Washington, D.C. — The U.S. must not ignore the Islamic State’s genocide of Christians. That is the position of a petition drive and television campaign seeking to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Christians in Iraq and Syria have suffered injustice after injustice by being kidnapped, killed, having their homes and churches confiscated or destroyed, and being forced to flee for their lives,” Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said Feb. 25. “Because of hit squads, they fear to enter U.N. refugee camps and, as a result, are then often excluded from immigration to the West.”
He said that these Christians “deserve to have the U.S. State Department call what has happened to them by its rightful name: genocide.”
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By law, the State Department must choose how to designate the atrocities by March 17, according to the Knights of Columbus. Official recognition of genocide would have consequences for U.S. foreign policy, including refugee resettlement policy.
The petition says, “America must end its silence about the ongoing genocide against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria.” It asks Kerry “to declare that Christians, along with Yazidis and other minorities, are targets of ongoing genocide.”
As of Feb. 25, more than 26,000 people have signed the petition online.
The petition is co-sponsored by In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. It is the subject of a television ad that shows acts of persecution by Islamic State militants.
“This is what Christian and other religious minorities are facing at the hands of ISIS,” the ad says. It continues: “the State Department still hasn’t labeled this extermination what it is.”
The ad cites presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio, who have said the persecution is genocide. It also cites an opinion survey that shows a majority of Americans agree.
Kirsten Evans, director of In Defense of Christians, said the Islamic State’s treatment of Christians “meets even the strictest definition of genocide under international law, and must be treated as such.” She said this position has been voiced by the International Association of Genocide Scholars, over 200 members of Congress, and over 70 human rights experts and organizations.
The petition cites the United Nations anti-genocide convention. This defines genocide as acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The petition said there is “extensive and irrefutable evidence” that the Islamic State’s mistreatment of Christians, Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities meets the definition of genocide.
The militant Islamist group’s actions include assassinations of church leaders, mass murders and deportation, torture, kidnapping for ransom, forced conversion, sexual enslavement, and systematic rape. The petition also notes the destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, and cemeteries.
The petition cites the recent joint statement between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. The two Christian leaders had said “whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated.”
Prominent U.S. political leaders, the U.S. Commission on Interreligious Freedom, the European Parliament, and U.S. religious leaders have said the Islamic State’s actions are genocide.
The first signers of the petition include Catholic archbishops and bishops; lay Catholic leaders such as Carl Anderson and Alejandro Bermudez, director of Catholic News Agency; university professors, journalists, politicians and political commentators; and leaders of Eastern and evangelical Christian groups.
The Knights of Columbus in 2014 launched its Christian Refugee Relief Fund. It has raised more than $8 million to provide aid to Christian and other refugees, especially those from Iraq and Syria.
This article originally appeared in Catholic News Agency.