The U.S. House of Representatives has joined the growing number of voices in Western capitals accusing the so-called Islamic State of genocide.
In a 393-0 vote 14 March, the House declared “the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” ISIL is another form of reference to Islamic State. [Full text of resolution]
Minutes later, the House voted 392-3 to endorse a separate resolution that “strongly condemns the continued use of unlawful and indiscriminate violence against civilian population by the Government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict.” It accuses the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) March 14, 2016
Religious-freedom advocates have been lobbying Western governments to formally apply the term genocide to Islamic State’s 22-month drive to impose a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam upon northern Iraq and Syria. Under multinational human-rights agreements, formal recognition of genocide heightens the obligation of participating countries to respond.
In January, the Council of Europe, a legally non-binding human-rights consortium, adopted a resolution declaring the IS campaign against Christians and other religious minorities to be genocide. In February, a nearly identical statement was endorsed by the European Parliament.
The House resolutions do not obligate the U.S. government to act, but the Obama administration is wrestling with the question of whether to apply the genocide label to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and to which groups it should apply.
“ISIL is murdering and enslaving religious and ethnic minorities everywhere they gain power, and we know it. We know what they are doing, and if we don’t say it, we should be ashamed,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, on the House floor after the vote. “ISIL is committing genocide. They are targeting non-Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and more, and pushing them to extinction.”