Washington D.C., - One year after the
U.S. declared that ISIS was committing
genocide in Iraq and Syria, advocates for
religious and ethnic minorities are asking
the Trump administration what the U.S. will
do next to protect the vulnerable.
“This is a call for action,” said
Professor Robert Destro of the Columbus
School of Law at The Catholic University of
On Thursday, Destro announced a joint
statement of “recommended actions” for the
administration to take to protect genocide
The document was a call “to stand up
constantly” for minorities “who are being
targeted today by ISIS and all of its
affiliates around the world,” he said.
Its signers include former chair of the
U.S. Commission on International Religious
Freedom Robert George; former Congressman
Frank Wolf; Bishop Francis Kalabat, eparch
of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Detroit;
and Bishop Barnaba Yousif Benham Habash of
Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic
diocese of the U.S. and Canada.
On March 17, 2016, the U.S. declared that
ISIS was committing genocide against
Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in
Iraq and Syria. Professor Destro called it
the “first truly formal declaration of
genocide in American history.”
In the summer of 2014, ISIS had swept
across Northern Iraq and driven hundreds of
thousands from their homes. Militants raped,
enslaved and killed thousands of Yazidis –
including women and children – and
surrounded 40,000 more on Mount Sinjar who
were in danger of dying of starvation and
thirst until the U.S. military intervened
and sent them supplies in August of 2014.
Other religious and ethnic minorities on
the Nineveh Plain, including Chaldeans,
Assyrians, Turkmen, and Shabak, fled their
homes when they realized they were
defenseless against the ISIS onslaught.
Christians in Mosul were given a choice to
convert to Islam, flee, be killed, or stay
and pay a jizya tax.
Experts noted that the jizya tax option
was not a viable option, however, as the tax
could be too high and could not sufficiently
guarantee the safety of Christians who
agreed to pay it.
Many have not yet returned to their homes
– around 70,000 Christians are living in and
around the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan,
east of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Many
genocide survivors are living in temporary
shelters and are reliant on churches and aid
groups for their basic needs.
As ISIS forces have been cleared from
some areas in the region, those who have
returned to their villages have found their
homes vandalized and damaged, their property
confiscated, churches destroyed, and even
deadly IEDs set for them.
Now, one year after the U.S. declared
that genocide was taking place, the Genocide
Coalition – a group of congressmen, genocide
experts and human rights advocates have
announced the steps they would like to see
the administration of President Donald Trump
take to protect these genocide survivors.
Destro hailed the meeting as the “first
annual commemoration of the genocide
The coalition is advocating on behalf of
all the minorities in the region who were
victims of ISIS, not just Christians,
insisted Robert Nicholson of the Philos
Project, one of the sponsors of the
“We’re very much focused on the broader
community of genocide victims,” he told CNA.
“This isn’t only about protecting
“Since the genocide has been recognized,
we are still waiting, but no big steps have
been taken and not a lot has been changed,”
Yazidi genocide survivor Nadia Murad stated
at the U.S. Capitol at a Thursday event
marking the one-year anniversary of the
“The mass graves that they found, they
are still not being protected. There has not
been an effort to investigate the mass
graves and recognize the victims,” she said.
ISIS still holds much of the Sinjar
region where the Yazidis lived, Murad said,
as well as thousands of Yazidi captives
including around 1,000 children who are
being “trained and brainwashed” in Syria to
become suicide bombers.
What can be done about all this? The
Genocide Coalition is asking the Trump
administration to take three steps.
First, the U.S. should work to help
secure the region and resettle many of these
minorities displaced from their homes,
providing them the assistance they need to
make a living.
The Defense and State Departments should
work “to secure, stabilize, and revitalize
the ancestral homelands of indigenous
religious minority communities targeted by
ISIS for genocide in northern Iraq –
particularly in the Sinjar, Nineveh Plain,
and Tal Afar areas.”
Additionally, the U.S. must make sure that
humanitarian aid from the U.S. and UN
reaches those who need it most, the
The Christians in Erbil have not received
much aid from the U.S. and UN and are
reliant on groups like the Knights of
Columbus for food, water, shelter, blankets,
and medical needs.
Andrew Walther, vice president of
strategic planning at the Knights of
Columbus, noted on Thursday that on his
trips to Iraq in the last year, staff of the
U.S. government and the UN admitted that
they had not dispersed money to displaced
Christians living in Erbil. One family told
Walther they had received only two kilos of
lamb from the UN.
This aid must also “include funding for
trusted faith-based” groups that are “close
to the people” like Caritas International
and Catholic Relief Services, Steve Colecchi,
director of the Office of International
Justice and Peace at the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops, said on Thursday.
Private investment should also be
encouraged once the communities are rebuilt
and local businesses re-open, he added.
Stephen Hollingshead of The Haven Project
of the group In Defense of Christians said
that Western businesses should trade,
provide mentorship, and do business with
Iraqi entrepreneurs to help them “earn their
daily bread,” which is what many of the
The U.S. must also “bring to justice both
the perpetrators of this genocide and their
accessories,” the coalition insists. This
would include the “collaborators,
affiliates, financiers, and facilitators” of
ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project,
one of the signers of the document,
explained that the U.S. could push for an
international tribunal to be set up to try
ISIS perpetrators for their crimes.
“When impunity prevails, violence will
proliferate,” Naomi Kikoler of the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum said. She noted
that atrocities in Iraq have continued for
years because perpetrators have not been
“Until now, there is no international
committee or a team to investigate what ISIS
has done. A year has passed, and not a
single ISIS fighter has been brought to
justice,” Murad stated on Thursday. “They
[ISIS] are still free in Iraq, and they move
among many countries. Without any court or
tribunal to bring them to justice.”
For the International Criminal Court to
try the genocide perpetrators, the United
Nations Security Council would have to refer
the matter to the court. A UN human rights
inquiry found last summer that Yazidis were
genocide victims of ISIS, but did not
include Christians and Shi’a Muslims in the
The Trump administration can also help
the situation by making important
appointments to the National Security
Council and State Department, the coalition
They must “get the political people in
place…to get this job done,” Destro said.
In addition, the U.S. could accept its
“fair share” of the “most vulnerable
refugees,” Colecchi maintained, and these
would include genocide survivors.
Also, the U.S. could push the Iraqi
central government to strengthen the rule of
law and ensure the “protection of all,
including vulnerable minorities,” he added.
“To focus attention on the plight of
Christians,” he insisted, is “not to ignore
others” but by protecting most vulnerable,
to strengthen society as a whole.