International Religious Freedom

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August 16, 2017

US to Do More for the Middle East’s Persecuted Minorities

Secretary of State Tillerson Confirms ISIS Genocide Designation and Pledges Protection to Victims

In a speech yesterday, August 15, 2017, to unveil the State Department’s 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pulled no punches when speaking about the genocidal agenda of the Islamic State. The Secretary referred to Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims as victims of genocide by ISIS. He committed to “working with our regional partners to protect religious minority communities from terrorist attacks and to preserve their cultural heritage.”

Tillerson reaffirmed former Secretary of State Kerry’s March 17, 2016 genocide declaration. But the Secretary went further, applying the legal requirements for genocide, “specific act, specific intent, specific people,” to the actual “facts at hand” to remove “any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department.” Such ambiguity caused months of debate over whether Christians should be included in the genocide victims’ designation.  And such ambiguity allowed suspicion that giving refugee priority to Christians being killed by ISIS was a “religious test.”

Secretary of State Tillerson then confirmed, “application to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against the Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled.” Those same groups, as well as others such as the Kurds and some Sunni Muslims, have been victims of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by ISIS, the Secretary reported.

It continues to be startling to even hear the term ISIS rather than ISIL in the halls of the State Department. That step itself, nuanced as it may seem, indicates a change in the U.S. narrative. Then there’re Secretary Tillerson’s words, “As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their Caliphate. . .”

Tillerson’s phrase demonstrates that current U.S. policy on ISIS contains a serious understanding of the jihadists’ ambition to build a global Islamic caliphate. With that understanding, acknowledging ISIS’ targeting of Christians is a logical next step since targeting the People of the Cross is a corollary of Caliphate building. This was proved by the Islamic Republic of Sudan – the first modern Islamists with Caliphate ambitions – decades ago with their jihad against the Christian south.

Secretary Tillerson continued, “The protection of these groups – and others subject to violent extremism – is a human rights priority for the Trump administration.” He indicated that the U.S. government will continue working with regional partners “to protect religious minority communities from terrorist attacks and to preserve their cultural heritage.” Such action would stop the unspeakable eradication of these cultures and their art, architecture, languages, and history by ISIS.

If you care about religious freedom and human rights, you will help hold Secretary Tillerson and the Administration to the promises made. Commitment to defending the human rights of persecuted and vulnerable people has always been a hallmark of the United States of America – not to be, as some detractors whine, “the world’s policemen,” but as those who have inherited the gift of religious freedom for which others sacrificed and died and who are accountable to God for that freedom.


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