Thursday marked the first time the U.S. has declared a genocide is taking place since 2004 in Darfur.
Initially, there had been some question as to whether Christians should be included as genocide victims. A report last fall suggested that the State Department’s declaration would only include Yazidis, based on reports from the Middle East that were limited in both their timespan and geographical scope.
The Knights of Columbus, along with the advocacy group In Defense of Christians, released a 300-page report last week documenting atrocities committed against Christians by the Islamic State. That report was sent to the State Department which had requested it.
In the report were personal accounts of displacement, theft, murder of family members, torture, sexual slavery, and numerous other acts of violence committed by ISIS against Christians in Iraq, Syria, and North Africa.
Advocacy groups hailed the declaration as an international call to action to prevent further genocide against the minority groups.
“Today's announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry is correct and truly historic,” stated Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, in response. “For one of the few times in our history, the United States has designated an ongoing situation as genocide, and the State Department is to be commended for having the courage to say so.”
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution Monday expressing “the sense of Congress” that Christians, Yezidis, and other Middle Eastern minorities are genocide victims. The Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have also acknowledged ISIS’ actions as genocide.
“By joining its voice to that of the House of Representatives, the American people, and the international community, the United States today makes clear to ISIS that its attempt to stamp out religious minorities must cease,” Anderson stated.
“(Secretary Kerry) used the word that has the moral authority to raise the international consciousness and compel the international community of responsible nations to act,” the group In Defense of Christians said in its response to the genocide label.
“By proclaiming that they are victims of genocide, the United States has done a great justice to the victims of the atrocities committed by ISIS, including the over 1100 Christians who have been killed because of their faith,” the statement continued. “Hearing the voice of the United States speak this truth will restore the hope in the hearts of those who are still fearing for their lives and struggling to survive in the Middle East.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), sponsor of the House resolution on genocide commuted by ISIS, also hailed the secretary’s declaration.
“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands,” he stated.
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“Christians, Yezidis, and others remain an essential part of the Middle East's rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope.”
“The passage of this resolution is deeply meaningful to me as the only Member of Congress of Assyrian and Armenian descent,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.) in response to the vote. “This genocide is a repeat of what my family endured. My grandparents were being persecuted and hunted down in the Middle East because they were Christians.”
“I pray for the day that there will be peace in the region so that these ancient faith communities will be safe in their ancestral homeland,” she continued. “The stability and the cultural identity of the Middle East depend on this.”
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