United States: ISIS declared guilty of “genocide”
In October 2015 the State Department of the United States had announced that the term “genocide” would be applied to the actions of Islamic State (ISIS) against the Yazidi minority (a Kurdish religious minority), but not to the persecutions of Christians in the Near East.
There were strong reactions to that announcement and, in response to the growing controversy, Congress demanded that the State Department make a decision by mid-March at latest.
The Knights of Columbus report
That is why the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal Catholic organization based in the United States, published on March 9, 2016, together with the association In Defense of Christians, a 278-page report on the atrocities committed against Christians by ISIS: the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria and in North Africa, with testimonies—collected between February and March 2016—about forced displacements, thefts, murders, tortures, sexual slavery and acts of violence.
The document, entitled Genocide against Christians in the Middle East, was sent to the State Department; it declares that the term “genocide” does not require the extermination of an entire group of persons, but rather a campaign aimed at destroying that group “wholly or in part”. Thus, the forced deportation or reduction to slavery suffered by Christian women can be considered as genocidal actions.
The report publishes the lists drawn up between 2003 and the rise of IS in 2014, which identify by name 1,131 Iraqi Christians killed, with the places and dates of their execution, as well as the 125 Iraqi churches that have been profaned, with their names, dates, towns and the types of attack. In mid-March 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives approved by a large majority a resolution condemning as “genocide” the atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria by the jihadist group ISIS (also referred to by its Arabic acronym “Daesh”). Although the decision is not binding on the government, it increases pressure on the Obama administration, Associated Press emphasized.
Statement by the Secretary of State
On March 17, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, declared that Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities were victims of a campaign of “genocide” on the part of ISIS. The Obama administration, hesitant to include Christians among the victims, finally yielded to the pressure exerted by some circles. The announcement by the State Department is “revolutionary”, because the term “genocide” is rarely used to describe atrocities committed by groups or States, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) commented.
The last declaration of genocide had been made in 2004, concerning the massacres in Darfur in Sudan. According to the terminology adopted by the United Nations, genocide is the “crime of crimes”, because it involves the intentional destruction of a whole people “in its entirety or in part”.
The European Parliament, in February of this year, also pronounced in favor of the designation of genocide in the Middle East. Defenders of Christians estimate that these two declarations will help to increase pressure on the U.N. Security Council to declare a case of “genocide” and refer it to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is in charge of judging those responsible.
In the background, rivalry between the United States and Russia
On March 18, 2016, Abp. Jacques Behnan Hindo, Titular Syrian Catholic Archeparch of Hassakè-Nisibi, commented in an interview with the Vatican news agency Fides on the statements by the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, on the “genocide” perpetrated by militants of the so-called “Islamic State” against Christians and other minority groups. Denouncing a “geopolitical operation that exploits the category of genocide for its own interests,” Abp. Hindo criticized this “proclamation of genocide that was made by spotlighting the so-called ‘Islamic State’, while censoring all the acts of complicity and the historical and political processes that led to the creation of the jihadist monster, starting with the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets, through the support of armed Islamist groups.”
The prelate pointed out an “intention to erase all the foreign factors that contributed to the rapid, abnormal emergence of the so-called ‘Islamic State’”, recalling that some recent “Turkish and Saudi pressures—countries allied with the United States” were working to get “the jihadists of al-Nusra to distance themselves from the Al-Qaida network so as to be classified as ‘moderate rebels’ and thus aided by the West...!”
It is misleading to present Christians as the only victims or the primary victims of the violence of ISIS, the Archbishop continued. “These fools,” Abp. Hindo said indignantly, “kill Shiites, Alawites, and even any Sunnis who do not submit. The Christians are a minimal part of the 200,000 who have died in the Syrian conflict and, in some cases, Christians are allowed to flee or to pay the submission tax (jizya), whereas for non-Christians, the only solution is death.”
The declaration of “genocide against Christians” on the part of the American administration is, in Abp. Hindo’s view, an attempt to regain ground in light of the increased prestige of Russia among the people of the Near East.
“The Russian intervention in Syria has increased Moscow’s authority in a vast sector of the peoples of the Near East, and not only among the Christians,” he emphasized. “Some powerful groups in the United States fear it and now they are playing the protect-the-Christians card. It would that we have returned to the nineteenth century, when the protection of the Christians in the Near East was also a tool for geopolitical operations aimed at increasing influence in the region,” the prelate concluded.
Sources: apic/ap/cna/fides – DICI no. 333 dated March 25, 2016