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How to Stop the ‘Christian Genocide’ in the Middle East

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. is a long term friend and advocate for relief and protection of threatened Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. All threatened with extinction by the genocidal Salafist barbarity and havoc wreaked upon them by the Islamic State, Daesh in Arabic.

As you will read in her National Review on-line article of today’s announcement by Secretary Kerry, she pragmatically judges this as a necessary, overdue, but useful action, “John Kerry’s Righteous Genocide Designation and Policy Challenges Ahead.” It is only the second time this has occurred in over a decade since former Secretary Colin Powell accused Sudan of Genocide in Darfur. As she noted it almost didn’t happen.

Secretary of State Kerry announcing Daesh Genocide Declaration, State Department

Secretary of State Kerry announcing Islamic State Genocide Declaration, State Department on March 17, 2016.

Watch Secretary Kerry’s announcement of the Genocide Declaration.

Shea also articulates five important policy initiatives that have to be taken to assure protection of those displaced, who have lost property and who chose to remain in their ancestral lands require reconstruction assistance. Because, she and others have written, many of Christians and other minorities who are internally displaced persons have chosen not to enter UN Refugee centers for fear of loss of life. Because of UN control over global refugee resettlement, they have been vastly underrepresented in U.S. Refugee Admission program in contrast to Syrian refugees and other predominately Muslim groups.

Today’s announcement by Kerry should be heartening news to others who have been in forefront of advocating this much needed step by the Administration; Joseph Kassab of the Iraqi, Christian Empowerment and Advocacy Institute, Canon Andrew Wright, the former Vicar of Baghdad, Tom Mooley and Faith J. McDonnell of The Institute On Religion and Democracy.

Shea sets the stage with today’s dramatic announcement coincident with St. Patrick’s Day:

Kerry’s announcement was a surprise, one that defied deliberately lowered expectations. There was a State Department notice just yesterday that any such designation required longer deliberation and wouldn’t be made in time to meet the March 17 congressionally mandated deadline.

But at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Kerry took to the podium and asserted: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.” This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

Why Kerry’s announcement was important:

This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

This designation will not only lift the morale of these shattered religious groups, it also has the potential of serving justice through the prosecution of those who aid and abet ISIS as fighters, cyber recruiters, financiers, arms suppliers, and artifact smugglers.

Military action is also important. Kerry discussed military measures that would help these victims of ISIS: “We are preparing for future efforts to liberate occupied territory — with an eye to the protection of minority communities. In particular, the liberation of Mosul, of Nineveh province in Iraq, and parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Daesh, and that will decide whether there is still a future for minority communities in this part of the Middle East. For those communities, the stakes in this campaign are utterly existential.”

But Pentagon action alone won’t be enough to preserve these besieged minorities. The genocide designation must also serve as a State Department policy platform to help the victims in several pragmatic ways, immediately and into the future.

Here are just five examples of how genocide designation can be used to focus and prioritize State’s help for these minorities:

  1. Refugee-resettlement visas: Christians from Syria have been grossly underrepresented in the numbers resettled in the U.S. from that country — only about 60 Christians and 1 Yazidi over five years of Syria’s conflict have been given U.S. resettlement visas. In Iraq, most of the Christians and Yazidis are displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they do not have resettlement rights. Because they technically remain in Iraq, they cannot claim refugee status and therefore are not included in refugee-referral programs. This de facto discrimination must end for these genocide victims, many of whom are too traumatized to ever return to their homes. In the event that their areas are not liberated, they all will have to be resettled in the West.
  2.  Land and property restitution: These minorities lost their homes, businesses, and farms to ISIS, and others have now taken possession of them. Governments must be pressed to give priority recognition to titles of the genocide victims.
  3. A place at the peace table: Christians are currently excluded from the Syrian peace talks, at which, eventually, borders will be redrawn and constitutions drafted. Their voices need to be included, lest they be marginalized in, or even shut out of, whatever replaces the old Syria.
  4. Humanitarian aid: Many of these genocide victims are now displaced from their homes. They cannot seek shelter in U.N. camps, because those places are too dangerous for minorities — and therefore they must depend heavily on church and private relief. Even as donor fatigue sets in as the conflicts persist, U.S. aid programs must ensure that these genocide victims are not shortchanged.
  5. Reconstruction aid: If and when they do return to their homes after the defeat of ISIS, the genocide victims will need help in reconstructing their houses, towns, and churches. America’s reconstruction aid to Iraq after the military surge was largely diverted away from the Christian areas by national and local governments. The U.S. government must recognize the specific challenges facing these minorities and provide greater and more direct help and greater transparency and oversight on their behalf. Secretary Kerry’s fine words, “What Daesh wants to erase, we must preserve,” cannot be made a reality without this. These issues are urgent.

The situation on the ground is dire. And the U.S. government will soon be in transition. A policy road-map and action to implement it cannot wait. In his announcement today, Secretary Kerry took pains to point out that he is “neither judge, nor prosecutor, nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide,” and that a formal legal and judicial procedure will be needed. But his genocide designation today was a bold step, and he has the power, now, to make it a significant one.

RELATED ARTICLE: Iraqi Priest Grateful That John Kerry Recognizes ISIS Atrocities Against Christians as Genocide

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. Note that Secretary of State Kerry now refers to the Islamic State as Daesh. This is the politically correct term being pushed by Muslim groups to decouple the word Islam from the Islamic State.