WASHINGTON—The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the government to designate religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as “victims of genocide” by ISIS.
The commission issued a statement Dec. 7 formally calling on the U.S. government to “designate the Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide” by the group variously referred to as the Islamic State, ISIL or ISIS.
Crimes against humanity
The commission also urged American and world leaders “to condemn the genocidal actions and crimes against humanity of ISIL that have been directed at these groups and other ethnic and religious groups.”
In its annual report, the commission recommended the U.S. government should refer the human rights abuses to the U.N. Security Council, so it can convene a formal commission of inquiry to investigate. That opens the door to sanctions and prosecution of offenders by the International Criminal Court.
“The hallmark of genocide is the intent to destroy a national, racial, ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part. ISIL’s intent to destroy religious groups that do not subscribe to its extremist ideology in the areas in Iraq and Syria that it controls, or seeks to control, is evident in not only its barbarous acts, but also its own propaganda,” said Robert George, chairman of the commission.
‘The word that wakes up the world’
Frank Wolf, former U.S. congressman from Virginia, said the commission’s declaration “adds a strong and long-awaited voice to the chorus of those calling upon the U.S. government and the global community to properly and unequivocally designate ISIS’ actions as genocide.”
“The importance of using this powerful term is simple: Genocide is the word that wakes up the world,” said Wolf,the inaugural Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University and distinguished senior fellow with the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.
He was the author of the legislation that amended the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as an independent government advisory body through 2019.
“The U.S. government should swiftly designate Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide and take all possible action to protect the remaining members of those communities, destroy ISIS and prosecute the leaders of the insurgency to the full extent of international law,” Wolf said.
Honor the victims
The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a human rights and religious liberty organization headed by Randel Everett, former executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, has led a campaign to persuade national and international officials to apply the term “genocide” to ISIS’ oppression of religious minorities.
“We have come to believe what is happening at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq is genocide and constitutes crimes against humanity,” Elijah Brown, executive vice president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, told a Texas Baptist gathering on the eve of the BGCT annual meeting.
Governments and international bodies apply the term “genocide” sparingly, but “the atrocious acts perpetrated by the Islamic State” against religious minorities fit the definition as determined by the United Nations, said Brown, former professor at East Texas Baptist University.
“Using that language honors the victims,” he said.