The term "genocide" is significant because, although it may not be legally binding to the countries or authorities who use it, it carries a moral significance and could compel countries, and ultimately the United Nations Security Council, to act.
According to the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide, the definition of genocide is "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." These acts can include murder and torture but also mass displacement and any conditions intentionally brought about to end the ethnic or religious group.
Advocates have insisted that, along with countless stories of beheadings, crucifixion and torture of Christians, the mass displacement of Christians by the Islamic State in Northern Iraq where militants robbed them of their remaining possessions as they fled the city of Mosul also constitutes genocide, according to the UN definition.
Experts insist that the word carries with it significant meaning that other terms like "ethnic cleansing" lack.
Dr. Gregory Stanton, former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, testified before Congress in December that in previous cases where genocide was ultimately declared – Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Darfur -- no significant international action was taken to stop the atrocities until the term "genocide" was used publicly to describe them.
The genocide resolution "raises the international consciousness and it compels the responsible communities of the world to act," Rep. Fortenberry stated on Monday.
"And secondly, it creates the potential preconditions for when there is a security settlement in the Middle East that will allow these ancient faith traditions to reintegrate back into their own homelands and continue to contribute to the once-rich tapestry that made up the Middle East."
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), speaking on the House floor on Monday, called the resolution a "solemn and extremely serious step, not to be taken lightly."
It is "appeal to the conscience of the world," he added. "It evokes the moral gravity and the imperative of 'Never Again'. The United States must not wait any longer to find its voice and call these bloody purges for what they are, genocide."
The U.S. could take a number of actions to respond to genocide, including expediting the refugee resettlement process for victims and providing greater humanitarian aid.
Also, a declaration of genocide by the U.S., following the declaration from the European Union Parliament in early February, would put greater pressure on the United Nations Security Council to issue a genocide declaration and refer the matter to the International Criminal Court where the perpetrators could be tried under international law.
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"It will be the right word to say the truth," Fr. Douglas al-Bazi, an Iraqi priest who ministers to the Mar Elia Refugee Camp in Erbil, Iraq, told CNA of the U.S. using the term "genocide."
"This will not be the solution. This will be the beginning, the start of solution," he continued. The U.S. using the word could help protect displaced Christian minorities, and could begin the process of "reconciliation" between Christians and their enemies.
"That means we can use the genocide not to revenge, but to show forgiveness," he said. "As a Christian in Iraq, believe me," he added, "we do love Muslims."
"We cannot play that game, eye for an eye," he said. "We do love you, we do forgive you, and we actually do feel sorry about you. And the message to you, it is please, put the weapon down and let's open a new page, a page with forgiveness."
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