The U.S. State Department has until March 17 to decide whether the terror being waged by the Islamic State against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East meets the requirements of being labeled genocide.
Two Christian organizations, the Knights of Columbus fraternal organization and In Defense of Christians advocacy group, held a news conference Thursday to urge the State Department to use that label. They shared a bound booklet of examples of atrocities against Christians by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Earlier this week the groups sent the booklet to Secretary of State John Kerry.
“There is only one word that adequately, and legally, describes what is happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East: That word is genocide,” Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said at the news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
The groups’ booklet quoted Kerry addressing the issue on Aug. 7, 2014: “ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide.”
But in the 19 months that followed, the State Department, as well as the White House, avoided the word genocide.
We continue to receive new reports and new evidence. It may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus
In the past two weeks, Kerry has been under more pressure, expressing disgust toward the death toll but saying the State Department needs to carefully review the legal standards of genocide. A congressional deadline requires the department to issue a decision on whether the atrocities meet the definition of genocide.
In the report the Christian groups submitted to Kerry, they listed 1,131 confirmed deaths of Christians living in Iraq from 2003 through 2014.
Additionally, a 2014 report released by the United Nations concluded that at least 9,347 Muslims had been killed and at least 17,386 wounded in Iraq, with the primary actor being ISIS.
The U.N.’s definition of genocide is any acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group in whole or in part, from Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
“While we believe this to be the most comprehensive report on this subject to date, covering incidents in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen, we continue to receive new reports and new evidence,” Anderson said. “It may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
Among Thursday’s speakers was Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas Bazi of Iraq, who said his church in Baghdad had been blown up right in front of him. He was also kidnapped for nine days and shot in the leg, he said.
“If we do not say it’s a genocide, then we are not saying the truth,” Bazi said.
In early February, the European Parliament unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the systematic persecution by the Islamic State as genocide, saying the extremist group’s behavior fits the U.N. definition.
However, there also are arguments that the State Department should be calling the Islamic State violence ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity, Anderson said.
Jess Nocera: 202-383-6022, @JessMNocera