Sec. of State John Kerry announced Thursday morning that the United States government will label the Islamic State's slaughter of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria a "genocide."
"My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that in my judgement, Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims," Kerry said during a 9 a.m. press conference. "Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions — in what it says, what it believes and what it does."
Kerry's announcement comes as much scrutiny has been placed on the United States State Department in recent months over the fact that the agency has taken so long to make the genocide designation regarding IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL), while the European Union made the designation in early February.
Although it was reported Wednesday night that Kerry was expected to miss Thursday's March 17 genocide designation decision deadline put in place by Congress, Kerry assured that the State Department will not hide from the truth behind IS' attempts to push Christianity and other religions to the brink of extinction in the region.
"We know that Daesh's actions are animated by an extreme and intolerant ideology that castigates Yazidis as 'pagans' and 'devil worshippers,' and we know that Daesh has threatened Christians by saying it will 'conquer your Rome, break your crosses and enslave your women,'" Kerry explained. "Shia Muslims, meanwhile, are referred to by Daesh as 'disbelievers' and 'apostates' and subjected to frequent and vicious attacks … Daesh said of Shias, 'it is a duty imposed upon us to kill them, to fight them, to displace them and to cleanse the land of their filth."
"One element of genocide is an attempt 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," Kerry added. "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, that it's entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology."
Kerry added that he has no doubt that if IS is allowed to continue building its self-proclaimed caliphate the group aims to "destroy what remains" of ethnic and religious minorities that once thrived in the region.
"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," Kerry stated. "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 analyze the evidence of atrocities and we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable."
Kerry's statement follows a unanimous vote from the House of Representatives on Monday, in which a resolution was passed calling IS' persecution of Christians and others a genocide. The resolution, which was introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb,. received a final vote of 393-0 and also called on the State Department to make the genocide designation.
"The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority," Fortenberry said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands. Christians, Yezidis, and others remain an essential part of the Middle East's rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope."
Last Thursday, The Knights of Columbus Catholic fraternal organization and the In Defense of Christians human rights advocacy group released a nearly 280-page report that outlines and chronicles IS' systematic killings, sexual enslavement and displacement of Christians. The report was submitted to the State Department last Wednesday.
Both organizations and many prominent human rights and religious freedom activists have long pressured the State Department to make a genocide designation and argued that calling IS' crimes against humanity genocide will help spur a greater response to the situation.
Advocates also claimed that for the U.S. not to call IS atrocities a genocide would mean that it would standing alone against an international and national consensus.
"Today's announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry is correct and truly historic. For one of the few times in our history, the United States has designated an ongoing situation as genocide, and the State Department is to be commended for having the courage to say so," Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said in a statement. "By joining its voice to that of the House of Representatives, the American people, and the international community, the United States today makes clear to ISIS that its attempt to stamp out religious minorities must cease. The United States and the world are united on this, and simply will not look the other way."
Kerry asserted in his remarks that it is not only important to call what IS is doing genocide, but it is also important to destroy IS and prevent the group from causing more harm in the region. As ISIS rose to power in 2014, Kerry says that the U.S.-led coalition has helped push IS out of 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and 20 percent of its territory in Syria.
"Part of our response to Daesh must be to destroy it by military force but other dimensions are important, as well. And, we dare not lose track of that," Kerry contended. "In the past two-and-a-half years, the United States has provided more than 600 million in emergency aid to Iraqis who have been displaced by their communities by Daesh. We are working closely with local authorities to assist in the recovery of cities that have been liberated and whose residents face grave challenges … We are funding the investigation of mass graves and supporting care for the victims of gender-based violence and those who have escaped captivity."