Citing Atrocities, John Kerry Calls ISIS Actions Genocide
The militants, who have also targeted Kurds and other Sunni Muslims, have tried to slaughter whole communities, enslaved captive women and girls for sex, and sought to erase thousands of years of cultural heritage by destroying churches, monasteries and ancient monuments, Mr. Kerry said.
The Islamic State’s “entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology,” he said.
The statement by Mr. Kerry, made in response to a deadline set last year by Congress for the Obama administration to determine whether the targeting of minority religious and ethnic groups by the Islamic State could be defined as genocide, is unlikely to change American policy. The United States is already leading a coalition that is fighting the militants, and American aircraft have been bombing Islamic Stateleaders and fighters, its oil-smuggling operations and even warehouses where the group has stockpiled millions of dollars in cash.
Even if the practical impact of Mr. Kerry’s declaration is negligible, it carries important symbolic weight, and the Obama administration has been under growing pressure from some Christian groups and Republican and Democratic lawmakers to label the actions of the Islamic State as genocidal. On Monday, in fact, the House of Representatives approved a unanimous resolution condemning the militants for trying to eradicate minority communities in the territories it has conquered.
Mr. Kerry echoed that sentiment in his remarks on Thursday, saying there were “vast” amounts of information about what was happening, and that he had concluded genocide was being committed, and that crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing were also taking place.
“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does,” Mr. Kerry told reporters in Washington, using the Arabic name by which many in the Middle East derisively refer to the Islamic State
The Islamic State “castigates Yazidis as, quote, ‘pagans’ and ‘devil-worshipers,’ and we know that Daesh has threatened Christians by saying that it will, quote, ‘conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,’” he said. “Shia Muslims, meanwhile, are referred to by Daesh as, quote, ‘disbelievers and apostates,’ and subjected to frequent and vicious attacks.”
Over the past year, a growing number of groups and individuals have labeled the Islamic State’s actions as genocide. United Nations human rights investigators accused the militants of genocide and war crimes in May, citing evidence that the group’s fighters had sought to wipe out the Yazidis, a largely Kurdish group that practices an ancient religious faith, inIraq. Months later, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said in a report that it constituted genocide.
The International Association of Genocide Scholars also released a statement last fall signed by dozens of members that said it believed the Islamic State was committing genocide against a range of Christian sects, Yazidis, Kurds, Shiite Muslims and others. And the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, last week released a report that focused on the Islamic State’s attempts to eradicate Christians in the parts of Syria and Iraq where it holds sway.
Experts on northern Iraq who have been tracking the atrocities committed by the terrorist group welcomed Mr. Kerry’s declaration, even as they cautioned that the minorities named by the administration had not suffered equally. While Christians and Shiites have been targeted and killed, they did not suffer the unforgiving assault that the Islamic State waged against the Yazidi minority, whom the terrorist group declared to be in a category of its own as “mushrikin,” or polytheists.
According to Islamic State clerics, this places the Yazidis in a specific category of jeopardy, meaning that they cannot be afforded any of the limited protections that monotheistic faiths including Christianity and Judaism were offered in the early days of Islam. This in part explains why the Islamic State has uniquely targeted the Yazidi minority — believed to number around 500,000 people in Iraq — for sexual enslavement.
Last year, Yazidi activists worked with Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to petition the world body on the question of genocide.
They filed a 49-page report, after a field visit by Mr. Moreno-Ocampo to northern Iraq, where he met women who had been raped by fighters, and survivors of massacres.
“Even though they did not kill the entire group, they are removing the group from its lands, so the group is terminated because they can no longer live in their homeland,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview last year. “The intent is enough, because the intention was to destroy. This is a perfect example of genocide.”
He said he had met numerous victims who had described how the Islamic State had immediately separated the men from the women when it invaded their villages on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014. Men were executed on the spot, while women were herded into waiting buses, before being driven to buildings that served as holding pens for the enslaved women.
In addition, Yazidi captives including children were forced to convert at gunpoint, and nearly the entire community was forcibly displaced from its traditional homeland on the Sinjar.
On Thursday, Mr. Kerry made it clear that accusations of genocide, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing against specific people “must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determinations made by a competent court or tribunal.”