“If this is not genocide, then truly this word has no moral or legal meaning.” That’s according to a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iraq, speaking at a press event today accompanying the release of a new report documenting ISIS atrocities against Christians.
The 278-page report is the work of the group In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus, in an effort to convince the US State Department to declare that ISIS’ actions against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq constitute “genocide.” Congress gave the State Department a March 17 deadline to determine if ISIS is engaging in genocide; last year it was reported that the Obama administration was planning to designate members of the Yazidi minority in Iraq as victims of genocide, but not Christians.
From Catholic News Agency’s report on today’s press conference:
The report is the result of a fact-finding mission to Iraq and contains a legal brief sent to [US Secretary of State] 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 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 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.”
In addition to this report, the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians have also sponsored a petition asking that the US acknowledge ISIS’ actions against Christians as genocide. According to In Defense of Christians, 65,000 people have signed the petition so far; earlier this week Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez encouraged Catholics to join him in signing it:
We cannot imagine the reality, but it is true — the Christian presence may one day be extinguished in the lands where the light of faith first burned. And it is unimaginable and unconscionable that our government — along with most of the governments of the Western world — has remained silent while this martyrdom goes on.
The political designation of “genocide” has implications. First it is telling the truth. What is happening to Christians in the Middle East is a crime against humanity that cries out to God.
More than that, a genocide designation gives the international community a moral claim to stop the violence and punish those responsible. It also gives a special status to Christians fleeing the persecution — a right to be treated as refugees, and to reclaim their homes and properties once the violence is ended.