Russell Moore, head of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), has again called on the Obama administration to designate Christians as genocide victims at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – this time as part of a broad coalition.
Moore was among more than 110 signers of a Feb. 17 letter to President Barack Obama urging him to categorize as genocide the terrorist campaign of the so-called Islamic State against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. The communities cited in the letter as victims of genocide include Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, the Turkmen and the Shabak.
The letter, sponsored by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable (IRFR), is the latest appeal to the Obama administration after a mid-November report surfaced that the State Department was preparing to label as genocide only ISIS’ campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi sect. IRFR is a loosely organized group of non-governmental organizations that meets regularly for conversations about religious liberty overseas.
The IRFR letter marked the third time Moore has petitioned the administration not to exclude Christians from a genocide designation at the hands of ISIS. He wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in mid-November to urge him not to distinguish between different groups suffering at the hands of the terrorist group. In early December, Moore and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, were among 30 signers of a letter calling on Kerry to heed evidence that Christians are targets of genocide and to meet with representatives of their coalition before issuing a decision.
The new IRFR letter came less than two weeks after the European Parliament adopted a resolution categorizing ISIS’ reign of terror against religious and ethnic minorities as genocide. In its Feb. 4 statement, the European Parliament cited a 1948 United Nations treaty that genocide includes murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
In their letter to Obama, Moore and the other signers state that evidence demonstrates ISIS has shown the intent to commit genocide and performed acts in support of that intent in Iraq and Syria.
These “well-documented acts” include “kidnapping, raping and enslaving Christian and Yazidi women; beheading Christians who refuse conversion; mass Yazidi graves; pillaging and wiping out traditional Christian and Yazidi communities; and destroying places of Christian and Yazidi worship, some of which had been in operation for more than [1,000] years,” according to the IRFR letter.
If the administration does not formally declare ISIS’ campaign as genocide, the letter says, it will have “abdicated its duty and vow to confront the most heinous of human rights violations. … At this critical juncture, a designation of genocide by the United States would strengthen the actions of the international community and further extend American leadership.”
An omnibus spending bill enacted in mid-December requires Kerry to report to Congress by March 16 whether the persecution in the Middle East is genocide, the letter says.
Moore said, “Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering targeted persecution at the hands of ISIS. This isn’t just political unrest or a humanitarian catastrophe – it is the systematic destruction of an entire people.”
In a written statement, Moore said his prayer is “the president will come to see the reality of this genocide, and speak and act accordingly.”
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s Middle East office, said the ERLC is hopeful the Obama administration “will respond to the call of this large, diverse group of faith leaders and take action, condemning the Islamic State with the strongest terms available under international law.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International cosponsored a Feb. 17 briefing at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on ISIS’ genocidal actions. Members of parliament met with international criminal law experts and witnesses to ISIS’ acts of terrorism, according to an ADF news release.
“Now is the time to act,” said Sophia Kuby, director of European Union advocacy for ADF International, in the release. “Officially describing the atrocities committed by ISIS as genocide is only the first step. We need determined action at the United Nations Security Council, including a referral to the International Criminal Court.”
The IRFR letter refers to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s late-December comment there is sufficient evidence to declare ISIS’ campaign is genocide against Christians and other religious minorities.
In addition to Moore, the IRFR letter – signed by nearly 40 organizations and more than 70 individuals of numerous religious faiths – includes endorsements by George Allen, former U.S. senator and Virginia governor; Pete Hoekstra, former congressman from Michigan; Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council; Chris Seiple, president emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement; Nina Shea, director, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF); and Katrina Lantos Swett, president, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and current USCIRF commissioner, as well as representatives of religious, human rights and religious freedom organizations.
Among the organizations that endorsed the letter were the Institute on Religion and Democracy, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign USA, Coptic Solidarity and Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, in addition to groups representing various religious and ethnic minorities.
In early December, USCIRF called for the State Department to designate not only the Yazidis but the Christian, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities as ISIS genocide victims. USCIRF, a bipartisan panel of nine members selected by the president and congressional leaders, tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)