The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to assist Christians and other survivors of the genocide committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In a June 6 voice vote, the House passed without opposition the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, H.R. 390. The bill, which still requires Senate approval before going to President Trump, would provide humanitarian aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities in the two Middle East countries. It also would promote criminal investigations and prosecutions of the terrorists responsible for genocidal acts and crimes against humanity.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which is working for the proposal’s enactment, applauded the House action.
“When it comes to the murderous slaughter of the innocent throughout the Middle East, we cannot show moral indifference,” ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “Some of the areas in which the Christian faith was born are now killing fields. … History has shown us that when the United States does not act, religious freedom becomes imperiled, so I hope the Senate will act swiftly to expedite this bill in its chamber.”
Non-profit organizations have provided humanitarian assistance to Iraqis and Syrians displaced and otherwise victimized by the Islamic State (ISIS), but the United States government has yet to do so, said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chief sponsor of the measure.
In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry designated the terrorist campaign by ISIS as genocide. No ISIS member has been tried for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes since then, religious freedom advocates said in March.
Despite the genocide designation, “the existential threat to Christians and Yazidis and other minorities continues to this day,” Smith said.
“President Trump and Vice President Pence have strongly, publicly committed the Administration to providing relief to Christians, Yazidis and other genocide survivors, and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice,” Smith said in a written statement. “H.R. 390 will help ensure that officials implement these commitments and is a blueprint for implementation.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, lead Democratic sponsor of the bill, said in written remarks, “Tens of thousands of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria continue to face persecution at the hands of ISIS and they need our help now.”
Among its provisions, the House-approved bill directs the administration to:
- Identify persecution threats and early warnings of genocide and crimes against humanity directed toward individuals in Iraq and Syria and religious and ethnic minorities at risk of forced migration;
- Provide funding to faith-based and other organizations for the humanitarian needs of genocide survivors;
- Urge other governments to prosecute perpetrators of “genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.”
ISIS’ terror campaign in the Middle East has included execution, rape and sexual enslavement. Other ISIS atrocities cited by religious liberty advocates include torture, mass graves, assassination of religious leaders and the destruction of churches, monasteries and cemeteries.
Violence by Islamic extremists since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has resulted in an exodus from the country by many Christians and other religious adherents. The number of professing Christians in that country has declined by death and displacement from as much as 1.4 million to fewer than 300,000, according to estimates.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)