House Panel Passes Resolution Declaring ISIS Targeting of Christians, Other Minorities ‘Genocide’

By Lauretta Brown | March 2, 2016 | 10:04pm EST
Holding crosses painted in the colors of the Syrian opposition flag, Syrian Christians protest persecution in their homeland (Photo: Shaam News Network, File)

( – The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bipartisan resolution Wednesday declaring that atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) “against Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”

The passage by unanimous consent of the resolution comes two weeks before a deadline for Secretary of State John Kerry to state the administration’s stance on the matter, as required by the omnibus spending bill passed last December.

Kerry has until March 17 to declare whether “the persecution of, including attacks against, Christians and people of other religions in the Middle East by violent Islamic extremists” constitutes genocide.

The resolution passed Wednesday, as amended, expresses the sense of Congress that “all governments, including the United States … should call ISIL atrocities by their rightful names: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) last September, recognizes that “Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities have been an integral part of the cultural fabric of the Middle East for millennia.”

It cites the words of Pope Francis in July that Middle Eastern Christians are facing genocide: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide – and I stress the word genocide – is taking place, and it must end.”

It also cites a March 2015 report of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights which found that “[e]thnic and religious groups targeted by ISIL include Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka‘e, Kurds and Shi’a” and that “[i]t is reasonable to conclude that some of the incidents [in Iraq in 2014–2015] … may constitute genocide.”

“ISIS commits mass murder, beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture, enslavement, and the kidnaping of children, among other atrocities,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement on the resolution’s passage.

“ISIS has said it will not allow the continued existence of the Yezidi. And zero indigenous Christian communities remain in areas under ISIS control,” he said.

“So as ISIS destroys churches and other holy sites, they move closer towards eliminating certain communities,” Royce stated. “Put simply, their desire is to erase the existence of ethnic and religious minorities from their self-proclaimed caliphate, by any means necessary.”

“ISIS is guilty of genocide and it is time we speak the truth about their atrocities,” he said. “I hope the administration and the world will do the same, before it’s too late.”

Kerry told lawmakers last week that he was having “additional evaluation” done to help him determine whether the murder of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East should be declared “genocide.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the word genocide "involves a very specific legal determination that has, at this point, not been reached."

Genocide is defined in title 18 section 1091 of the U.S. Code as a “specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such” which “kills members of that group; causes serious bodily injury to members of that group; causes the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques; subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part; imposes measures intended to prevent births within the group; or transfers by force children of the group to another group.”

The European Parliament passed a resolution last month designating atrocities committed by ISIS against religious minorities as “genocide.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday also marked up a resolution, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), condemning “the gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity” by the Assad regime, its allies and other parties to the Syrian conflict.

It calls on the president to promote the establishment of a war crimes tribunal where these crimes can be addressed.


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