After years of be-headings, enslavement, oppression, crucifixion, and all the signs of genocide, Secretary of State John Kerry finally decided that ISIS’ treatment of Christians in the Middle East amounts to genocide. This term has only been applied one other time in history to an ongoing conflict by the executive branch.
Genocide, according to the United Nations, is legally defined here.
Clearly the government is wary to use this term (since it has only been applied once before), but Secretary Kerry suspected this all the way back in 2014. He remarked that ISIS had been enslaving Yazidis and executing Christians solely on the basis of their faith, which seems to line up pretty well with the definition given by the UN. As everyone else has asked: What took them so long?
One explanation is that the executive branch hesitated where Congress jumped because “a congressional resolution has persuasive moral force but does not trigger an obligation to act.” In the case of the executive office, the term carries far more legal and political weight, hence such a declaration brings on certain obligations to punish those who have committed the crime.
Kristen Evans, at National Review, has said that a acknowledging a genocide “has proven to mobilize public conscience, galvanizing the international community to overcome political hurdles and swiftly deliver aid and protection.” She also admitted that this had underlying obligations, but she highlighted that military intervention, a top concern for many Americans, was by no means the nation’s only option in combating this evil, evil crime.
Then again, this designation may not mean much at all. Eric Morris, who formerly worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that labeling the conflict genocide was a way of delaying action. Many questions about how to proceed in the fight against genocide are decided by tribunals and can get lost in litigation. In short, saying the word “genocide” may not generate the response most justice-seeking citizens hope for.
Yet, Morris still admitted that this decision was a step in the right direction.We can start looking at options. We can inspire those who have not joined this movement. We can stand hand-in-hand with those who seek a more perfect justice against these horrifying atrocities.