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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

3rd September 2014

Responding to ISIL

photo avec S.B. le Cardinal Béchara RAÏ
Diplomatic representatives to the Holy See meet His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai

There has, rightly, been enormous concern expressed across the world about the recent turn of events in Northern Iraq. The expulsion of the Christian communities from Mosul and the 13 villages of the Plain of Nineveh – an historic heartland inhabited by Christians from the earliest days, well known from, amongst other sources, the story of Jonah – was a wake-up call. The brutalities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), against fellow Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis alike, have placed them beyond the pale of civilised engagement. Pope Francis has said they must be stopped, and the Holy See representative to the United Nations in Geneva has argued that there is a “moral imperative” for international intervention.

There has been criticism of the international community for being slow to respond to the threat. This may be fair, though the rapidity of ISIL’s advance took everyone by surprise. Less so is the charge that countries like the United Kingdom have been silent, or sitting on their hands. The British response has developed throughout the summer, combining humanitarian, political, military and multilateral instruments to help tackle the emerging refugee crisis and galvanise international action. It was under British chairmanship that the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2170 on 15 August, focused on disrupting ISIL’s financial flows, preventing foreign fighters from reaching ISIL, and sanctioning those seeking to recruit further terrorists. Prime Minister David Cameron led the way in ensuring a tough European Union response to the ISIL threat at this week’s European Council. More immediately, the UK has already committed £23m in humanitarian assistance, the latest package being announced by International Development Secretary Justine Greening when visiting a church and refugee camps in Northern Iraq on 27 August. The RAF has been deployed on aid drops, and we have been working closely with the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to support them in their efforts to stabilise the military situation and turn back the ISIL advance.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to talk to the Maronite Patriarch, His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai, alongside other diplomatic representatives, at the Maronite College here in Rome. The Patriarch spoke passionately about the need for international intervention, especially the importance of ensuring that the Christian and other minority communities – an essential element in the complex mosaic of life in Iraq, and an important bulwark against extremism – can return to their homes. He, and other Oriental Church leaders in communion with Rome, have consistently argued against Middle Eastern Christian communities and their families leaving their traditional homelands for life as exiles in the West. They should instead have the necessary guarantees and support to enable them to stay where they and their ancestors were born.

2,000 years of culture, heritage, tradition and faith is a powerful argument for us to do all we can to help them, and others, to do so. The Prince of Wales, for one, is determined to act.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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