Christian & Yezidi Genocide in Syrian, Iraq Focus of House Hearing
Several experts testifying on Capitol Hill today labeled the brutal campaign against Christians, Yezidis and others in Syria and Iraq genocide and called on the Obama Administration to declare it as such and provide the greater humanitarian actions and other relief genocide demands.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the house panel that oversees global human rights said today’s hearing focused on “the plight of persecuted religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, which constitutes genocide, and the failure of much of the international community to live up to their pledges of humanitarian assistance—factors which ‘push’ refugees to Europe and beyond.” He said witnesses cited widespread violence targeting religious minorities such as Christians and Yezidis (a non-Islamic religious minority) in territory controlled by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“Each day, our newspapers, magazines, radios and television screens are filled with images of people fleeing territory controlled by the Islamic jihadist group known as the Islamic State of al-Sham, or ISIS,” said Smith at the House hearing he chaired of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. “More than half of the 635,000 refugees – an estimated 53 percent – in Europe are from Syria alone, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or UNHCR,” Smith said. “The crisis has become the largest displacement crisis in the world, with 3.8 million people having fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, in addition to those internally displaced.” Click here to read his opening remarks.
Smith noted that while violence plays a major role in the impetus of Syrians to leave their homes, the UNHCR has said perhaps the main trigger for flight is the humanitarian funding shortfall. In recent months, for example, the World Food Programme (WFP) cut its program by 30 percent, and the current Syrian Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for 2015 is only 41 percent funded. The UNHCR expects to receive just 47 percent of the funding it needs for Syria over the next year.
Testifying at the hearing were: Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch; Bishop Francis Kalabat, Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit, who recently visited the area; Mirza Ismail, Chairman of the Yezidi Human Rights Organization International, who also recently visited the area; Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, which has been raising funds to meet the humanitarian needs of targeted minorities in ISIS territory; and Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response at Oxfam America. After the hearing their testimonies can be found by clicking here.
President Stanton stated in his testimony entitled “Weak Words Are Not Enough,” that “Failure to call ISIS’ mass murder of Christians, Muslims, and other groups in addition to Yazidis by its proper name – genocide – would be an act of denial as grave as U.S. refusal to recognize the Rwandan genocide in 1994.” He also said the crimes of ISIS are “the greatest threat to civilization since Nazism and Stalinist and Maoist Communism. Like those movements, ISIS has a millenarian, utopian ideology that turns mass murder into an ideological duty, and worse, a religious virtue.”
In his testimony, Bishop Kalabat testified that the thousands of displaced Christians whose plight has gone unrecognized by the Obama administration.
“There are more than 150,000 Iraqi Christians who are now displaced in northern Iraq or are refugees in other countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who are being victimized by the Obama administration in not recognizing their suffering,” Kalabat said. “There are countless Christian villages in Syria who have been taken over by ISIS and have encountered genocide and the Obama administration refuses to recognize their plight. Again I say, shame on you.”
Chairman Ismail said he came to Congress to seek support to prevent the annihilation by ISIS of his people, the Yezidis, and of the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria.
“We are an ancient and proud people from the heart of Mesopotamia, the birth place of civilization and the birth place of many of the world’s religions,” Ismail said. “And here we are today, in 2015, on the verge of annihilation. In response to our suffering, around the World there is profound, obscene silence. We Yezidis are considered ‘Infidels’ in the eyes of Muslims, and so they are encouraged to kill, rape, enslave, and convert us.”
Supreme Knight Anderson said Syrian Christians and other vulnerable minorities are “disproportionately excluded from the U.S. Syrian Refugee Resettlement Program” due to reliance on a functionally discriminatory UN program.
“Christians fear taking shelter in the camps of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because of religiously motivated violence and intimidation inside the camps,” Anderson said. “The U.S. State Department publicly acknowledge that genocide is taking place against the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria,” including in its anticipated pending statement on genocide that, according to reports, refers only to Nineveh’s Yazidi community.
“The United States is rightly viewed as the world’s leading defender of vulnerable minorities, and it is critically important that the State Department consider the best available evidence before issuing a statement that would exclude Christians,” said Anderson.