In the 2015 omnibus spending bill, the Congress set a deadline for the State Department to decide whether to categorize Islamic State violence against Christians and others as genocide. The House voted 393 to 0 on Monday to agree to the terminology, and three days later, before the deadline passed, Secretary of State John Kerry officially labeled Islamic State atrocities as genocide.

Kerry, in his statement Thursday, recognized the existing military involvement by the United States and noted fundamental aspects of fighting genocide including emergency aid, recovering cities, investigating mass graves and providing material and psychological care (especially for victims of “gender-based violence” and escaped prisoners). He named many of the crimes committed against Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims.

Kerry pledged U.S. support and laid out the responsibility of organizations like the United Nations (the world organization already had called the crisis genocide), along with other countries: “Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal. But the United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve, and analyze the evidence of atrocities, and we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.”

While the announcement is important for many lawmakers and activist groups pushing the Obama administration to recognize the harm done to various religious groups, The New York Times reported that the proclamation “is unlikely to change American policy” in practice and called Kerry’s statement “negligible.”

The Times added:

The United States is already leading a coalition that is fighting the militants, and American aircraft have been bombing Islamic State leaders and fighters, its oil-smuggling operations and even warehouses where the group has stockpiled millions of dollars in cash.

Under a United Nations mandate from 1948, the United States and other U.N. countries are required to “take such action … as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide. …” However, as RT reported:

What kind of action and when it would need to be taken is up for debate. The last time the US recognized genocide was in Sudan in 2004, but at that time the State Department said it was not obligated to take action, and instead went to the UN to try and reach consensus on the issue.

A senior aide to Kerry added that “using the word also means the history of the situation will be better documented” but noted that “it does not necessarily mean changing military strategy or changes in the refugee system” at this time.

–Posted by Emma Niles

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