by MICHAEL OTTO
New Zealand did not sign a recent declaration to a United Nations council, co-authored by the Holy See in support of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
The Holy See, with the Russian Federation and Lebanon, drew up the declaration, which was presented to the assembly of the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council
in Geneva on March 13.
Sixty three nations signed the declaration, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Israel and Iraq were also among the signatories.
The statement highlighted the perilous situation of Christians in the Middle East, who continue to suffer serious human rights violations. It also noted the abuses suffered by other minorities in the region.
The declaration warned that “a future without the different communities in the Middle East will run a high risk of new forms of violence, exclusion, and the absence of peace and development”.
NZ Catholic asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade why New Zealand did not sign the declaration.
An MFAT spokesperson responded that “New Zealand strongly condemns violence, discrimination and persecution against people based on their religious or ethnic affiliations”.
“New Zealand is not a signatory to the joint statement on Christians in the Middle East,” the spokesperson confirmed. “We advocate for the protection of all religious and ethnic groups in the region.
“However, we will co-sponsor the resolution on freedom of religion or belief at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council, and we have cosponsored this resolution at the United
Nations General Assembly in the past.”
A Vatican Radio report quoted the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi. The archbishop said the joint declaration had prompted a move at the UN Security Council, encouraging and prompting the French government to call for a special session of the UN Security Council to deal with the problems of Christians in the Middle East.
At that meeting on March 27, Archbishop Tomasi said, the French foreign minister would present the need to defend Christians in the Middle East.
NZ Catholic asked MFAT what options New Zealand, as a member of the security council, would support at that meeting.
An MFAT spokesperson responded: “We will engage at the open debate on March 27. The statement we make at this debate will be available on New Zealand’s UNSC website in due course (www.nzunsc.govt.nz).
Speaking last month on behalf of New Zealand’s Catholic bishops, Cardinal John Dew said New Zealand’s security council membership could be used to advocate strongly for further sanctions and other actions to stop the flow of arms to IS and stop it making money
from Iraqi assets it has captured.
The New Zealand bishops supported the government’s decision to deploy military personnel to train Iraqi forces.
The bishops also called for substantial humanitarian help for Iraq.
Last year, the bishops wrote to Prime Minister John Key offering support for the “cautious and measured approach” to New Zealand’s involvement in action against IS.
The bishops said New Zealand cannot stand aloof while so many people are suffering and dying.
In an interview with Crux’s John Allen last month, Archbishop Tomasi admitted that the use of UN-sanctioned military force against IS is an option of last resort.