USIP congratulates our longtime partners, Pascale and William Warda, for being awarded the State Department’s inaugural International Religious Freedom Award. They have been deeply involved in advocating for the rights of religious minorities, particularly Christians, in northern Iraq in the face of regional instability and the ISIS occupation.
The award comes as part of the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which established the honor as a means of recognizing “extraordinary advocates of religious freedom from around the world.”
“The State Department wonderfully recognized an inspired pair of peacebuilders,” said USIP President and CEO Nancy Lindborg. “Pascale and William’s perseverance on behalf of religious minorities in Iraq is a model for selfless dedication and USIP is privileged to partner with them.”
The couple founded the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO) in 2005, which monitors human right violations in Iraq and launches advocacy and humanitarian campaigns on behalf of victims. With Pascale as president and her husband William as director of public relations, HHRO was one of the first groups to report on ISIS violence against Yazidi and Christian women.
In 2011, HHRO became one of the founding members of the Alliance for Iraqi Minorities (AIM). Through facilitation and support from USIP, AIM grew from a series of dialogues between minorities groups into a network of individuals and 18 civil society organizations that advocate for minority rights and build bridges among minority religious groups and between those minorities and the broader Iraqi society.
“Both Pascale and William have dedicated their lives to creating a better, more peaceful Iraq for all those who live there, especially the religious minorities” said USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed, the Institute’s director of middle east programs. “As advocates, as leaders, and as trusted partners, the Wardas are the embodiment of what this award is meant to honor. They are tireless, dedicated, and pragmatic leaders who rise above divisive politics and practices to pursue practical solutions to complex problems.”
For almost a decade, USIP and AIM have worked together to build capacity for religious minorities in Iraq. Today, the Institute is an active partner in the networks’ on-the-ground activities. As founding and leading members of AIM and HHRO, the Wardas have been integral to AIM’s successes. Today, William serves as a member in the General Assembly and External Relations Committee of AIM, and Pascale currently serves on the organization’s Advisory Committee.
In the wake of ISIS, AIM has proven particularly important. Religious minorities were some of the most affected by the Islamic State’s occupation, and the aftermath has left many of their communities devastated and displaced. AIM works with Iraqi minority communities, government agencies, the legislature, the international community, and other civil society organizations to revive minority-rich areas and advance their rights. An immediate priority for USIP and AIM is to support the safe, voluntary, and sustainable return of displaced ethnic and religious minorities to their homes in the Ninewa Plain and beyond.
USIP both congratulates and thanks Pascale and William Warda as they are honored for their life of service, and the Institute looks forward to our continued partnership as we work to build lasting peace in Iraq.