U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry surprised lawmakers, human rights advocates, and perhaps diplomats, by announcing March 17 he had determined Islamic State (ISIS) is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria.
Only one day before, the State Department issued a statement saying Kerry’s determination would be delayed past the deadline written into last year’s omnibus spending bill, signifying how contentious and protracted the issue had become at the highest levels of the Obama administration.
Speaking to reporters in Washington that morning, Kerry said he had completed his review and determined that Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite groups are victims of genocide and crimes against humanity by ISIS militants.
“In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in territory under its control,” Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. The secretary went on to outline a litany of atrocities that he said the militants have committed against people and religious sites, as well as threats: “Daesh is genocidal by self-acclimation, by ideology, and by practice.”
Lawmakers who on Monday passed a resolution drawing virtually the same conclusion—in a 393-0 vote—applauded the action. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said Kerry “is finally making the right call.”
Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Ann Eshoo, D-Calif., led the bipartisan effort, introducing the genocide resolution in September. But it gained little traction among lawmakers until Congress added the spending bill deadline and human rights groups came together with reports documenting ISIS atrocities. Last week, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal service organization, submitted to Kerry a 278-page report containing reams of documentation—including more than 60 pages of eyewitness accounts of atrocities; a 34-page, single-spaced list of Christians murdered by Islamic militants; and Islamic State paperwork related to the sale of Christian and Yazidi women.
Spearheading an effort that included Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant (including evangelical) leaders, the Knights of Columbus and Hudson Institute fellow Nina Shea in December put together a direct appeal to Kerry to declare ISIS actions genocide not only of Yazidis but also Christians. They urged him to take steps to protect both populations. Their formal letter went unanswered until recent days.
“The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority,” Fortenberry said after Kerry’s announcement. The Nebraska Republican said he now hopes the genocide designation “will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands.”
In Iraq, one church leader (who asked not to be named for security reasons), told me, “Christians have been praying that Mr. Obama does the right thing … and we thank God He has responded to our prayer.”
Under Title 22 of the U.S. legal code and the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, the president and secretary of state are required only to establish whether there is probable cause to believe that ISIS is committing murders, rapes, and kidnappings with the specific intent to destroy religious minorities, according to leading legal authorities. That’s a finding that could have been reached months and months ago, say Catholic University law professor Robert A. Destro and religious liberty attorney L. Martin Nussbaum, writing for Politico on March 15.
“With the bar so low, with the law so clear, with the evidence so overwhelming, and with the international community and the House of Representatives so united in their judgment that genocide is occurring, the burden shifts to the lawyers to explain why they are exposing their clients—Secretary Kerry and President Barack Obama—to the charge that they ‘did nothing’ in the face of evil,” the pair of legal experts wrote.
Already, though, the Obama administration has said a genocide determination would do little to change its actual military posture and overall policy on Iraq and Syria.
In Rome, Syria’s visiting Chaldean bishop, Antoine Audo (WORLD’s 2013 Daniel of the Year), acknowledged it may be too late, anyway. Underscoring the seriousness of the situation, and absent international intervention, Audo told reporters on March 16 he believes two-thirds of Syria’s Christian population—which numbered 1.5 million in 2011—has fled the country or been killed. In the embattled city of Aleppo, where he lives, he said the exodus was greater: Only 40,000 of its once 160,000-strong Christian community remains.
“You cannot imagine the dangers that we face every day,” he said.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: March 22, 2016