ISLAMIC State (Daesh) has committed genocide against religious minorities, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said on Thursday.
It is only the second time that the US administration has used the term during a conflict. In 2004, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell used it to label the killings in Darfur. Mr Kerry's announcement follows a unanimous vote on Monday by the US House of Representatives to use the designation.
"In my judgement, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims," said Mr Kerry. "Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions in what it says, what it believes and what it does."
He said: "One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group in whole or in part. Its entire world view is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.
"The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians, the Yazidis because they are Yazidis, [and] Shia because they are Shia."
The House of Representatives' resolution, passed by 393 to 0, states “that the atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It also condemns the indiscriminate violence of the Assad regime, and acknowledges its part in the growth of the terrorist organisation. The Obama Administration faces a legislatively mandated deadline of March 17, 2016 to determine whether ISIL’s brutality constitutes genocide.”
A second resolution, also passed, “calls for a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal, while highlighting and condemning the atrocities committed by the Government of Syria”.
These are non-binding resolutions, which do not mandate further action.
A spokesman for the State Department, Mark Toner, had suggested on Wednesday that that the deadline of 17 March would be missed. The decision required "a very detailed, rigorous legal analysis", he said.
A 280-page report documenting evidence to support the use of the label “genocide” was launched in Washington DC this month by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic order, and In Defence of Christians, an NGO. The event was attended by the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, who said that the acts perpetrated against Christians in the Middle East “fall very much in line with the requirements laid out by the United Nations”.
He said: “If Christians are excluded from the classification of genocide, my concern, fear, and expectation is that we will be responsible for a greater and more ruthless campaign of persecution against them, not only in Iraq and Syria but throughout the region.
“People on the ground, regardless of rhetoric, stipulation, and convention, will perceive that the international community has supported one group over another, and Christians will become a greater soft target. . . The path to genocide is not laid overnight. It is a result of a gradual accumulation over decades, involving ongoing persecution and marginalisation of vulnerable communities. Having gone unchecked on our watch, this has led to our desensitisation, and the acceptance of this discriminatory dynamic as the status quo.”
On Thursday, Bishop Angaelos said that Mr Kerry's announcement was a "significant step . . . that I hope will encourage Her Majesty’s Government to also recognise these unacceptable acts of Genocide against vulnerable communities in the Middle East."
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said that the decision to apply the label is “a matter for the international judicial system, and not for governments or other non-judicial bodies” (News, 4 March).The Archbishop of Canterbury has so far avoided the term when condemning the attacks.
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said: “I think that it is right to label atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq as genocide. However, in so doing we should not forget atrocities against other religious minorities nor, most importantly, the fact that the vast majority of those killed by ISIS are Muslims. Our condemnation must be of this inhumanity in its entirety, not just [that] against Christians.”
Canon Andrew White, President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, described Mr Kerry's announcement as "long overdue but welcome news".