By John Bacon- USA Today –
The Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday in an announcement likely to have little impact on the U.S. military effort against the Sunni militant group.
The designation, however, could be a first step toward war crimes trials, supporters said.
The U.S. House passed a resolution similar to Kerry’s declaration in a unanimous vote Monday. Religious groups in the U.S. have been pressuring Washington for such a statement — and a commitment to stop the carnage.
“In my judgment, Da’esh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” Kerry said at a news conference in Washington. “Da’esh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions.”
Kerry listed numerous cases of slaughter by the group, also known as Da’esh. He credited an intense multinational effort with taking back 40% of land once held by the militants in Iraq and 20% in Syria. The declaration does not require the United States to ramp up military activity against the Islamic State.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., sponsored another House resolution calling for the U.S. to promote establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal.
“A Syria tribunal would hold not only the genociders of ISIS, but all parties — especially the war criminal Bashar al-Assad who has barrel-bombed Syrian civilians and killed tens of thousands — accountable for their horrific deeds,” Smith said.
Kerry said the ultimate determination of crimes against humanity must be made by an impartial court. But he said the U.S. will work to document such crimes.
“The fact is Da’esh kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Shia because they are Shia,” Kerry said. “We will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.”
The Knights of Columbus, working with the group In Defense of Christians, recently issued a 280-page report detailing genocide claims and urging the State Department to acknowledge them.
The group had urged Kerry to take a stand in an online petition declaring “America must end its silence about the ongoing genocide.” A nationwide TV ad shows clips of brutal acts by militants and includes quotes by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton endorsing a genocide declaration.
The Knights of Columbus called Kerry’s announcement “correct and truly historic.”
“Now we can move on to the next conversation — how do we stop it,” said Knights Vice President Andrew Walther. “Now we can have the conversation of how to prosecute the perpetrators.”
A spending bill passed by Congress in December gave the State Department 90 days to make a determination on whether the militants were committing genocide. Thursday marked the deadline.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry had not yet made a decision and would not make the deadline. Toner said determining legal definitions such as genocide and crimes against humanity requires “a very detailed, rigorous legal analysis.”
A day later, the analysis apparently was complete.
“I hope that my statement today will assure the victims of Da’esh’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them,” Kerry said.