John Kerry: ISIS is committing a genocide in Iraq and Syria driven by sectarian motives
John Kerry on Thursday declared that acts committed by Islamic State against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria are genocide.
The US secretary of state did not say how such a declaration would affect US involvement in areas controlled by Isis.
“My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” Kerry said, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group. “Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions, in what it says, in what believes and in what it does.”
The announcement came amid mounting global pressure to declare the acts against Christians and other religious minorities as genocide.
The group has taken people as sex slaves and dispatched children and teenagers into battle at an unprecedented rate, according to US researchers. In August 2014, at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect were trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they faced slaughter by Islamic State if they fled, and dehydration if they stayed.
Last month, the European parliament unanimously backed a resolution to label the atrocities as genocide. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Republican candidate for president Ted Cruz have also said they consider the acts genocide.
Barack Obama has hesitated to make such a declaration, though he has spoken about the “brutal atrocities” committed against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities.
The UN’s 1948 genocide convention compels nations that recognize genocide to prevent and punish those responsible. Intervention is not mandatory, rather it is how the declaration has been interpreted in the decades since it was enacted.
Kerry said he was neither the judge, nor prosecutor, nor jury of allegations of genocide and that “full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal”.
“But the United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyze the evidence of atrocities,” Kerry said. “And we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.”
The US has already conducted airstrikes in Syria and deployed special forces troops to Syria, Iraq and Libya to target Isis militants.
Kerry said: “I hope that my statement today, will assure the victims of Daesh’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them.”
“Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities,” Kerry said. “I say this even though the ongoing conflict and lack of access to key areas has made it impossible to develop a fully detailed and comprehensive picture of all that Daesh is doing and all that it has done.”
Kerry was due to make a decision on whether to label the atrocities as genocide by Thursday. Congress wrote a 17 March deadline for him into the omnibus spending bill passed in December.
But, a day before Kerry’s announcement, State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said the agency would tell Congress the same day that it was not going to make the deadline.
Toner also said that making such a declaration does not create a legal obligation for the US intervene, though he said such a declaration does require accountability.
The declaration came the same week the US House voted 383-0 in favor of classifying the atrocities as a genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities.
The House resolution said that Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities “have been murdered, subjugated, forced to emigrate and suffered grievous bodily and psychological harm, including sexual enslavement and abuse, inflicted in a deliberate and calculated manner in violation of the laws of their respective nations, the laws of war, laws and treaties forbidding crimes against humanity”.
The last time the US declared genocide was in 2004, when then secretary of state, Colin Powell, said the acts of killing and destruction in Darfur were genocide.