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US House committee decides Islamic State atrocities against Christians is genocide

10 March 2016

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved on 2 March a bipartisan resolution that stated that violence “against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide”.

“As [Islamic State (IS)] destroys churches and other holy sites, they move closer towards eliminating certain communities,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Representative Ed Royce in a statement when House Resolution 75 was approved. “Their desire is to erase the existence of ethnic and religious minorities from their self-proclaimed caliphate, by any means necessary.”

The US congress passed a motion last year formally requiring the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to state by 17 March this year whether the US administration regards the actions of IS as genocide.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee decision comes a month after the European Parliament of the European Union unanimously voted to recognise the targeted killing of religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide at a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, on 4 February. This was the first time that the European Parliament has named an ongoing conflict as a genocide. And a few days earlier, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution (#2091) condemning the actions of Islamic State in the Middle East including acts of genocide and other serious crimes, on 27 January.

The resolutions approved by both the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Parliament are welcome advances in the battle to help suffering Christians in the Middle East, but they are introductory steps on this path. Barnabas Fund is calling on the UN and governments to recognise the brutality against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide.

Christian communities have lived in the Middle East for 2,000 years, but today their presence is rapidly diminishing as they flee the threat of targeted violence. Christians and other minorities are being killed, forcibly converted, enslaved, and driven from their homes by IS. Women and girls have been taken into sexual slavery. Hundreds of hostages have been taken, and some of them murdered. Those released have been told to leave IS territory and never return to their homes on pain of death. Churches, monasteries and historic cultural buildings are being demolished with explosives and bulldozers.

The term “genocide” (joining the Greek prefix genos, meaning race, and the Latin suffix cida, meaning killing) was coined by lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who was born in 1901 in Eastern Poland to Jewish parents. It was the brutal slaughter of Iraqi Assyrians in the Semele massacre in August 1933 that led him to present a proposal to the League of Nations in 1933 to criminalise such “acts of barbarism”, and he later developed the concept of “genocide” after extensive studies of the Jewish holocaust.

We are petitioning the UN and our governments not only to recognise the killings as genocide, but to act to prevent the continuance of this barbarity, to channel aid directly to the endangered religious minorities who have been displaced by the violence, and to offer asylum places to victims.

Please join us by signing the petition and encourage family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to do likewise.