- - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The American people are not the only ones watching to see if the State Department will declare that the attacks by ISIS on Christians – and other religious minorities – constitute genocide. The terrorists are watching too.

The European Parliament has already called this genocide. So have the Iraqi and Kurdish governments. Pope Francis and Angela Merkel have done so, as have other countries and their elected and diplomatic leaders around the world.

If the State Department joins this consensus, the terrorists will know that America, Europe, and people of conscience throughout the world stand united against them. It will be clear that the world regards their actions for what they are: genocidal acts of terror against a vulnerable minority.

If the State Department makes the emerging world consensus impossible by downgrading ISIS’ crimes against Christians as something less than genocide, it will send a different, but equally clear message.

Christians in the region have expressed the fear that should they be separated out from the other religious minorities, the twisted logic of terrorism will interpret American silence as an excuse for a new wave of killings.

Are the refugees’ fears of a new open season on Christians warranted? Some may say not. But these Middle Eastern Christians have stood face to face with this evil and they are the ones who have suffered. Their concern is something more than mere theory.

Just days ago, four of Mother Teresa’s nuns were brutally murdered by militants believed to be affiliated with ISIS. If there is no genocide declaration or if Christians are excluded from the declaration, and the atrocities continue, the obvious question will be whether things could have been different if we had acted differently.

When former Secretary of State Colin Powell courageously declared that genocide was happening in Darfur, he set a new standard. He put truth above bureaucracy.

In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry was among the first to utter the word “genocide” in reference to ISIS’ extermination of “Yazidis and Christians.” His first instincts about what is happening in the region were correct, and in the many months since that statement the evidence of genocide has only become more convincing.

Ironically, UN Ambassador Samantha Powers’ 2002 book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, laid out America’s less than inspiring record on this issue prior to the crisis in Darfur. Her human rights advocacy in that book undoubtedly aided Powell in his own analysis.

Mr. Kerry now has the chance and the moral authority to continue the momentum begun by Colin Powell and to build on it.

And it wouldn’t take much for him to do so. The standard by which he must judge whether or not ISIS is committing genocide is a low one: probable cause.

In other words, the test is simply whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the crime of genocide has been committed.

Human rights attorneys have concluded that ISIS has posted enough evidence on social media alone to warrant that finding.

But the State Department already has much more evidence than that. On March 9, the Knights of Columbus and the organization In Defense of Christians submitted a 278-page report to State Department officials documenting the fact-based legal case for a declaration that Christians have been the victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria. The report lists the names of more than 1,100 Christians recently murdered in the region as well as eye-witness accounts of killing, torture and sexual enslavement. The report can be found at www.stopthechristiangenocide.org.

That ISIS’ actions will go down in history as genocide is clear, not only from the report. The world has called it by that term, and will continue to do so, regardless of what our State Department does. But whether the United States is seen as supporting or obstructing this consensus remains an open question, and one that we can still answer correctly.

Just this week a bi-partisan consensus in the House of Representatives reached the same finding by passing H.Con Res. 75, a bill which declares that the atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities are genocide.

The legal grounds for a genocide declaration are both straightforward and clear. What is needed is the will to confront a bureaucracy ready to return us to a type of reasoning that compounded the tragedy of Rwanda.

We can do better than that and the religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East deserve better than that. Having been courageous in his use of the term genocide in 2014, Mr. Kerry should be so again today.

Carl Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus, a New York Times bestselling author and a former member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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