03/05/2021, 14.37
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Bishop Audo: education and rights to heal the wounds of the Syrian war

A UN report mentions tens of thousands of civilian victims of violence, abducted and abused by government and jihadi groups with “unimaginable” suffering committed by all sides. For the  Bishop of Aleppo, there are too many interests to be able to shed light on abuses. From Christians comes a vocation to peace, respect and dignity.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Tens of thousands of civilians have gone missing, kidnapped or arbitrarily detained during Syria's 10-year conflict, this according to a United Nations report.

Thousands more have been tortured or killed while in custody, in what could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides.

Victims and witnesses speak of “unimaginable suffering”, including the rape of girls and boys as young as 11. Such a “national trauma” must be addressed.

“In the country there is a tendency to remain silent, not to talk about this violence” by whatever side, because it is “a very delicate issue and if someone talks about it, they risk their lives,” said Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, speaking to AsiaNews.

“It is also very difficult to find evidence of acts of violence,” explained the prelate, who is a former chairman of Caritas Syria; yet they are used as political and propaganda tools.

Syria’s civil war began in March 2011 as a series of popular protests at the start of the Arab Spring, which affected several countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

From a domestic problem, the conflict morphed into the worst proxy war of the 21st century, attracting jihadis and causing even more bloodshed.

In 10 years more than 400,000 people have been killed, dozens of cities have been devastated and half of the population has been displaced at home or abroad.

The report by the UN Human Rights Council's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria is based on more than 2,650 interviews and investigations into more than 100 detention facilities controlled by the government or jihadi groups.

According to the findings, political opponents, journalists, human rights activists and protesters were subjected to arbitrary detention in government prisons.

Armed militias and jihadi groups like the Islamic State group and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have been responsible for kidnappings, violations, arbitrary detention, and torture.

The UN report mentions an “unspecified” number of people who died in detention centres, “tens of thousands” in government prisons alone, according to some conservative estimates, later buried in mass graves.

For Bishop Audo, “There are too many interests at the regional and international levels to be able to really shed light on violations and abuses. A mindset based on violence and revenge is widespread in the region. This is a wider problem and the events must be analysed in their entirety and in the right context.”

One person who was able to tell his story first hand is Fr Jacques Mourad, a Syro-Catholic priest, who, despite the physical and psychological violence he endured, claims to have felt compassion  for his kidnappers.

For the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo “compassion, which comes from education and respect for human dignity, is the only way to counter this logic of violence.”

“When people in power, or powerful people think they can act with impunity and others must obey, true freedom of conscience and speech cannot develop.”

“This is where the deepest evil comes from,” the prelate explains. “We Christians have the vocation to tell the truth in a spirit of peace, respect and dignity.”

Such a mission can be implemented in schools, culture and group meetings, at the basis of social relations.

“As Pope Francis notes insistently, change can come through personal relations and must embrace the whole Arab and Muslim world, which needs such meetings based on respect and truth, while the world seems to be interested only in business and exploitation.

“In this sense, the Church must help the Arab world interact with modernity, because being a man of faith today means first of all knowing how to accept others.”

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