Judith Cochrane MLA said: “I have watched in both horror and disbelief in recent months as the reality of religious persecution in Iraq and Syria has been brought abruptly into focus by the international media. The ISIS or Islamic State terrorist group has forced a large number of people in Iraq to flee for their lives, including most of Mosul’s Christian population.
“As the civil conflict inside Syria becomes more and more sectarian, violence against Christians has intensified. Many Christians are reported to have been abducted, physically harmed or killed, and many churches damaged or destroyed.
“In light of the worsening situation in both these countries, I believe it is imperative for the Westminster Government to take urgent and appropriate action to provide aid and protection to these persecuted peoples.
“While the focus of this debate is on the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, it would be wrong to assume that Christians are unique in facing religious persecution, or that they are the only group deserving of aid and protection. My party colleague and Member of Parliament for East Belfast, Naomi Long, has not only secured a similar debate at Westminster on the persecution of Christians, but has also hosted a debate on the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, as she has rightly stated, the defence of freedom of religious belief, as defined by article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights, is important not only for Christians but for everyone.
“The right to have a faith and to practise that faith, both in private and in community with others, is not a Western construct, but a basic and fundamental human right and regardless of whether it is in Northern Ireland or Northern Iraq, this is a right which should apply universally.”