region and is exploring all avenues to try to get supplies to those trapped in ISIL areas of control – however, resources are being stretched to the limit, OCHA has said.


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