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Jan Figel: Ongoing genocide in Middle East 'a much greater security threat than climate change&#

Jan Figel, the first special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, has voiced concern at the "genocide" of Christian, Yezidi, Shia Muslim and other communities in the Middle East.

Figel, formerly European education, training and culture Commissioner, said that the "killings of innocent people" required an "urgent reaction" by the international community, including the EU.

In an interview, Figel said, "The problem of systematic murder against ethnic or religious groups is a much greater security threat than climate change."

Speaking to the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF Europe), he said, "My first regional priority is the Middle East, where we currently witness the genocide of the Christian, Yezidi, Shia Muslim and other communities.

"I want to invite more parliaments and governments to speak against this ongoing genocide. Never again must mean never again."

Figel, who previously served as Slovakia's deputy Prime Minister, added, "The ongoing online presentations of the killings of innocent people requires an urgent reaction by the international community. The international community has to tackle this situation more actively and on all levels."

He asked, "When should we apply international law against genocide and show the will to prosecute perpetrators if not now?"

Figel added, "We need to support the liberation of territories from Isis and in the long run prepare conditions for post-liberation stability and recovery. But what is now most urgently needed is humanitarian aid.

"Other important tasks concern the field of education and the prevention of radicalisation, in particular among young people."

Figel, who was appointed to the role in May by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said, "In the most affected areas, such as the Kurdistan region, we have to do everything we can to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to all civilians and offer protection to all ethnic and religious communities.

"According to UN estimates, the ongoing offensive to liberate Mosul and the Nineveh plains could result in 300,000 and up to 1.5 million refugees. We should be prepared for this situation, which could easily turn into a major humanitarian crisis."

Figel said that the issue of religious freedom is rooted in both moral values and human rights, adding, "A free society can only be achieved and sustained on the basis of shared moral values."

He pledged, "We will work harder together with the European Parliament, the Commission, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Council and our international partners to engage in a permanent dialogue on how the EU can best contribute to the promotion of religious freedom in the world."

The official pointed out that the EU action plan on human rights and democracy, adopted in June last year, stressed the importance of ensuring such issues remain a top priority.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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