(CNSNews.com) -- The Knights of Columbus, which has been aiding religious minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, attended a White House ceremony today where President Donald Trump signed into law the "Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018." The legislation is similar to past efforts to aid the survivors of the Armenian genocide and the Jewish holocaust.
“The legislation signed today again reminds us of America’s earlier efforts to aid victims of genocide – Christian communities targeted by Ottomans a century ago and Jewish survivors of Shoah," said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a press release.
“With the legislation signed today, America speaks with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” he said.
According to the Catholic fraternal organization, "Over the last four years, the Knights have allocated more than $20 million to aid Christians and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria to provide food, shelter and clothing. Those efforts also included $2 million to rebuild the liberated Iraqi town of Karamles that had been largely demolished by ISIS."
The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act is designed "to provide relief for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes who are members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Iraq and Syria, for accountability for perpetrators of these crimes, and other purposes."
The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development will have the authority to provide financial and material aid to the religious minorities through their offices and through non-governmental organizations, including faith-based organizations. They will also be allowed to conduct criminal investigations; develop indigenous investigative offices; and collect and preserve evidence.
Also, "the State Department shall encourage foreign governments to identify and prosecute individuals who are suspected of committing such crimes, including members of foreign terrorist organizations operating in Iraq or Syria," reads the legislation. The State Department is further authorized to provide reports on the investigations/prosecutions to Congress.
In March 2016, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution declaring “the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL [Islamic State] against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed that resolution and, in July 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed it.
In April 2016, the British House of Commons voted unanimously to declare the actions by the Islamic State genocide, despite the opposition of then-Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party administration. Numerous other governments have declared ISIS's actions against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims as genocidal.
In December 2016, the Knights of Columbus traveled with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) to Iraq on a fact-finding trip about religious persecution. In January 2017, Rep. Smith introduced H.R.390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act.
The legislation passed the House in 2017 and in the Senate, a reconciled version, in November 2018.
Given the genocidal attacks by ISIS, "the number of Christians living in Iraq has dropped from an estimated 800,000 to 1,400,000 in 2002 to fewer than 250,000 in 2017," states the new law. "[T]he number of Yazidis living in Iraq has fluctuated from 500,000 in 2013, to between 350,000 and 400,000 in 2016, and between 600,000 and 750,000 in 2017."
The Knights of Columbus advised the USAID in October on how "religious minorities are to be assisted in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities," and they "also worked in conjunction with the U.S. government to de-escalate tensions between the Kurdistan and Iraqi governments that threatened a recently rebuilt Christian town," reads the press release.