Most Americans say Islamic State atrocities are genocide

Refugees from Iraq fled their homes and now take shelter at the syric catholic Mrtshmony Shrine in Erbil Iraq Credit Aid to the Church in Need CNA 5 13 15 Iraqis displaced from their homes in Nineveh province by the Islamic State, who are now sheltered at a Syriac Catholic shrine in Erbil. | Aid to the Church in Need.

Most Americans support a broad recognition of Islamic State atrocities against Christians and other minorities as genocide, a recent survey says.

About 55 percent of U.S. respondents to a Marist Poll agreed that the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities meets the U.N. definition of genocide. Only 36 percent disagreed.

"The American people, together with presidential candidates and elected officials of both political parties agree that Christians and other religious minorities are facing genocide in the Middle East," Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said Dec. 30.

"With such a bi-partisan consensus, inaction on a declaration of genocide by Congress and the State Department is unconscionable. An entire year has gone by with their silence. The time for action is now – while those being persecuted can still be saved."

The Marist Poll conducted the survey of 1,517 adults from Dec. 1-7. The survey claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent. It was sponsored and funded by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order with close to 2 million members worldwide.

Almost 60 percent of American respondents said they had heard "a great deal" or "a good amount" about the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities by the Islamic State group, which controls parts of Syria, Iraq, and Libya. The group enforces a strict version of Islamic law and has committed atrocities whose victims include Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee and Martin O'Malley have also said the group's targeted violence constitutes genocide.

Many supporters of U.S. recognition of Islamic State's genocidal actions are backing H.C.R. 75 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Supporters of this resolution include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who chairs the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, asked Congress to pass the resolution in a Sept. 16, 2015 letter.

The U.S. is expected to recognize the Islamic State group's atrocities against the Yazidi people as genocide. Some human rights advocates say this recognition should not exclude acts against other minorities.

In a Dec. 4 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, religious leaders and legal experts urged State Department recognition of genocide against Christians. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Carl Anderson were among the signers.

The U.S. Commission on Interreligious Freedom has also asked for a recognition of genocide.

The United Nations' definition of genocide includes acts that are committed against a certain religious or ethnic group with the intent to "destroy, in whole or in part." These include acts like mass murder, torture, or mass displacement with the intent to bring about the group's end.

Experts say that an official U.S. genocide designation would pressure the United Nations to classify the Islamic State group atrocities as genocide. This would result in international action to stop the atrocities and the trial of the perpetrators under international law.

A U.S. designation could mean that Christians and other genocide victims could also have a higher priority for acceptance in the U.S. as refugees.

Pope Francis has lamented the persecution, torture, and killing of Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world. During his trip to Bolivia in July 2015, he described these crimes as "a form of genocide" that must end.

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