On March 17, 2016, the U.S. declared that ISIS was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria. Professor Destro called it the “first truly formal declaration of genocide in American history.”
In the summer of 2014, ISIS had swept across Northern Iraq and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes. Militants raped, enslaved and killed thousands of Yazidis – including women and children – and surrounded 40,000 more on Mount Sinjar who were in danger of dying of starvation and thirst until the U.S. military intervened and sent them supplies in August of 2014.
Other religious and ethnic minorities on the Nineveh Plain, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Shabak, fled their homes when they realized they were defenseless against the ISIS onslaught. Christians in Mosul were given a choice to convert to Islam, flee, be killed, or stay and pay a jizya tax.
Experts noted that the jizya tax option was not a viable option, however, as the tax could be too high and could not sufficiently guarantee the safety of Christians who agreed to pay it.
Many have not yet returned to their homes – around 70,000 Christians are living in and around the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, east of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Many genocide survivors are living in temporary shelters and are reliant on churches and aid groups for their basic needs.
As ISIS forces have been cleared from some areas in the region, those who have returned to their villages have found their homes vandalized and damaged, their property confiscated, churches destroyed, and even deadly IEDs set for them.
Now, one year after the U.S. declared that genocide was taking place, the Genocide Coalition – a group of congressmen, genocide experts and human rights advocates have announced the steps they would like to see the administration of President Donald Trump take to protect these genocide survivors.
Destro hailed the meeting as the “first annual commemoration of the genocide resolution.”
The coalition is advocating on behalf of all the minorities in the region who were victims of ISIS, not just Christians, insisted Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project, one of the sponsors of the document.
“We’re very much focused on the broader community of genocide victims,” he told CNA. “This isn’t only about protecting Christians.”
“Since the genocide has been recognized, we are still waiting, but no big steps have been taken and not a lot has been changed,” Yazidi genocide survivor Nadia Murad stated at the U.S. Capitol at a Thursday event marking the one-year anniversary of the declaration.
“The mass graves that they found, they are still not being protected. There has not been an effort to investigate the mass graves and recognize the victims,” she said.
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ISIS still holds much of the Sinjar region where the Yazidis lived, Murad said, as well as thousands of Yazidi captives including around 1,000 children who are being “trained and brainwashed” in Syria to become suicide bombers.
What can be done about all this? The Genocide Coalition is asking the Trump administration to take three steps.
First, the U.S. should work to help secure the region and resettle many of these minorities displaced from their homes, providing them the assistance they need to make a living.
The Defense and State Departments should work “to secure, stabilize, and revitalize the ancestral homelands of indigenous religious minority communities targeted by ISIS for genocide in northern Iraq – particularly in the Sinjar, Nineveh Plain, and Tal Afar areas.”
Additionally, the U.S. must make sure that humanitarian aid from the U.S. and UN reaches those who need it most, the coalition said.
The Christians in Erbil have not received much aid from the U.S. and UN and are reliant on groups like the Knights of Columbus for food, water, shelter, blankets, and medical needs.