The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called on its government to include Christians in the definition of those at risk of genocide from Islamic State’s campaign in Syria and Iraq.

A USCIRF statement calls for a broader inclusion of Christians, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities as well as Yazidis, when the State Department makes an announcement about its policy stance, expected shortly.

Robert George, USCIRF Chairman, said: “The hallmark of genocide is the intent to destroy a national, racial, ethnic or religious group in whole or in part. IS’s intent to destroy religious groups that do not subscribe to its extremist ideology in the areas in Iraq and Syria that it controls is evident not only in its barbarous acts but also its own propaganda.”

Conservative groups have been posting articles trying to persuade the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to include Christians, but pointing out reasons why he may be reluctant. America’s Heritage Foundation reports that “some in the administration have made the case that at least Christians have the option to stay and pay a ‘jizya’ tax for being a non-Muslim”, thus avoiding the risk of annihilation. However, experts say the amount of ‘jizya’ demanded rises, and can become prohibitive. A genocide designation would have ”significant policy implications”, on which the US would be forced to act, e.g. to offer aid, asylum and other protections.

Meanwhille the European Parliament last week openly debated religious persecution, highlighting the plight of Christians around the world. President of the Parliament Martin Schulz said: “I can assure you that Parliament will make its contribution wherever it can to protect Christians”.