The Obama Administration has several options to choose from to help protect Middle East Christians
The United States should formally recognize that a genocide of Christians in the Middle East is taking place, and take steps to protect the vulnerable population.
That is the consensus of several witnesses who testified Wednesday before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
The subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), held the hearing to bring attention to the plight of Christians in the region and grow congressional support possibly for a resolution calling the persecution of Christians genocide at the hands of the Islamic State group.
Several witnesses alluded to a statement that is reportedly being drafted by the State Department that would recognize a genocide of Yazidis in the region, but which reportedly fails to consider the plight of Christians.
“Since the fall of Mosul in early June 2014, the Christians have endured targeted persecution in the form of forced displacement, sexual violence, and other human rights violations,” said Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit, in his written testimony. “All 45 churches and monasteries around Mosul fell to the hands of ISIS, which subsequently removed the buildings’ crosses, burned, looted, and destroyed much of these properties. By late July, the last of the Christians in Mosul escaped the city following an edict issued by ISIS, offering minorities the option to either convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or be killed, leading to a modern-day genocide.”
Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, noted that on Sept. 3, members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the world’s largest organization of experts on genocide, stated in an appeal to Congress that ISIS’ “mass murders of Chaldean, Assyrian, Melkite Greek and Coptic Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, Sunni Kurds and other religious groups meet even the strictest definition of genocide.”
He said in his testimony that a designation of genocide matters because a term such as “ethnic cleansing” carries no weight in international law.
Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, in his testimony, urged the U.S. government to “publicly acknowledge that genocide is taking place against the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria, including in its reportedly impending statement on genocide that, according to reports, refers only to Nineveh’s Yazidi community. It is critically important that the State Department consider the best available evidence before making any official pronouncement that rejects allegations that Christian are, along with Yazidis, targets of ongoing genocidal acts.”
Anderson also called on Congress to adopt a resolution recognizing that the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria, as well as other vulnerable communities, are facing genocide.
“The Knights of Columbus supports House Concurrent Resolution 75, which names and decries the ongoing ‘genocide’ against Christians and other vulnerable minorities in Iraq and in Syria,” Anderson said in his prepared remarks. “Introduced by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, this resolution already has 153 bipartisan cosponsors and a similar resolution is to be soon introduced in the Senate.”
The Supreme Knight, who has overseen a multimillion-dollar aid package to Christians in the Middle East, called on the US government to ensure that places of refuge operated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees “welcome and provide sanctuary to members of all faiths, including Christians and other vulnerable minorities.”
Anderson and other speakers voiced concerns that Christian refugees avoid UNHCR refugee camps because of Islamist violence and intimidation therein.
The UN “should insist on proper security inside the camps and identify ways to ensure that Christian and other vulnerable minorities from Iraq and Syria are not subject to violence and intimidation inside UNHCR facilities, including possibly by providing separate facilities for minorities and by hiring more professional staffing, including members of the minority communities,” he said.
In addition, he said, the U.S. government should ensure that Christians and other vulnerable minorities are “not structurally discriminated against in the U.S. refugee resettlement of 10,000 Syrians during the current fiscal year.” He said that a disproportionately low percentage of Syrian refugees entering the US are Christian. “The U.S. government should end its sole reliance on the UNHCR for refugee referrals, and engage private contractors to identify, document and refer Christian, Yazidi and other vulnerable minority refugees from Syria and Iraq who are in need of resettlement.”
A State Department official told Aleteia that the United States is “committed to assisting people of all ethnicities, religions and nationalities who are fleeing persecution, violence, and other drivers of displacement. The emphasis of our refugee admissions program is on helping the most vulnerable. Many of those we are currently assisting are Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities from Iraq and Syria.”
The official acknowledged that in Fiscal Year 2015, the percentage of Christian Syrian refugees admitted to the US is low compared to the pre-war proportion of Syria’s population that was Christian, about 10 percent, but that it is “unclear how many Christians have left the country… it is estimated that they make up a small percentage of the Syrian refugee population.
On Monday, Robert P. George, chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, stated, “The hallmark of genocide is the intent to destroy a national, racial, ethnic, or religious group, in whole or in part. [ISIS’] intent to destroy religious groups that do not subscribe to its extremist ideology in the areas in Iraq and Syria that it controls, or seeks to control, is evident in, not only its barbarous acts, but also its own propaganda.”
John Burger is news editor of the English edition of Aleteia.