One week before the State Department must announce if Islamic State atrocities against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are genocide, a 278-page report has been released documenting that Christians there do face genocide.
“We now stand on the cusp of another historic decision,” stated Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, who released the report along with the advocacy group In Defense of Christians, at the National Press Club on Thursday.
"The evidence contained in this report, as well as the evidence relied upon by the European Parliament, fully support, and I suggest to you, compel, that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the crime of genocide has been committed against Christians in the region," he said March 10.
“History will record the recent atrocities committed against religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide,” he added. “The question is whether America will be remembered as courageous, as in the case of Darfur, or as something much less so, as in the case of Rwanda.”
Advocates have been pressuring the State Department to include Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as other ethno-religious minorities in the region, as genocide victims. Last fall the agency was reportedly set to only consider Yazidis in northern Iraq as genocide victims, based on a Holocaust Museum report with a narrow focus on time and place.
Authorities such as the European Union Parliament and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bi-partisan federal government commission that makes advisory recommendations to the State Department, have already declared that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities.
According to a provision in the omnibus spending bill passed in December, the State Department has until March 17 to send Congress a review of persecution of Middle Eastern religious minorities by “Islamic extremists.” It must include whether the persecution “constitutes mass atrocities or genocide.”
Although a delegation led by Anderson requested in December to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the matter, they received no response from the State Department.
However, four weeks ago, the office of Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein asked them for a detailed report on atrocities committed against Christians, Anderson confirmed on Thursday.
The report lists many acts of violence, displacement, theft, hostage-taking, and sexual slavery, but new reports are surfacing daily, Anderson said” “As comprehensive as this report is, we believe that it may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
For instance, according to credible reports in the last two days, Anderson said the number of Christian women enslaved by the Islamic State in Iraq’s Nineveh province is seven times the previous estimate.
“Over and over again, we have found that as bad as we know things are and have been, the facts are worse, and the atrocities are more numerous,” he added.
The report is the result of a fact-finding mission to Iraq and contains a legal brief sent to Kerry as well as extensive documentation and testimonies of victims of Islamic State militants. It contains new stories “the world has not heard,” In Defense of Christians president Toufic Baaklini stated.
One of the stories was that of “Khalia,” a middle-aged woman who was captured with 47 other persons and held for 15 days. “She literally fought off ISIS militants as they tried to rape the girls, and again later when they tried to take a 9-year-old as a bride,” the report stated. “Ultimately, the hostages were left in the desert to walk to Erbil.”
It includes testimonies of Christian women who were sold by the Islamic State as sex slaves, with age-specific prices listed on a “menu.” There are numerous witness statements from persons in Iraq describing why they left their home, what happened to them and their family, and what members of the Islamic State said to them or their family.
There is also an extensively-sourced list of attacks against Christians in Iraq, Syria, and North Africa, and testimonies on the deleterious effects of displacement on the mental and emotional health of persons.
The Islamic State has made explicit statements of its intent to fight Christians in its magazine Dabiq, the report states, speaking out against Rome, the Pope, the “crusading armies” of Western powers, and Coptic Christians. They have “established a clear intent to destroy Christians as a group and Christianity as a religion,” Anderson said.
The 21 Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State militants on the Libyan coast last February, in a video titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” were targeted not “for any other reason than they were Christians,” said Bishop Anba Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
A State Department designation of genocide, while not imposing specific legal consequences, would carry great moral weight, panel members insisted.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if Christians are excluded from the classification of genocide, my concern, my fear, my expectation is that we will be responsible for a greater and more ruthless campaign of persecution against them, not only in that country, but in the region,” Bishop Angaelos stated.
“So if you recognize genocide for one group and not the other,” he continued, “on the ground in the Middle East when you get people who want to actually persecute minorities, what they will do is see this as a green light to say that the international community is backing one group and not another … they will take soft targets.”
“The word [genocide] packs moral force,” stated Dr. Gregory Stanton, former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Using the term “requires action” to prevent further acts of genocide, he said.
Fr. Douglas al-Bazi, an Iraqi priest who ministers to the Mar Elia Refugee Camp in Erbil, said members of his congregation “feel that we are forgotten and we are alone and I am here to tell America the first [step] that should be taken is to call it a genocide.”
Internally displaced persons have flooded Erbil, said Fr. Dankha Joola of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil. Some estimates have placed 70,000 internally displaced persons in the city.
“If this is not genocide, then truly this word has no moral or legal meaning,” Fr. Joola said. People have had to flee to a different society with many challenges of income, lack of privacy, and education.
“Are you going to take 100 years, or maybe 100 months to call what happened to my people a genocide? At that time, you will not find anyone of my people left.”
Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law excoriated lawyers at the State Department for the agency’s lack of action on the genocide issue, calling it “genocide denial.”
“How long is it going to take for the lawyers to get the message?” he asked, saying of Mary McLeod in the Office of the Legal Advisor, “she’s not serving her client well.”
“For the United States government to stand alone in denying this is genocide would be shameful, and an abdication not just of leadership, but of cooperation and common sense,” Anderson stated.