House of Representatives Declares ISIS’s Targeting of Religious Minorities ‘Genocide’

By The Stream Published on March 14, 2016

In a unanimous vote, 393 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted tonight to call the United States government, as well as the member states of the UN, to recognize crimes against ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East as war crimes and genocide. The bill had over 200 co-sponsors, including both Democrats and Republicans.

The bill was aimed at ISIS, which its sponsor, Nebraska Republican Jeff Fortenberry, called “8th century barbarians with 21st century weaponry.” California Democrat Anna Eschoo was also a major supporter of the bill. She and Fortenberry serve as co-chairs of Congress’s Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.

The Obama administration, and particularly secretary of state John Kerry, have been very slow in deciding whether to do this. When pressed by Congress in hearings last month, he said he was concerned that ISIS’ actions meet the exact legal standards for being called genocide. The administration is reportedly worried that calling the actions “genocide” would require more action by the US.

After the vote, the House Majority leader criticized Kerry’s delay. “We know what they are doing and if we don’t say it we should be ashamed — ISIL is committing genocide,” he said.

The bill (the text can be found here) expressed “the sense of Congress that those who commit or support atrocities against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, including Yezidis, Turkmen, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka‘e, and Kurds, and who target them specifically for ethnic or religious reasons, are committing, and are hereby declared to be committing, ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’, and ‘genocide’.”

In a message to his constituents, Fortenberry said that ISIS “systematically targets” religious minorities for “extermination.” The terrorist movement

has taken away the conditions for life — as well as life itself — from these innocent communities. This is genocide, the systematic attempt to exterminate an entire set of peoples because of their beliefs. If a group of people can succeed in killing off another group because they have the power to do so, because they do not believe in another’s religion, they violate that sacred space that is essential to all persons and, therefore, to the conditions of genuine freedom that are necessary for civilization itself.

Declaring ISIS’s actions to be “genocide,” he said, “will set the preconditions for what must miraculously happen in the Middle East—a proper settlement of security, political, economic, and cultural arrangements so that the religious minorities who once made up the rich tapestry of that region will have their rightful place restored.”

According to a press release from the group In Defense of Christians, “the European Parliament, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the United National Human Rights Commission, as well as government bodies in Iraq and elsewhere have designated the situation facing Christians and other minority groups in the region as genocide.”

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