Law will ensure relief for ISIS genocide survivors, accountability for perpetratorsSmith’s Bill to Help Genocide Victims Becomes Law
Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) legislation to ensure ISIS genocide victims in Iraq and Syria receive humanitarian relief and hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes was signed into law by the President today.
“When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid to enable these groups to survive–especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at-risk,” Smith stated. “My law would codify this commitment and help ensure our actions match our words. The future of endangered religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS for genocide, and pluralism in the Middle East, will depend on help from the United States.”
Among other key provisions, Smith’s law—the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act—authorizes and directs the Administration to:
· Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minorities;
· Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee;
· Identify warning signs of deadly violence against religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq or Syria that have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes;
· Support entities conducting criminal investigation into ISIS perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq – including collecting and preserving evidence that links specific perpetrators to specific atrocity crimes and is usable in a range of courts; and
· Encourage foreign governments to add identifying information about suspected ISIS perpetrators to their security databases and security screening and to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators.
Smith introduced the legislation, HR 390, in the House after he led a human rights mission to Iraq in December of 2016 at the invitation of Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil. There the U.S. delegation met with genocide survivors, religious leaders, aid workers from the Archdiocese, and officials from the U.S., other governments and the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations.
“They needed our help. They were not getting enough food. They were not getting enough medicine, and their shelter was very meager, to say the least,” Smith said. “It was clear then, as it is now, that local overstretched, underfunded groups on the ground were being forced to fill a huge gap, like the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, supported by the Knights of Columbus under the extraordinary leadership of Carl Anderson and by Aid to the Church in Need.
Less than 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before ISIS swept through the region on its genocidal campaign. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Erbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. After the ISIS invasion, 60,000 Yazidis fled to Europe, and of the 550,000 Yazidis still in Iraq, 280,000 remain displaced and only 20 percent have been able to return to their historic homeland of Sinjar, according to the Yazdi organization Yazda. Those displaced will also need assistance to return to their homes.
HR 390 was co-sponsored by members from both parties in the House, and leading faith-based groups and religious and human rights leaders support the legislation, including Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yezidi survivor of ISIS slavery, and all four of the former Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, who span Republican and Democratic administrations. (Click here to see the full list of cosponsors and supportive groups.)
Beginning in September of 2013, Smith has chaired 10 congressional hearings focused in whole or in part on Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS for genocide and other atrocity crimes. After these genocide survivors had not received direct aid from the U.S., Smith introduced HR 5961 on September 8, 2016 to ensure they would receive U.S. aid and to support criminal investigations into the ISIS perpetrators.
In January of 2017, Smith introduced a strengthened version of the legislation, HR 390. It passed the House unanimously in June of 2017, and more than a year later, passed the Senate on October 11, 2018. The House passed the amended version of the legislation on November 27, and the President will sign it into law next week at the White House.
“We must move quickly to implement this,” Smith said. “Archbishop Warda, the head of Chaldean Catholic Church there, told me that ‘Christians in Iraq are still at the brink of extinction. HR 390 is vital to our survival…implementation must be full and fast. Otherwise, the help it provides will be too late for us.’”