Kerry determines IS committing genocide in Iraq, Syria
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Kerry determines IS committing genocide in Iraq, Syria

Announcement that Christians, Yazidis and Shiites are victims of genocidal atrocities won’t obligate US to further action

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington DC, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington DC, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US Secretary of State John Kerry has determined that the Islamic State group is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, according to US officials, as he acted to meet a congressional deadline.

But Kerry’s finding, set to be announced Thursday, will not obligate the United States to take additional action against IS militants and does not prejudge any prosecution against its members, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly preview Kerry’s decision.

A day after the State Department said Kerry would miss the March 17 deadline, the officials said Kerry had completed his review and determined that Christians, Yazidis and Shiite groups are victims of genocide. The US House of Representatives this week passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning IS atrocities as genocide.

Lawmakers and others who have advocated for the finding had sharply criticized the department’s disclosure Wednesday that deadline would be missed. The officials said Kerry concluded his review just hours after that announcement and that the criticism had not affected his decision.

The determination marks only the second time a US administration has declared that a genocide was being committed during an ongoing conflict.

The first was in 2004, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region constituted genocide. Powell reached that determination amid much lobbying from human rights groups, but only after State Department lawyers advised him that it would not — contrary to legal advice offered to previous administrations — obligate the United States to act to stop it.

In that case, the lawyers decided that the 1948 UN Convention against genocide did not require countries to prevent genocide from taking place outside their territory. Powell instead called for the UN Security Council to appoint a commission to investigate and take appropriate legal action if it agreed with the genocide determination.

The officials said Kerry’s determination followed a similar finding by department lawyers.

Although the United States is involved in military strikes against IS and has helped prevent some incidents of ethnic cleansing, notably of Yazidis, some advocates argue that a genocide determination would require additional US action.

An Iraqi Yazidi mother who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, sits with her children at a school where they are taking shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on August 5, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/SAFIN HAMED)
An Iraqi Yazidi mother who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, sits with her children at a school where they are taking shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, on August 5, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/SAFIN HAMED)

In making his decision, Kerry weighed whether the militants’s targeting of Christians and other minorities meets the definition of genocide, according to the UN Convention: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

His determination, however, does not carry the legal implication of a verdict of guilt or conviction on genocide charges, the officials said. Such decisions will be left to international or other tribunals.

In a bid to push the review process, several groups released reports last week documenting what they said is clear evidence that the legal standard has been met.

The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, which had applauded Monday’s House resolution, said they hoped the delay would ensure that Kerry makes the determination.

“There is only one legal term for this, and that is genocide,” said Knights of Columbus chief Carl Anderson.

The groups’ 280-page report identified by name more than 1,100 Christians who they said had been killed by IS. It detailed numerous instances of people kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery and driven from their homes, along with the destruction of churches.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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