[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The US Government has declared the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East by Daesh (the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”) as a genocide. The statement, made today by US Secretary of State John Kerry, follows similar declarations in the past few months by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
“In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims,” Mr Kerry said in a statement today. “Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions – in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.
“Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.
“I say this even though the ongoing conflict and lack of access to key areas has made it impossible to develop a fully detailed and comprehensive picture of all that Daesh is doing and all that it has done. We have not been able to compile a complete record. I think that’s obvious on its face; we don’t have access to everywhere.
“But over the past months, we have conducted a review of the vast amount of information gathered by the State Department, by our intelligence community, by outside groups. And my conclusion is based on that information and on the nature of the acts reported.”
Mr Kerry’s remarks come after a unanimous decision by the US House of Representatives earlier this week to designate Daesh’s actions as genocide. Congress had given the Secretary of State a deadline of today to say whether or not he considered Daesh’s actions were a genocide.
Commenting on the plight of Christians at the hands of Daesh, Mr Kerry said: “We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith; that it executed 49 Coptic and Ethiopian Christians in Libya; and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery. . .
“We know that in areas under its control, Daesh has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities – destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches; blowing up monasteries and the tombs of prophets; desecrating cemeteries; and in Palmyra, even beheading the 83-year-old scholar who had spent a lifetime preserving antiquities there. . .
“One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part. We know that Daesh has given some of its victims a choice between abandoning their faith or being killed, and that for many is a choice between one kind of death and another.
“The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yazidis because they are Yazidis; Shia because they are Shia. This is the message it conveys to children under its control. Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.
“There is no question in my mind that if Daesh succeeded in establishing its so-called caliphate, it would seek to destroy what remains of ethnic and religious mosaic once thriving in the region.”
Under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, states have an obligation to prevent and punish acts of genocide, which is considered to be the most serious of all war crimes.
“I want to be clear. I am neither judge, nor prosecutor, nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing by specific persons,” Mr Kerry said. “Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal.
“But the United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve, and analyse the evidence of atrocities, and we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.
“I hope that my statement today will assure the victims of Daesh’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them.”
In a resolution on 27 January this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an international body bringing together some 47 member states from Iceland in the west to the Russian Federation in the east; passed a resolution condemning recent terrorist attacks, and saying: “It notes with great concern that many of these recent terrorist attacks are claimed by, and may be attributed to, individuals who act in the name of the terrorist entity which calls itself [Daesh] and who have perpetrated acts of genocide and other serious crimes punishable under international law.
“States should act on the presumption that [Daesh] commits genocide and should be aware that this entails action under the . . . United Nations Convention.”
And on 4 February, the European Parliament, which brings together 27 states, passed a resolution saying that “the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ is committing genocide against Christians and Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities, who do not agree with the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ interpretation of Islam, and that this therefore entails action under the . . . United Nations Convention. . .”
It said that those responsible “should be brought to justice and prosecuted for violations of international law, notably war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.” It called on the UN Security Council to refer Daesh to the International Criminal Court.
In December, three Church of England bishops, the Rt Revd Alan Smith of St Albans, the Rt Revd Peter Forster of Chester, and the Rt Revd John Inge of Worcester put their names to a letter from 75 UK Parliamentarians to the British Prime Minister David Cameron expressing their view that Daesh was guilty of genocide.
“There is now clear evidence that this genocide includes assassinations of Church leaders; mass murders; torture, kidnapping for ransom in the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria; sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian girls and women; forcible conversions to Islam; destruction of churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and Christian artifacts; and theft of lands and wealth from Christian clergy and laity alike,” the Parliamentarians said.
But the British government has, so far, shown reluctance to classify the actions of Daesh as a genocide. The matter will be debated by the House of Lords on Monday when an amendment to the Immigration Bill will seek to allow a Justice of the UK Supreme Court the power to determine whether, “after consideration of the available facts”, a particular place is one where genocide is taking place.
Commenting on today’s announcement by the US Secretary of State, the emeritus Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, described the decision as “long overdue but welcome news”, saying that “Finally, the international community is starting to acknowledge the scale of the persecution against Christians and other minorities by Daesh in Iraq.”
He added: “I hope this means that governments will finally start backing the work we are doing on the front line, helping to shelter and care for thousands of Iraqi refugees and IDPs.”
Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, addressed the issue when speaking to journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, DC last week. “What is happening in the Middle East and Syria is criminal and is an indictment of our humanity if left unaddressed. Whether speaking of Yazidis, Christians or other communities, the atrocities they face are deplorable and warrant not only our concern but our intentional action.”
Responding to today's anouncement, he said: “Through this recognition, an important precedent has been set demonstrating that the international community has real concern for those who have suffered and continue to suffer under these conditions, and that we will work together to ensure, to the best of our ability, that these atrocities are not repeated.
“This also sends a very clear message to all those suffering: Yazidis, Christians, Shia and others, that we not only feel their pain, but that we stand together to recognise their suffering and support them in whatever way we can.”