On year ago today, on March 17, 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry formally designated the actions of ISIS as genocide. As part of that declaration he said: “[ISIS] is… 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… [ISIS] kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia. …naming these crimes is important. But what is essential is to stop them.”
Unfortunately, one year later nothing about ISIS’ ruthless mission throughout the Middle East, and the world, has changed. Their efforts have been impeded and numbers are smaller, but they still wage a sick ideological war against innocent people, simply because of a perverted anti-religious hatred.
Secretary Kerry was right to declare that ISIS kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; and different Muslims sects because they believe in a different brand of Islam than them. While the recognition of these horrific crimes is important, we must not lose focus of the need to protect the fundamental right to religious freedom as a source of stability for all people around the world. America must lead the world in calling out human rights abuses wherever they exist. Much more needs to be done, but calling genocide genocide was a step in the right direction.
On the one-year anniversary of the genocide designation, I urge the Trump administration to take steps to address this atrocity through advocacy for religious freedom, the provision of humanitarian aid, the pursuit of justice against perpetrators, and assistance with economic revitalization.
Anti-religious freedom regimes exists around the world. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2016 report claims that numerous countries, including China, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, among others, continue to imprison, torture and persecute religious minority communities, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. According to the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, five billion people around the world face religious persecution and one-third live in places where religious freedom is severely restricted.
But ISIS is the most notorious. The 2016 Commission report said, “ISIL’s summary executions, rape, sexual enslavement, abduction of children, destruction of houses of worship, and forced conversions all are part of what our commission has seen as a genocidal effort to erase their presence from these countries. In March of this year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rightly proclaimed ISIL a perpetrator of genocide, which USCIRF had recommended publicly in December.”
The Trump administration can also help these victims of genocide by prioritizing the nomination of the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom within the State Department. Considering the extreme religious persecution around the world, we need a strong diplomatic advocate in the State Department working to protect and advance religious freedom abroad.
The right to practice any faith, or have no faith, should be a fundamental human right of all people. In order to protect and preserve this right for everyone, America needs an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Allowing this post to remain vacant on the anniversary of this genocide designation may send the message to the world that religious freedom is not a priority. We cannot allow that message to go forward. These victims have suffered long enough. It’s time they see more action and support from the United States.