NBC said that a key issue facing the administration is whether it will be obligated to take action to stop the genocide.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner previously had said a genocide determination in ISIS’ case “would not necessarily result in any particular legal obligation for the United States.”
CNN said that Kerry’s declaration does not legally obligate the U.S. to take any particular action, but it could put pressure on the Obama administration to take more aggressive military action against ISIS.
“It could also give weight to calls by other lawmakers and humanitarian groups pushing the Obama administration to welcome more refugees into the United States,” the news outlet said.
Republicans and Democrats in the House joined together 393-0 to back a “sense of Congress,” saying the crimes committed against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region amount to war crimes and, in some cases, genocide. Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, whose Nebraska district is home to the largest group of resettled Yazidis in the U.S., authored the resolution with California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo …
“I commend Secretary Kerry and the State Department for making this important designation,” Fortenberry said Thursday. “The genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others is not only a grave injustice to theses ancient faith communities, it is an assault on human dignity and an attack on civilization itself. The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority.”
Also welcoming Kerry’s declaration was Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project.
“It was a full recognition, naming Christians more than once,” Nicholson said in an interview. Kerry “really laid out some tentative ideas for what’s next. He very explicitly called for protecting these minority communities, making a way for them to return home once those areas are liberated from ISIS control, securing their future in their ancestral homeland.”
Nicholson noted that his organization and the Iraqi Christian Relief Council have pushed for a safe haven for Christians in Iraq and Syria, “not just shipping them out of the region” as refugees.
“The next thing would be referring this matter to the United Nations Security Council and have the same finding there, which would really trigger a global response and up the ante in terms of destroying ISIS,” Nicholson said.
Douglas Napier, senior counsel and executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, said in a statement that the U.S. has an “influential role to play in supporting a referral to the International Criminal Court to condemn and prosecute the perpetrators. Once it is recognized that genocide is happening, the 147 countries who are party to the UN Genocide Convention, including the U.S., have an obligation to do all they can to bring the killing of innocent people to an end.”
But U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the House panel that oversees global human rights, said the International Criminal Court would be ineffective and that it would be better if the US would work with the UN Security Council to set up an ad hoc regional tribunal. Regional tribunals, he said, proved effective in Sierra Leone, where nine people were convicted; Rwanda, where 61 were convicted, and the former Yugoslavia, where a tribunal convicted 80 people.
“Moreover, a tribunal focused on Syria that provides Syrians with a degree of ownership would enhance its effectiveness,” Smith said in a statement. “A Syria tribunal would hold not only the genocidiers of ISIS but all parties — especially the war criminal Bashar al-Assad, who has barrel-bombed Syrian civilians and killed tens of thousands — accountable for their horrific deeds.”
The Knights of Columbus, which earlier in the week had issued a nearly 300-page report with new evidence that they said supported a declaration of Christian genocide, issued a statement in which Supreme Knight Carl Anderson called Kerry’s determination “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,” Anderson said. “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.”
For one Christian leader of a Church based in the Middle East, Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, the declaration sends a message to all those suffering “that we not only feel their pain, but that we stand together to recognize their suffering and support them in whatever way we can.”
“This is a significant step, that follows the European Union recognition of genocide, that I hope will encourage [the British] government to also recognize these unacceptable acts of genocide against vulnerable communities in the Middle East,” Bishop Angaelos said.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.