It has been over a year since ISIS declared a caliphate in the Middle East and still its brutal onslaught against religious minorities such as Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslims and others continues. While the rest of the world has looked on in shock and disbelief, the actions of this insurgency have become more coordinated, systematic and inhumane. Furthermore, the vast amount of publicly available information clearly shows that what has and is currently being committed against these ancient faith communities is nothing short of an ongoing genocide in the 21st century. Here is what you need to know.
Who has acknowledged the Islamic State’s genocide?
• “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” — Pope Francis
• “The United States and other countries also are working to counter ISIL militarily, but there still needs to be an international effort to bring ISIL to justice for its horrific crimes, including its acts of genocide.” — Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
• “It’s a very clear case. It’s an ongoing genocide because there are still people in captivity.” — Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
• “ISIS’s mass murders of Chaldean Christians, Coptic Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslims and other groups that do not conform to ISIS’s fanatical definition of totalitarian false ‘Islam’ definitely meets even the strictest definition of genocide.” — Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch
• “These are in fact crimes of genocide committed against humanity that must be held accountable before international justice.” — Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations
• “Rape and other sexual crimes again women, accompanying mass executions targeting a distinct community, are central to genocide. This has been demonstrated time and time again, including in the genocides perpetrated against the Armenians, the Tutsis in Rwanda, Kurdish women in Iraq, Muslim women in the former Yugoslavia and, more recently, against the Christian women and girls by Boko Haram, an ISIS affiliate.” — Janet Benshoof, president of the Global Justice Center
What is genocide?
In 1946, as the international community grappled with the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, scholar and philologist named Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” to describe the age-old crime of taking deliberate, concerted actions to remove entire peoples from existence altogether.
Article II of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment for the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as:
“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Tragically, despite the resounding vow to “never again” allow such horrors to occur, this crime has occurred again and again. Now, once again, it is occurring on our watch. Since the beginning of its swift and destructive rise in Iraq, ISIS has committed all of these against Christians and Yezidis through a calculated system of atrocity. Intent to commit the crime of genocide can clearly be seen in ISIS ideology, publications and communications, which the insurgency has made publicly available to the rest of the world.
ISIS acts of genocide
• Christians and Yezidis have been systematically executed for not converting to Islam or as a terror tactic.
• Christian and Yezidi children have even been beheaded and crucified.
• Yezidis have been found in mass graves.
• A 2014 pamphlet released by the group titled “Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves,” describes ISIS’ prescribed methods for forcing women and girls as young as 9 years old into sex slavery.
• Once captured, the women and girls are forcibly converted and expected to raise the children produced from their rapes under ISIS’ interpretation of “pure” Islam.
• Reports indicate that these “lion cubs” taken from Christian and Yezidi families are being raised to become the next generation of insurgency fighters.
As opposed to previous such instances of genocide in modern history, there has been no attempt by the group to conceal its actions. On the contrary, ISIS brazenly uses a social media-driven propaganda machine to broadcast its atrocities to the world.
A report released in March from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the situation in Iraq states, “It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide.” Furthermore, the report calls for the Security Council “to remain seized of and address, in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide.”
What can be done?
Historically, denial of genocide has typically been perpetrated by those committing the crime. Now denial is being committed by those who have seen the prima facie evidence of mankind’s ultimate crime and refused to acknowledge, halt and investigate what is clearly happening.
Faith communities that have existed in Iraq and Syria for thousands of years live on the edge of extinction. If immediate action is not taken, these communities of antiquity will continue on a trajectory of precipitous decline into nonexistence.
In previous history, the global community has delayed in acknowledging genocides as they were occurring in Cambodia, the Balkans and Rwanda. Had global leaders made this essential distinction and taken the necessary actions to stop these crimes earlier, innumerable lives might have been saved. Delaying the acknowledgment of this genocide — occurring in the 21st century — will only allow for unmitigated horror and catastrophic loss of life to continue.
• Frank R. Wolf is the senior distinguished fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and the Wilson chair in religious freedom at Baylor University.