UN resolution to investigate ISIS crimes praised as step toward recognizing genocide

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Syrian refugee. Credit: Thomas Koch. Via www.shutterstock.com.

As the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on Thursday to help investigate ISIS crimes in Iraq, one human rights group hailed the development as a step towards U.N. recognition of genocide.

“It is incredibly encouraging to see the Security Council take such a significant step towards ensuring justice for the countless victims and their families,” Kelsey Zorsi, the U.N. Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International, stated in response.

The resolution came as the 72nd Regular Session of the U.N. General Assembly is meeting in New York City from Sept. 12-25. It passed by unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

The resolution establishes an investigative team, led by a Special Adviser, to help the government of Iraq gather and preserve evidence of crimes committed by ISIS against religious minorities there.

The human rights group ADF International hailed it as a significant development in possibly bringing ISIS criminals to justice, as well as aiding the victims of those crimes.

“We hope that the passage of this resolution reminds Christians in the Middle East that they have not been forgotten, that there is hope, that we will continue fighting for them, and that accountability is on its way,” Zorsi said.

The investigative team must work with the Iraqi government, but also with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), ADF International said.

For instance, aid and advocacy groups like the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians were critical in preparing a report documenting ISIS atrocities committed against ethnic and religious minorities, which led then Secretary of State John Kerry to declare ISIS actions a genocide.

Also, they said, “the Special Adviser should have a firm background in international law to ensure the right categories are being used for the atrocities committed.”

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., called the resolution “a landmark” and “a major first step towards addressing the death, suffering, and injury of the victims of crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq – crimes that include genocide.”

“These victims have been Yazidis, Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and many, many more,” she said.

ADF International pointed out that the Security Council “for the first time” did not discount the possibility of using the term “genocide” to describe the atrocities committed by ISIS. Human rights advocates have argued that ISIS crimes constitute a genocide according to the U.N.’s definition.

According to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the intent to commit genocide means the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Genocide can be committed through killing, torture, forced sterilization, moving the children of one group elsewhere, or “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

In 2014, ISIS militants conquered large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq in an attempt to establish a caliphate based upon an extremist interpretation of Islam.

As they took over cities and towns in Syria and in Northern Iraq, ISIS killed and displaced many religious and ethnic minorities in the region, including Christians, Yezidis, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Turkmen, and Shabak. There were countless reports of murders, torture, the kidnapping and enslavement of Yezidi and Christian women and girls, evidence of mass graves, and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Pope Francis used the term “genocide” to describe what was occurring in 2015. In February of 2016, the European Parliament declared that ISIS was indeed committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region.

In March of 2016, the U.S. Congress issued a genocide resolution, and on March 17 Secretary of State John Kerry stated that “in my judgment, Daesh [ISIS] is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.

“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions – in what it says, what it believes, and what it does,” he said, charging that the group “is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

The U.N. Security Council has not yet made a genocide declaration, however. Advocacy groups are hoping that will soon change.

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