The United States finally needs to act in keeping with its designation a year ago that the Islamic State’s (ISIS) murderous campaign against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is genocide, religious freedom advocates said.
The calls for action came on the occasion of the first anniversary of then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s classification of ISIS’ atrocities in Iraq and Syria as genocide. Neither the United States nor the United Nations have followed up that March 17, 2016, designation by Kerry – who served in the Obama administration – with suitable justice for the terrorists or humanitarian assistance for their victims, critics said.
Despite the United States’ use of the genocide label, no ISIS member has so far been tried for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, religious freedom advocates said. In addition, the United Nations (U.N.) has yet to designate ISIS’ campaign as genocide, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International.
Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims have been prominent targets of ISIS’ terror campaign, which 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.
“Unfortunately, one year later nothing about ISIS’ ruthless mission throughout the Middle East, and the world, has changed,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., wrote in an opinion piece published March 17 in The Hill. “Their efforts have been impeded and numbers are smaller, but they still wage a sick ideological war against innocent people, simply because of a perverted anti-religious hatred.”
Kelsey Zorzi, U.N. counsel for ADF International, said in a March 16 statement. “Recognizing and condemning the ongoing genocide of Christians, [Yazidis], and other religious minorities was an important first step. As a signatory to the Convention on Genocide the U.S. is obliged to act fast to stop the genocide and prosecute the perpetrators. The U.S. and the international community have failed to act.”
A 1948 United Nations convention, or treaty, defines genocide as murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The critics of the lack of U.S. and U.N. action offered proposals to remedy the failure.
Lankford, a Southern Baptist, called on the Trump administration to address the genocidal campaign “through advocacy for religious freedom, the provision of humanitarian aid, the pursuit of justice against perpetrators, and assistance with economic revitalization.”
In addition, he urged the administration to make a priority of nominating an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
The Genocide Coalition – a collection of religious liberty and human rights organizations – also called on the Trump administration to fill the international religious freedom post, as well as such positions as the special envoy to promote religious freedom for minority faith groups in the Near East and South Asia and the National Security Council special advisor for religious freedom.
The coalition also recommended the administration and Congress safeguard and restore the homelands of the minority groups that the Islamic State group is seeking to eradicate in northern Iraq. National security and law-enforcement agencies should do everything possible to bring the perpetrators and their accomplices to justice, the coalition said.
A bipartisan group of congressional members wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to ask for an update on U.S. actions in the wake of Kerry’s genocide designation. Included among the signers are the sponsors of the resolutions approved last year that named the Islamic State’s violence against religious minorities as genocide.
The March 17 letter called for Tillerson and Haley to pressure the U.N. Security Council to approve a formal investigation into genocide by ISIS. Congress has designated funds for investigations and trials of ISIS members, according to the letter.
While liberation from Islamic State control is coming to towns in the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq, the future living conditions of Christian and Yazidi survivors remain uncertain, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
“The next six months will be the moment of truth for them,” Shea said in a March 17 opinion piece for Fox News.
“This period will determine whether these ancient communities … will be able to leave the squalid refugee camps and displacement shelters to return home,” she wrote. “It will determine whether they can rebuild their shattered lives in the lands their families have lived in for millennia.”
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the number of professing Christians in that country has declined by death and displacement from about 1.4 million to less than 300,000, according to estimates.
The Yazidi sect has a patchwork of religious beliefs and practices.
In late 2015 and early 2016, Russell Moore – president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – wrote President Obama or Kerry either as an individual or as part of a corporate effort to urge them to designate the Islamic State group’s campaign against Christians and others as genocide.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)