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U.S. House Says ISIS Committing Genocide against Christians, State Department Still Investigating

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution on Monday evening (March 14) to declare actions by the Islamic State (also known as Daesh) against religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, to be genocide.

This bipartisan resolution stated, “The atrocities committed against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities targeted specifically for religious reasons are, and are hereby declared to be, ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide.'”

It urged “every government and multinational body [to] call the atrocities being committed in the name of religion by their rightful names: ‘crimes against humanity,’ ‘war crimes’ and ‘genocide.'”

State Department spokesperson John Kirby was asked in a Monday afternoon press briefing about the department’s position on a possible genocide declaration by the House.

“We remain appalled by the horrific acts of violence being committed by Daesh against people from a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and in Syria,” Kirby said in noting that Kerry continued to collect and evaluate evidence.

“Regardless of whether their conduct satisfies certain legal definitions, including genocide and crimes against humanity, the United States has been clear that our interest in accountability for the perpetrators remains undiminished.”

When pressed about a deadline for a determination, Kirby said that the secretary “wants to make sure that whatever determination that he makes, it’s fact-based and that it’s adequately reflective of what we’re seeing on the ground.”

He added: “[Secretary Kerry] expects to reach a determination soon and I think that’s still the case. I don’t have any more specific update than that.”

Congressional legislation passed in January mandated a determination from Kerry and the State Department by March 17 regarding whether genocide had been committed.

The bill called for “an evaluation of the persecution of, including attacks against, Christians and people of other religions in the Middle East by violent Islamic extremists and the Muslim Rohingya people in Burma by violent Buddhist extremists, including whether either situation constitutes mass atrocities or genocide … and a detailed description of any proposed atrocities prevention response.”

The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians submitted a 280-page report to Kerry on March 9 that declared IS actions against Christians to be genocide.

In Monday’s press briefing, Kirby was asked about these findings.

While he didn’t directly address the report, Kirby emphasized that the secretary was “taking a hard look at the violence they [ISIS] are perpetrating against many different groups” in making a determination about genocide.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum declared in November 2015 IS actions against the Yezidi people to be genocide.

In response to questions about this assessment, Mark Toner, State Department deputy spokesperson, responded, “I think the world and we, the U.S., are horrified and continue to be horrified by ISIL’s atrocities against the Yezidi people. At this point in time, though, we have not yet made a formal finding of genocide.”

Editor’s note: A series of articles on genocide appeared on EthicsDaily.com in April 2015 for Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Additional resources on genocide are available here.