By Terence P. Jeffrey
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 393 to 0 on Monday in favor of a resolution declaring that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is committing “genocide” against Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
The vote on the resolution, which was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R.-Neb.) and co-sponsored 203 other members, brought together as broad a coalition as possible in the House. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (the chairman of the Democratic National Committee) joined with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R.-Texas) in voting for it.
In total, there were 229 Republican votes for it and 164 Democratic votes for it.
The House resolution declared that "the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL against Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide."
"It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: 'genocide,’” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.
Because of language included in the omnibus spending bill that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed in December, Secretary of State Kerry is required to determine by this Thursday whether to declare on behalf of the administration that ISIL is committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities.
In a statement issued a year and half ago, on Aug. 7, 2014, Kerry said: “ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide.”
However, testifying in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State on Feb. 24, Kerry said he had ordered an “additional evaluation” to aide him in deciding whether ISIL was committing genocide.
“I will make a decision on it as soon as I have that additional evaluation and we will proceed forward from there,” Kerry testified.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—an independent federal commission—has expressly called for the U.S. government to declare that ISIL is committing genocide against Christians and others.
"USCIRF calls on the U.S. government to designate the Christian, Yazidi, Shi'a, Turkmen, and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide by ISIL," USCIRF said in a Dec. 7, 2015 statement.
USCIRF's 2015 annual report included this description of ISIL's campaign against Christians in northern Iraq:
“ISIL’s takeover of northern Iraq could well mark the end of the presence in that area of its ancient Yazidi and Christian communities.
“In June 2014, ISIL took the northern city of Mosul, overrunning Iraqi forces there, who dropped their weapons and fled. ISIL issued an ultimatum that all Christians must convert to Islam, leave Mosul, pay a tax, or face death. The Christian community in Mosul dates back more than 1,700 years, with an estimated 30,000 living there before the ISIL offensive. In August, ISIL captured Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq, prompting an estimated 100,000 Christians to flee, and an assault on the Christian town of al-Kosh also led to an exodus of Christians. Nearly all Christians are believed to have left ISIL-held territory, with most fleeing to the KRG region.”
The Knights of Columbus have also been asking the State Department to declare that ISIL is committing genocide against Middle Eastern Christians.
“Today’s unanimous bipartisan passing of H. Con. Res. 75, which declares ISIS' attacks against Christians and other ethnic minorities occurring in the Middle East a genocide is historic and welcome,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said after tonight’s vote in the House.
“This bipartisan vote joins Congress' voice with those of the majority of American people and of the world,” said Anderson. “It is a testament to the truth.The question remains: Will the State Department join the rest of the world in calling this what it is--genocide? Or will it undermine the global and national consensus on this issue, signaling to terrorists that we don't take their crimes as seriously as the rest of the world does?”