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ISIS committing genocide, says Kerry

On December 9, 1948, the UN issued General Assembly Resolution 260A (III) Article 2, which established the definition of genocide that is widely used today. The article read:

In the present Convention, genocide means 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

On March 17, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the U.S. recognises Islamic State to be engaged in committing genocide in Syria and Iraq against Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims. He founded this allegation on atrocities being committed, which include enslaving Yazidis, raping women en masse, selling women, murdering Christians for their faith, and destroying full communities that have long existed.

In the past, the U.S. has been very reserved with blaming countries and groups for carrying out genocide, having last done so in 2004, when the Bush administration declared that genocide was being committed in Darfur. For contrast, the Clinton administration did not label the atrocities of Rwanda, namely the mass slaughter of Tutsis by Hutu forces, as genocide, but the event is widely considered as such.

Kerry’s allegations may be the result of reviewing evidence put forward by organisations partial to the victims included in his statement. The Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Knights of Columbus and the International Association of Genocide Scholars (AGS) put forward their own evidence of genocide being committed by Islamic State against different minority groups. The AGS included the Chaldean, Assyrian and Melkite Greek minorities which the U.S. has excluded.

The measure passed by Congress marks an expansion of the scope of what constitutes genocide by applying a more encompassing definition of U.N. Resolution 260A, whereby it does not exclusively entail the mass murder of minorities. Though murder is an influencing factor, the U.S. has not published an estimate of victims killed by Islamic State. Such figures would only arise through educated guesses because a wide variety of rebel groups, such as al Nusra, the Free Syrian Army and other groups engaged in fighting in the region have been reported to have committed similar atrocities, making it exceedingly difficult to accurately attribute the crimes to each group. America’s claims of genocide to entail more than murder may open up to a broader interpretation of who is committing genocide in the Middle East.

Mark Toner from the U.S. State Department clarified the measure passed in Congress would not oblige the U.S. to any legal commitment to prevent the ongoing genocide, but expressed hope that it will bolster support for resolutions in the U.N. in the future.

Despite the House of Representatives having passed the motion with 393 votes in favour and 0 against in a sitting on 14 March, the State Department’s clarification that there is no legal obligation on America’s part to combat the genocide bodes ill for the victims of Islamic State. America does maintain an air bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, however it has increasingly been criticised for lacking effectiveness and commitment. Tonor’s comments indicate the U.S. will not escalate its campaign to prevent the genocide.

Genocide is usually synonymous with the mass slaughter of a group of people, however the UN definition expands the scope of what constitutes it. Its use to describe the actions of Islamic State can facilitate a greater analysis of the underlying issues in the Middle-East to include possible acts of genocide committed by other states against stateless people and religious minorities. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia is engaged in a relentless bombing campaign against Shiite Muslims, even employing the support of al Qaeda for ground operations, that have produced widespread civilian casualties. Turkey has been harshly criticised for its retaliation to terror attacks by Kurdish militia forces by attacking Kurdish civilian areas, both inside Turkey, Iraq and Syria, and may also fall under the U.N. definition. Finally, Israel has actively engaged in hostile policies against Palestinians for decades, resulting in frequent deaths, the systematic denial of Palestinian statehood by breaching U.N. resolutions, and its well-publicised forced sterilisation programme against Ethiopian women. This too, may fall under the U.N. definition of genocide. America’s use of the U.N. definition will influence critics of other regional antagonists to increasingly do likewise.

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