The clock is ticking for the White House to determine if the wide-scale murder of Christians and other minorities by ISIS is genocide.
The congressional deadline is this Thursday, March 17. However, Obama administration officials say a legal review continues and Secretary of State John Kerry is not likely to meet the deadline.
For many leaders, the decision is clear.
“I’m here to tell you that my people — they feel that we are forgotten and alone,” Father Douglas al-Bazi, a prominent Chaldean Catholic priest, testified at the National Press Club. “And I am here to tell the Americans the first right step should be taken is to call it a genocide.”
“Genocide is a polite word,” al-Bazi said. “Can you figure another word actually to be a fit to what happened to my people?”
Why do Christians and human rights groups want the designation?
“They want the designation because it will draw attention to the crimes of ISIS,” CBN International Correspondent Gary Lane said. “They want it, number one, protect the Christians and others in that community there, the Yazidis.”
“Actually, the Yazidis, probably it is genocide against the Yazidis — the Christians, it may be debatable — because they’re actually trying to wipe them out and stop them from having more Yazidi babies,” he said.
“Then it draws attention — something must be done or should be done; pressure comes on governments to do something. It would probably give justification for taking military action against ISIS with troops on the ground,” Lane continued.
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution that condemns the Islamic States’ violence against Christians and other minorities as genocide.
House Speaker Paul Ryan chastised the Obama administration for an anticipated delay in making a designation.
“As the administration waffles on this issue and doubles down on its failed strategy to defeat (the Islamic State), the American people are speaking loudly and clearly on this issue,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
The U.S. House is by no means isolated in its decision. Government leaders around the world believe the atrocities committed by ISIS are without question genocide.
In an historic move, members of the European Parliament recently passed a resolution, calling the actions of the Islamic terror group “crimes against humanity.” Members also called for an investigation of ISIS human rights abuses.
The European Syriac Union issued a statement, “It is our moral and historical duty” to acknowledge that “Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people face another genocide in the Middle East and existential threat.”
“Christians face another genocide with a non-state actor which aggravate and complex the situation,” ESU spokesman David Vergili said. “In this regards, the rapid action by the international community is vital in order to stop metastasising of the harm inflicted in these ancient communities.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for groups systematically persecuted by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – Christians, Yazidis, Shi’as, Turkmen and Shabaks – to be recognized as victims of genocide.
“The hallmark of genocide is the intent to destroy a national, racial, ethnic, or religious group, in whole or in part,” USCIRF chairman Robert George said.
“It is very important to call it genocide, it’s important because it is the truth,” Nina Shea, with Freedom House, said. Freedom House has been documenting ISIS atrocities.
“In the ISIS controlled territory, there is no evidence right now of any Christian life, all the Christians have either been killed or driven out. The Yazidis, thousands of them, their women are now sex slaves,” Shea said.
“If we take the solemn vow of ‘never again’ as we have since the Jewish Holocaust under the Nazis, we have to call it as such for the Christians,” Shea said.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says the Islamic State is not only guilty of terrorism, but also of genocide. Museum leaders issued a report, saying ISIS is trying to wipe out the Yazidi people in northern Iraq.
“We believe Islamic State has been and is perpetrating genocide against the Yazidi people,” the report stated. “Islamic State’s stated intent and patterns of violence against Shia Shabak and Shia Turkmen also raise concerns about the commission and risk of genocide against these groups.”
Evangelical leader Rev. Franklin Graham said President Barack Obama has indicated he recognizes the persecution of Yazidis at the hands of ISIS as genocide, but not Christians.
“Mass murder, crucifixions, beheadings, enslavement, rape, destruction of churches, theft of lands and wealth, and forcible conversion to Islam – all are horrors that Christians in the Middle East are experiencing,” Graham said in a Facebook statement.
Presiding Bishop Anba Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom is concerned about the consequences if the White House only designates what’s happening to the Yazidi people as genocide and ignores Christians or other groups.
“Once you have designated one group as victims of genocide, but not the other, the perpetrators on the ground are going to realize that one is more protected than the other so, what you are actually doing is creating the setting for the Christians to become an even softer target,” Angaelos said.
He wants American legislators to think beyond laws.
“This is not just about legislation, this is about lives,” Angaelos said. “And it’s about the impact on real people on a daily basis in a setting that we couldn’t possibly imagine.”
The plight of Middle East Christians is sobering. In Syria, the number of believers has plummeted from 1.2 million to less than 500,000.
In neighboring Iraq, roughly two-thirds of that country’s 1.5 million Christians have either been killed or have been forced to flee ISIS.