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US House votes unanimously to declare ISIS atrocities genocide

A young Syrian refugee at a temporary camp, in the Lebanese Town of Al-Faour (AP)

The US House of Representatives has voted that atrocities carried out by ISIS in Syria and Iraq should be called “genocide,” and called for the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal under United Nations authority.

The House unanimously voted in favour a non-binding resolution urging President Barack Obama’s administration to call attacks against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

The resolution passed with a unanimous vote of 383-0.

The vote came ahead of a congressionally mandated deadline of March 17 for Secretary of State John Kerry to decide on whether to on whether to make such a declaration.

The State Department has so far declined to use the term genocide to describe ISIS’s attacks in Syria and Iraq and a spokesman said the Secretary of State would reach a determination “soon”.

State Department officials hinted last October that a genocide designation was coming for the Yazidi minority in the region, but not for Christians. The comments led to a protest from Christian groups that resulted in congressional action setting the March 17 deadline.

The House also voted 392 to 3 in favour of a resolution calling on the White House to push the UN Security Council to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal, calling actions by the Syria’s government and others “gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

“What is happening in Iraq and Syria is a deliberate, systematic targeting of religious and ethnic minorities,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“Today, the House unanimously voted to call ISIS’s atrocities what they are, a genocide.”

Meanwhile, the archbishop who serves as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked American Catholics to sign a petition calling for the US administration to make the declaration of genocide.

“Today, the people of God must speak up for our brothers and sisters facing genocide in the Middle East,” said a statement from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB president.

“As a people of faith, we must convince the US Department of State to include Christians in any formal declaration of genocide. The very future of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East is at stake.”

He added: “With each passing day, the roll of modern martyrs grows. While we rejoice in their ultimate victory over death through the power of Jesus’ love, we must also help our fellow Christians carry the cross of persecution and, as much as possible, help relieve their suffering. By doing so, the Middle East and the world will be made safer for people of every faith to live in peace.”

Archbishop Kurtz urged Catholics to sign a petition that has been online since late February.

“Extensive and irrefutable evidence supports a finding that the so-called Islamic State’s mistreatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition,” the petition says.

The petition is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, who together released a report that they say sets out the case that terrorism committed by ISIS against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East should be called genocide.

The report, Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East, lists 1,131 Iraqi Christians killed between 2003 and June 9 2014. It includes 24 pages of witness statements and documents nearly 200 attacks, including sexual assaults, enslavement and torture, imprisonment, in Iraq, Syria and North Africa.

Attacks on 125 Iraqi churches from 2003 to 2014 are also recorded.

The report also argues that the crimes committed by ISIS reach the level set out by the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.