'Future of ancient Christian presence at stake': U.S. recognizes ISIS actions as genocide

Genocide

Rodi Said | Catholic News Service/Reuters
A displaced woman and child fled violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, in 2014. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 393-0 March 10 to approve a nonbinding resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities being carried out by Islamic State militants against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.
Rodi Said | Catholic News Service/Reuters A displaced woman and child fled violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, in 2014. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 393-0 March 10 to approve a nonbinding resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities being carried out by Islamic State militants against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.

WASHINGTON -- On March 17, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States has determined that ISIS' action against the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria constitutes genocide.

"My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims," he said, during a news conference at the State Department.

The archbishop who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had asked March 14 for U.S. Catholics to sign a pledge calling for an end to the slaughter of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East.

"Today, the people of God must speak up for our brothers and sisters facing genocide in the Middle East," said a statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., USCCB president. "As a people of faith, we must convince the U.S. Department of State to include Christians in any formal declaration of genocide."

The same day the House in a bipartisan 393-0 vote approved a nonbinding resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities being carried out by Islamic State militants against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry was given a mid-March deadline on whether to make a formal declaration of genocide. After the House vote, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said that as the Obama administration "waffles on this issue and doubles-down on its failed strategy" to defeat the Islamic State, "the American people are speaking loudly and clearly on this issue."

"The very future of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East is at stake," Archbishop Kurtz said.

"With each passing day, the roll of modern martyrs grows. While we rejoice in their ultimate victory over death through the power of Jesus' love, we must also help our fellow Christians carry the cross of persecution and, as much as possible, help relieve their suffering," he added. By doing so, the Middle East and the world will be made safer for people of every faith to live in peace."

Archbishop Kurtz urged Catholics to sign a petition that has been online at www.stopthechristiangenocide.org since late February. The effort is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians.

"Extensive and irrefutable evidence supports a finding that the so-called Islamic State's mistreatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yezidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition," the petition says.

State Department officials hinted last October that a genocide designation was coming for the Yezidi minority in the region, but not for Christians. The comments led to a firestorm of protest from Christian groups that resulted in congressional action setting the March 17 deadline for Kerry to respond.

Report details genocide

The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians released a 278-page document March 10 contending that Christians in Libya, Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide carried out by the Islamic State. The report was released a week before a congressionally mandated deadline for the Department of State to announce if genocide was being committed against religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East and North Africa by the Islamic State.

It argues that the case for genocide exists and called on Secretary of State John Kerry to make such a declaration and to include Christians in it.

The organizations delivered the report to Kerry March 9.

Carl Anderson, Knights of Columbus CEO, said during a news conference introducing the report that the evidence uncovered supports a declaration of genocide by the U.S. government. He said that the dozens of atrocities uncovered "may only be the tip of the iceberg."

"Over and over again, we report that as bad as things are, we expect that things are far worse," he said.

If a genocide declaration is made, the perpetrators of the violence then can be indicted and eventually brought to trial, Anderson added. Until such a designation is made, he explained, Islamic State members can continue acting with impunity toward anyone they claim does not adhere to their fundamentalist beliefs.

State Department officials hinted in October that a genocide designation was coming for the Yezidi minority in the region, but not for Christians. The comments led to a firestorm of protest from Christian groups that resulted in congressional action setting the March 17 deadline for Kerry to respond.

Several participants in the news conference called for any genocide declaration to include Christians. Omitting any group from the designation would allow Islamic State militants to continue their attacks on those communities without fear of legal prosecution, they said.

The report contains dozens of statements collected from Feb. 22 through March 3 from witnesses and victims of atrocities carried out by Islamic State forces. The incidents include torture, rapes, kidnappings, murder, forced conversions, bombings and the destruction of religious property and monuments.

"Murder of Christians is commonplace. Many have been killed in front of their own families," said the report, titled "Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East."

It cites statements from religious leaders, including Pope Francis, and conclusions from the European Parliament, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, all of which have labeled the Islamic State's actions as genocide. 

 

Read Archbishop Kurtz' statement asking Catholics to sign a pledge calling for an end to the slaughter of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East.

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