The new year begins, mass killings continue, and the U.S. government has yet to declare what is happening in Iraq and Syria “genocide.”
By now, the evidence is overwhelming: ISIS is systematically eradicating Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in territories controlled by the terrorist group.
What's at stake is more than a question of semantics: A declaration of genocide has significant legal and moral implications that would require the United States — and like-minded countries — to do whatever it takes to rescue the refugees and end the killing.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust — and in the idealistic hope of preventing another one — the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention, defining genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
Last November, a report issued by the Holocaust Museum documented the attempt by ISIS to exterminate the Yazidis, describing in detail the mass killings and sexual slavery inflicted on that community, as well as on Christians and other religious minorities.
After the report was released, the State Department indicated that a genocide designation for ISIS was imminent. But as the New Year begins, it remains unclear when that will happen — and if the designation will be confined to the attacks on Yazidis or will include Christians and other groups.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging passage of a House resolution expressing the sense of Congress that by targeting Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic groups and committing atrocities against these groups, ISIS is committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
As a country founded on the principles of religious freedom — as defined by the First Amendment to the Constitution — America has a moral responsibility to lead the world by making every effort to stop genocide and rescue the victims.
We have numerous firsthand accounts and images of beheadings, kidnappings, rape, torture and enslavement — more than enough evidence to declare ISIS guilty of genocide under international law.
Of course, a declaration of genocide will not, in and of itself, do much to end the killing. But genocide is a call to action unlike any other, obligating the world to make every effort to save those facing extermination.
Other strategies, including additional military and diplomatic options for ending the genocide, will be hotly debated, especially in this election year. But given the magnitude and urgency of the crisis, we should at least agree that more can and must be done.
Past declarations of genocide by the international community have served to stir the conscience of the civilized world. Now, once again, it is time to call genocide “genocide” — and remind the world that “never again” must truly mean never again.
In the blunt words of Pope Francis, “genocide is taking place and it must end.”