Finally. This is a big deal.
After long, concerted efforts by individuals in Congress, human rights experts, humanitarian relief organizations, patriarchs and prelates, clergy and coalitions of citizens united with them, the U.S. made major advances this week toward stopping the atrocities ISIS has been committing against Christians and other religious minorities and getting aid and relief to those victims. The trigger to ratchet up new and urgent actions was twofold: passage of the Genocide Resolution in Congress, and acknowledgement by the State Department that what has been called persecution of Christians and other religious minorities actually constituted genocide.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today made the following statement after the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed his genocide resolution with a vote of 393-0. In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.
“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.
A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.
“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”
Wednesday the 16th, Cong. Fortenberry spoke with me on radio about this vote, and the news he had just received that Secretary of State John Kerry would need more time to investigate the evidence, mystifying to those of us who knew that a joint effort by In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus produced a nearly 300 page reportspecifically for Sec. Kerry and the State Dept. detailing that evidence. Outcries followed.
Hudson Institute’s renowned religious freedom activist Nina Shea published more questions about why it was taking State so long to deliberate something so obvious to all.
So did social commentator and author Kirsten Powers, in this USA Today piece.
ABC News reported that the House “overwhelmingly approved” the genocide resolution with “heavy bipartisan support”, but also that “the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday’s deadline.”
And then, he did. Something happened to inspire or compel Secretary Kerry to make a surprise public announcement, Thursday morning.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that ISIS has been committing genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East — just the second time the executive branch has used the term in relation to an ongoing conflict.
The formal designation comes days after the House passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide.
“Daesh is genocidal by self proclamation, by ideology and by actions,” Kerry said in a televised address, using another name for the Sunni militant group [ISIS]. “We must recognize what Daesh is doing to its victims.”
“Naming these crimes is important but what is essential is to stop them,” he added.
Nina Shea discussed Kerry’s surprise announcement with me on radio Thursday, and the great need for this designation because of the scope of the atrocities. About an hour later, she posted this article giving credit and gratitude where it’s due.
History was made today. Secretary of State John Kerry officially recognized that ISIS is waging genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiites in the areas under its control. This is only the second time the U.S. government has condemned an ongoing genocide: In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated what was going in Darfur as genocide. And today’s declaration, as I wrote yesterday, almost didn’t happen — owing to resistance from some quarters.
Kerry’s announcement was a surprise, one that defied deliberately lowered expectations. There was a State Department notice just yesterday that any such designation required longer deliberation and wouldn’t be made in time to meet the March 17 congressionally mandated deadline. But at 9 a.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Kerry took to the podium and asserted: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.”
This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.
This designation will not only lift the morale of these shattered religious groups, it also has the potential of serving justice through the prosecution of those who aid and abet ISIS as fighters, cyber recruiters, financiers, arms suppliers, and artifact smugglers.
Military action is also important. Kerry discussed military measures that would help these victims of ISIS: “We are preparing for future efforts to liberate occupied territory — with an eye to the protection of minority communities. In particular, the liberation of Mosul, of Nineveh province in Iraq, and parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Daesh, and that will decide whether there is still a future for minority communities in this part of the Middle East. For those communities, the stakes in this campaign are utterly existential.”
Congressman Fortenberry told me what he’s been saying to everyone listening lately, that this is a threat to civilization itself. As of today, the U.S. has risen to join a growing international coalition of voices and forces that can, finally, do something to stop the spread of that threat, reverse it, and protect innocent people and the existence of whole populations. What can be done is newly on the table. What will be done comes next.