The scheduled vote was confirmed by Mike Long, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who is pictured above. | AP Photo
House Republicans will bring to the floor on Monday a resolution that declares that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities, congressional aides told POLITICO.
The resolution, which has more than 200 co-sponsors from both parties, is expected to pass. It will raise the already intense pressure on the Obama administration to make its own declaration that the Islamic State is committing genocide — including against Christians — ahead of a congressionally mandated deadline next Thursday.
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It’s rare that lawmakers take up measures alleging genocide in an ongoing conflict. The term itself is loaded with political, moral and some legal implications, and the U.S. has a history of trying to avoid it.
The scheduled vote was confirmed by Mike Long, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
The news that the House is planning a vote also coincided with the unveiling of a new report from the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians that argues the State Department should declare that Christians are among the Islamic State’s genocide victims.
The 278-page report is filled with often-graphic accounts of what Christians have been subjected to by the Sunni Muslim extremist group. It follows decisions by Pope Francis and the European Parliament as well as leading 2016 presidential candidates from both parties to use the G-word to describe what’s happening.
The Islamic State “is committing genocide — the ‘crime of crimes’ — against Christians and other religious groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya,” the report says. “It is time for the United States to join the rest of the world by naming it and by taking action against it as required by law.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, who technically has the final say on whether the U.S. considers what the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh, is doing is genocide, told Congress in February that he will make a judgment “soon.” But the administration has been non-committal when asked if it would meet next week’s congressional deadline, which lawmakers tucked into last year’s omnibus spending bill.
“As we have said repeatedly, we are appalled by the horrific acts being committed by Da’esh against people from a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and Syria, ” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement to POLITICO on Thursday. “As Secretary Kerry made clear in recent budget hearings, the Department of State continues to go to great lengths to collect and evaluate all available information regarding Da’esh atrocities, and we remain hard at work on the congressional report that will detail these horrific acts.”
The Obama administration has been considering an official accusation of genocide against ISIL for many months. After reports emerged in the fall that State Department lawyers were close to deciding that the terror network was committing genocide against the religious group known as the Yazidis, but not Christians or other communities, many faith-based activists cried foul.
Since then, Christian groups as well as representatives of other ethnic and religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims, have argued that their communities, too, are the victims of genocide at the hands of ISIL. They insist that any other categorization of the suffering, such as “crimes against humanity” or “ethnic cleansing” will not suffice.
Administration officials insist, however, that the decision is a legal matter — not political or policy-related — and that declaring that a genocide is occurring requires strict scrutiny of the laws involved.
Officials and legal analysts also say that, technically, under the array of U.S. and international statutes and agreements that deal with genocide, America wouldn’t be required to do much more for victims than it is doing now. Even if the administration determines genocide is taking place, it is unlikely to step up its military involvement, and, officials say, is under no legal obligation to do so.
But supporters of a genocide declaration insist that the word is a powerful one that could galvanize the international community to step up the fight against ISIL, lead potential recruits to stay away from the group, and also help victims qualify more easily as refugees.
The House resolution was introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska. The Republican, pointing to the array of international and American figures and institutions that have begun using the term “genocide,” said in a statement: “Christians, Yazidis, and other beleaguered minority groups can find new hope in this trans-partisan and ecumenical alliance against ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”
The resolution’s companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors so far, from both parties.