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Kerry’s Finding of Genocide Against Christians Hailed by Human Rights Advocates

Chip Somodevilla / Pool via CNP
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Islamic State is "genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions," Secretary of State declares

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared Thursday that the Islamic State group is responsible for genocide against Christians and several other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.

Kerry made the remarks in a carefully worded statement he delivered at the State Department in Washington, a day after a congressionally mandated deadline for State to issue its findings and in the wake of much lobbying for a declaration that includes Christians.

“My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” he said, using “Daesh,” an Arabic-language derogatory nickname for ISIS. “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.”

Kerry said that in places like Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, ISIS has “executed Christians solely because of their faith,” and that it has forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery. He said the Sunni extremist group “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. … We know that Daesh has threatened Christians by saying that it will, quote, ‘conquer your Rome, break your crosses and enslave your women.'”

One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part, he explained. “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 acknowledged. “The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.”

He said that at this point, while ISIS still controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria, it’s impossible to get a complete view of the situation. “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,” the secretary said. “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.”

In addition to defeating the Islamists and documenting their crimes, explained Kerry, efforts must be made to get to the root cause of the genocide and prevent future occurrences of it.

“The best response to genocide is a reaffirmation of the fundamental right to survive of every group targeted for destruction,” he said. “What Daesh wants to erase, we must preserve. That requires defeating Daesh, but it also demands the rejection of bigotry and discrimination — those things that facilitated its rise in the first place.

“This means that, as more areas are liberated, residents will need help not only to repair infrastructure, but also to ensure that minorities can return in safety, that they are integrated into local security forces, and that they receive equal protection under the law. Our goal, after all, is not just to defeat Daesh, only to find that in a few years some new terrorist group with a different acronym has taken its place. Our purpose is to marginalize and defeat violent extremists once and for all.”

Veteran international religious freedom advocate Nina Shea applauded Kerry’s move, calling it a “critically important step.”

“Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense,” said Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, in a column for National Review. “Legally, it is known as the ‘crime of crimes.’ And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to ‘prevent and protect’ against genocide, the conscience does.”

The statement seemed calculated not to single out Christians as the victims of genocide; it spoke about attacks on Kurds, Shiites and Turkmens as well. Aides said that Kerry does not want to fuel perceptions that the United States is engaged in a modern-day crusade against global Islam, according to The Washington Post.

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