Hillary Clinton has put her weight behind a campaign to recognise the “genocide” of Iraqi and Syrian Christians at the hands of Islamist extremists.
The US Democrat Presidential candidate told a meeting in New Hampshire that she believed there was “enough evidence” to prove that the scale of violence committed against religious minorities by ISIS terrorists constituted a campaign of genocide.
Her remarks were hailed as a breakthrough by a group of 75 British MPs and peers who earlier this month signed a letter to David Cameron to ask him to declare the crimes of ISIS as genocide.
“That the US Democratic Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, has now gone on public record that there is ‘now enough evidence’ that the killings by ISIS constitute genocide is a huge boost to our campaign,” said Lord Alton of Liverpool and Robert Flello, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, in a joint statement on behalf of the signatories.
“As former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton knows the Middle East well and her backing for our position sends a very clear signal to the United Nations that it should determine that genocide is indeed being perpetrated,” they said.
“This will require the now 147 signatories to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide to act to end this persecution and to ensure that in due course its perpetrators are caught, tried and punished for their evil crimes.”
The declaration by Mrs Clinton represents a U-turn because she was previously reluctant to use the word “genocide” to describe the ISIS campaign against Christians, Yazidis, non-Sunni Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities.
She announced her change of heart when a voter asked her this week: “Will you join those leaders, faith leaders and secular leaders and political leaders from both the right and the left, in calling what is happening by its proper name, genocide?”
“I will because we now have enough evidence,” replied Mrs Clinton, adding that she was convinced the violence was “deliberately aimed at destroying not only the lives but wiping out the existence of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East”.
More than 100 members of US Congress in September introduced a motion demanding that the atrocities be classified as genocide but US President Barack Obama has so far refused to agree to their demand.
In Britain, the Prime Minister earlier this month came under similar pressure when MPs and peers presented him with a letter telling him that there was sufficient proof of the systematic persecution of the minorities that was aimed at their annihilation.
They urged Mr Cameron to recognise the slaughter as genocide in an attempt to persuade the 127 countries that have signed up to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide of their duty to halt the killings and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“There is now clear evidence that this genocide includes assassinations of Church leaders, mass murders, torture, kidnapping for ransom in the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria, sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian girls and women, forcible conversions to Islam, destruction of churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and Christian artefacts, and theft of lands and wealth from Christian clergy and laity alike,” the letter said.
“ISIS has made its own public statements taking ‘credit’ for mass murder of Christians, and expressing its intent to eliminate Christian communities from its ‘Islamic State’.”
The parliamentarians told the Prime Minister that there was no doubt in their minds that the slaughter of Christians, Yazidis and other groups fitted the definition of genocide and called on him to use the influence of the Government at the United Nations to obtain an agreement that the word “genocide” should be used.
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns later agreed to meet members of the group to discuss their concerns.
Afterwards, Lord Alton said: “It’s clear that the Government is listening to our concerns. I understand that Ministers are now looking at whether UK law and legal structures might provide an effective response and whether a regional tribunal to prosecute genocide might be constituted.”
He added: “This is welcome news which we hope will also see the United Nations declare as genocide the killing of innocent Iraqi and Syrian Christians, Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities.”
The Government had refused earlier requests to recognise the ISIS atrocities as genocide, saying it would prefer to concur with the findings of any investigations undertaken by the International Criminal Court.
Pope Francis has said he believes the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq constituted genocide while the UK Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need revealed in a report last month that persecution was driving Christians from Syria and Iraq so rapidly that they might disappear from those countries within as little as five years.