The United States has long prided itself on preaching religious equity and aiding civilians who have fallen into the hands of violent religious conflict. And while the U.S. hasn’t always lived up to these lofty goals, members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs are leading efforts to pay attention to those under attack in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State.
At the hearing, “Genocidal Attacks Against Christian and Other Religious Minorities in Syria and Iraq,” witness Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, noted “the interconnected aspects of ISIS’ campaign of terror in both countries have the potential to further destabilize the region and dramatically increase gross violations of human rights.”
With the recent siege against the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar, special attention must be paid to Iraq’s Christians, Yezidis, Sabeans, Mandaeans, Baha’is, Kakais and Jews living in northern Iraq. These religious minority groups face a particular danger as they are targeted by the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS atrocities have included mass killings, beheadings, abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages and rape.
Resulting from the terror caused by ISIS’ campaign, witness Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration, noted some grim statistics – 1.8 million Iraqis have fled their homes, forcing civilians to seek safety in the surrounding countries.
As of August 31st, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered 70,000 refugees in Turkey; 32,000 in Jordan; 7,000 in Lebanon; and 25,000 in Syria. Many countries have already accepted thousands of individuals escaping persecution. Ultimately, this conflict has burdened regional governments with displaced persons and uprooted both minority and majority groups at the expense of building an ISIS caliphate.
To aid civilians fleeing ISIS, humanitarians have launched what the head of UNHCR, António Guterres, described as, “The largest single aid push we have mounted in more than a decade.” In addition to international financial support from Saudi Arabia, the UK and Australia, the United States has pledged over $138 million dollars for the 2014 fiscal year.
Additionally, the United States has accepted more than 75,000 Iraqi refugees for resettlement since 2010, 15 percent of them being Christian. But even with these steps, humanitarian aid is just one piece of the solution. As witness Tom Malinowski suggests, “the Iraqi people need and deserve a government that … provides basic government services and security, paving a stable and prosperous path forward for all the people of Iraq, regardless of religion or ethnicity.”
While President Obama’s recent speech detailed an aggressive plan against ISIS, it failed to prioritize its genocidal acts or empathize with the exodus of people fleeing conflict. If the US President does not give attention to these grave human rights violations, who will? A strong opposition to ISIS’ oppressive religious ideology and systematic persecution and a plan to protect those under direct threats must be part of the President’s policy.
In 2011, during the founding of the Atrocities Prevention Board, President Obama stated, “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” Three years later his statement still holds true – preventing genocide should be a national priority. Congress is making its voice heard in the fight against genocide in Iraq, the President should be too.