The Obama Administration has several options to choose from to help protect Middle East Christians
The United States—and the international community—has several options to help Christians in Iraq and Syria, now that the US has declared that they are victims of a genocide being carried out by the Islamic State group.
The Heritage Foundation and the National Review Institute cosponsored a conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday examining that topic.
Action is urgent, panelists agreed, for a number of reasons. For Thomas F. Farr, who directs the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, it’s a national security issue for the United States. The Middle East loses its prospects for stability if it’s emptied of Christianity and Christians, he explained.
“Allowing Iraq and Syria to become majoritarian states in which there is no pluralism is to condemn them to instability and a launching pad for terrorism,” he said.
Olivia Enos, research associate in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, said that ISIS is trafficking in Yazidi women and the profits are being used to fund terrorism.
“The US is a signatory to the UN Convention on Genocide, and under that convention we are supposed to punish perpetrators of genocide and protect victims of genocide,” Enos said. “The US should be considering specific military, legal and refugee assistance.”
Because most financial transactions pass thru the Federal Reserve and are dollar-denominated, there are legal tools that the US Treasury Department has that would allow it to “go after known rights abusers who are facilitating genocide.” In a paper Enos co-authored for the Heritage Foundation, she explained:
While the U.S. Department of the Treasury is already using anti–money laundering and counter-terrorist financing tools to combat ISIS’ illicit activities, such tools also could be used to punish perpetrators of genocide. For example, if individuals who carried out genocide were identified, they could be placed on Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, and traffickers known to enslave Yazidi, Christian, or Shiite women and girls could be designated as primary money laundering concerns under Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act. Such designations would enable Treasury to freeze traffickers’ and human rights abusers’ assets and prohibit others from transacting business with these known entities.
Enos said the US could also call for a UN Commission of Inquiry report, looking into greater detail about the genocide.
To help those who are at ISIS’ mercy, the US should consider other ways of welcoming members of the religious minority groups that have been designated victims of genocide, she argued.
“According to the Refugee Processing Center, between April 2013 and April 2016, the U.S. resettled 529 Yazidis from Iraq, 8,470 Christians from Iraq and Syria, and 15,338 Shiite Muslims from Iraq and Syria,” Enos said. “During the same time period, the U.S. resettled 22,324 Sunni Muslims from those countries, despite the fact that they are not threatened with genocide and arguably pose a greater potential security threat due to the relatively higher risk that they may support ISIS. The number of Iraqi Yazidis, Christians, and Shiite Muslims resettled from Iraq is far higher than the number from Syria. No Yazidis, around 50 Christians, and only 19 individuals that identify as Shiite Muslims were resettled from Syria during this same period. Now that we have the genocide designation, we have the ability to lobby for these individuals. One way to do this is P2, which allows individuals to bypass referral from UNHCR and simply be processed directly through the US refugee processing center. It still requires vetting, it still requires security processing or a very stringent level, but it enables them to have a more expedited process for entry into the US.”
Farr, who said during the panel discussion that he is a Catholic, spoke of the possibility that the genocide justifies military action under the “Just War” theory.
“I would love to see the Vatican take this on. The Pope himself has called this a genocide. I’d like to see a formal declaration of the justifiable nature of the use of force to deal with this genocide. It would galvanize the international community,” he said.
But while the effective use of force is the only answer to removal of ISIS as a fighting force, he said, there must ultimately be a deeper examination of the problem. “If you don’t deal with some of the underlying problems, there will simply be another ISIS,” he said.
At the same time, there is already discussion underway in Washington, including at the State Department, to plan for a “post-ISIS world.” Part of that would be a safe haven known as the Nineveh Plain Protective Zone, which he said wouldn’t be simply for Christians but for all, “including disfavored Muslims, if they are willing to play by the rules of the zone.”
The panel also included Chaldean priest Father Douglas Bazi, who had been kidnapped and tortured by Islamists in 2006 and now runs an assistance program for internally displaced Christians in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region; Kathryn Jean Lopez, director of the National Review Institute, and Andrew Walther, vice president for communications at the Knights of Columbus.
Father Bazi, in addition to relating what had happened to him, spoke of some of the ongoing tensions with which Christians must live in Iraq. This extends even to the choice of names for children, as kids with overtly Christian names suffer more discrimination. Iraqi Christian families tend to choose names like Yousef and Mariam, or Joseph and Mary, which are good Christian names, but also are names found in the Quran.
John Burger is Aleteia’s news editor.