The ISIS Genocide: While America Waits, Europe Acts
Tue, February 9, 2016
ISIS executes Christians in April 2015. (Screenshot)
At a recent news conference, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “There are lawyers considering whether or not [the term ‘genocide’] can be properly applied in this scenario.” But, while the Obama administration “considers” the issue, the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution which, for the first time, called ISIS’ actions in Syria and Iraq a genocide.
The American Position
For many months, the U.S. administration has considered designating ISIS’ persecution of religious minorities a ‘genocide’, but has so far refrained from taking such a step. This is despite numerous calls to do so from senior politicians and experts.
In December, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for the administration to designate “the Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen, and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide.”
Later that month, a bipartisan letter was sent from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and 29 colleagues to Secretary of State John Kerry, which expressed concern at reports the administration was planning to exclude Christians from a genocide finding that would only apply to Yazidis.
The letter noted the USCIRF statement and ended saying “An official genocide determination by the Administration is a rare and weighty occasion...we will continue to insist that any genocide finding must reflect the actual experience of all minorities whose communities are being erased and whose families are being slaughtered because of their faith."
Historically, the U.S. has been reluctant to apply the term ‘genocide’ because of concerns it will be bound by moral (and legal) obligations that don’t otherwise apply. According to a State Department memo from the Clinton era, Warren Christopher (Bill Clinton’s first secretary of state) repeatedly resisted describing the mass murder of the Tutsis in Rwanda as genocide for fear that “it could commit [the U.S. government] to actually do something.” Is the same fear now holding back the Obama administration from calling ISIS out on their current genocide?
Islamic State purportedly executed 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya in a film released April 19.
(WARNING: extremely graphic content)
Meanwhile in Europe
Across the pond, in Europe, things seem to be progressing in the right direction. The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution last week which said “‘ISIS/Daesh’ is committing genocide against Christians and Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities.”
The resolution, tabled by Lars Adaktusson, Swedish member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) Group, also said “The violent extremist ideology of the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’, its terrorist acts, its continued gross systematic and widespread attacks directed against civilians...constitute a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and urged “the members of the UN Security Council to support a referral by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court in order to investigate violations committed in Iraq and Syria by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ against Christians, Yazidis and religious and ethnic minorities”.
MEP Lars Adaktusson told Newsweek “It’s really important that the Parliament passed [the resolution], on a political level and a moral level. The significance is the obligations that follow by such a recognition: the collective obligation to intervene, to stop these atrocities… It’s also a historical confirmation that the European Parliament recognized what is going on and that they are suffering from the most despicable crime in the world, namely genocide.”
Nuri Kino, the director and founder of the advocacy group A Demand for Action, also commented to Newsweek, saying “Eighteen months ago we said we will demand action. Today, we can say with pride that we...worked around the clock to make this happen. Now our goal is the U.N. Security Council. Action must be taken.”
Aside from the resolution’s explicit call for a U.N. Security Council resolution and referral to the International Criminal Court, the vote could also put pressure on the U.S. administration to finally designate ISIS’ actions a genocide, prompting more direct action.
Though some, such as the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein, have argued that President Barack Obama's administration won't change its strategy regardless of such a designation, historic precedent shows the gravitas of such a declaration would undoubtedly add urgency to, and have positive ramifications for, international efforts to combat ISIS and prevent the continuing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others in the Middle East.
This video provides further discussion of the American position on ISIS' 'genocide.'