UPDATE: Following Congress’ designation, Secretary Kerry announced Thursday that the U.S. has determined ISIS attacks on minorities including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims, a genocide.
Pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to take action following a unanimous Congressional vote Monday approving a resolution to designate the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Mid East by the Islamic State as “genocide.”
The resolution, which passed in the House in a 383-0 vote, comes ahead of a March 17 deadline requiring Secretary of State John Kerry to announce a final decision.
The designation would legally categorize the targeting, torture, uprooting and slaughtering of Christians, Yazidis and Kurds as “genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
For the executive branch to officially take a position on such a determination, however, entails a more detailed legal review, requiring Sec. Kerry and his legal advisors to determine whether the treatment of Christians and others meets the definition of “genocide,” which according to the United Nations Convention is “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
Officials have hinted that assessment is still under way, making it likely Sec. Kerry will not make the March 17 deadline.
“This has to be done on the basis of the legal standard with respect to genocide and the legal standard with respect to crimes against humanity,” Kerry said in Congressional testimony at the end of February.
“I have asked for further evaluation based on what I’ve heard in order to test against the law some of my own perceptions and evaluations and see where we come out.”
Sec. Kerry rejected the notion that his legal team was hesitant to make the designation but said that he was not satisfied with their initial report.
The move by the House, similar to the measure in the Senate that has not been voted on yet, was designed to expedite a move by the administration which has dragged its feet on taking a position.
This would be only the second time in U.S. history that the administration has made such a designation in the midst of ongoing conflict; the first was in 2004, during Sudan’s Darfur crisis.
“I am thrilled to see that the House, like the European Parliament before has rendered historic justice at last to these defenseless communities,” Dr Walid Phares, who has been a pivotal advisor to a long list of Middle East NGOs representing minorities and has led delegations to the U.N., E.U. and Congress for over 25 years, said to The Foreign Desk.
Dr. Phares, who has been pushing for the protection of Christians and other minorities in the region since ISIS began its horrific march, penned the specific language and terminology adopted by the resolution back in August 2014—namely the three concepts of “genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
“If the U.S. and Europe have finally acknowledged that genocide has taken place, the next step is to create protected zones for Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria,” Dr. Phares said.
In 2014 and again in 2015, Dr. Phares along with a long list of NGO’s defending the rights of minorities in the Middle East presented detailed memos to the U.N. regarding the ethnic cleansing of these groups in Iraq and Syria and pushed for the establishment of protected zones. The Foreign Desk has been given copies of these reports.
“We are noticing that the administration is not ready to acknowledge the genocide; they are under the pressure of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran,” Sheikh Sami Khoury, president of the World Maronite Union said.
“We urge them to get rid of that influence and do what is right.”
In support of Monday’s vote, the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus put out a 280-page report documenting the plight of minorities at the hands of ISIS, including witness statements, known crimes against Christians, names of Christians murdered and churches that have been destroyed.
“There is only one word that adequately and legally describes what is happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. That word is genocide,” Knights of Columbus chief Carl Anderson said Thursday while presenting the report.
In addition to the genocide resolution, the House also voted on a measure to create an international tribunal to try ISIS members accused of war crimes.
The measure passed in a vote of 392 to 3. The no votes came from Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich, Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.
At least three presidential candidates — Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — have called on the administration to designate ISIS crimes against Christians as genocide.