The U.S. State Department under President Donald Trump has begun to systematically remove all references of “genocide” from descriptions of ISIS atrocities committed against Christians and Yazidis.
How can this be?
Democratic senators, meanwhile, are holding up the confirmation of Mark Green, Trump’s choice to lead up the U.S. Agency for International Development — a move that keeps in place Barack Obama-era policies that shunned Iraq’s Christian populations from receiving crucial U.S. dollars.
The State Department’s top lawyers are systematically removing the word “genocide” to describe the Islamic State’s mass slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria from speeches before they are delivered and other official documents, according to human rights activists and attorneys familiar with the policies. …
Richard Visek, who was appointed by President Obama as head the State Department’s Office of Legal Adviser in October 2016, is behind the decision to remove the word “genocide” from official documents, according to Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer who directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
“I don’t think for a minute it’s a bureaucratic decision—it’s ideological,” said Shea, who also spent 12 years as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or CIRF, from 1999 to 2012.
A State Department spokesman on Monday said he would look into the matter and respond.
The latest moves from the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser appear aimed at rolling back then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s March 2016 genocide determination. Kerry’s much-anticipated genocide designation came after months of equivocation and detailed documentation by interested parties that the Islamic State is responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.
It was one of the few times in history that the United States designated ongoing mass murders against ethnic or religious minorities as meeting the legal definition of genocide laid out in a 1948 treaty. That agreement requires signatories, including the United States, to take steps to “prevent and punish” genocide.
A bipartisan group of Capitol Hill lawmakers and activists, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) were hoping the designation would help direct millions of dollars in U.S. relief funds to Christian, Yazidi, and other persecuted religious minority communities.
ISIS murders and kidnappings have decimated the Christian population in Iraq, which numbered between 800,000 and 1.4 million in 2002, reducing it to fewer than 250,000 now. Without action, activists and charities say, Christians could disappear completely from Iraq in the near future.
After meeting with Pope Francis in May, President Trump vowed to do everything in his power to defend and protect the “historic Christian communities of the Middle East.”
Activists and Catholic leaders are now calling on Trump to turn the rhetoric into action on the ground and help get U.S. aid to these persecuted communities trying to rebuild their homes and their lives in Iraq.
These advocates want the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations to allow church groups and other religious-affiliated relief organizations to receive government aid, a practice prohibited during the Obama administration.
In early May, Congress allocated more than $1.3 billion in funds for refugee assistance and included specific language to try to ensure that at least some of the money is used to assist persecuted religious minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims—all groups the State Department deemed victims of genocide in 2016.
Nevertheless, only $10 million is specifically earmarked for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The Trump administration has until the end of September, when the stop-gap funding bill runs out, to ensure it distributes the funds in the most effective way.
“There is congressional legislation … that calls for the U.S. government to stop excluding the genocide-targeted minorities in Iraq,” Shea said. “This has been a pervasive problem that this aid has not been getting to them.”
In June, several Republican senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to urge him to distribute dollars to “vulnerable and persecuted religious minorities.” But State’s response didn’t specify whether Christian charities would be able to take advantage of the tax aid to help out Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities facing Islamic-tied persecution.
Again, from the Free Beacon:
Instead, Charles Faulkner of State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs cited a list of U.S. efforts to help the “plight of religious minorities in Iraq” and said the department “shares your grave concern about the situation facing Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities.”
The letter also restates the State Department’s policy and that of the United Nation’s of distributing U.S. relief based on means-tested need, instead of the genocide designation providing some priority for targeted communities on the verge of extinction.
“The U.S. government has also provided more than $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance since 2014 for vulnerable Iraqis in Iraq and in the region,” the letter stated. “This assistance is distributed according to individual need, and many members of minority groups have benefited from it because of their unique vulnerabilities.”
Faulkner said the State Department “makes efforts” to ensure that the needs of “minority community members” are “taken into consideration,” when there are concerns that these communities don’t have access to assistance.
In addition to U.N. stabilization projects in Iraq, he said State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is managing 22 grants and “interagency agreements” in Iraq, and “since 2004 has been the lead U.S. government entity programming directly to support inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities and other marginalized populations in Iraq.”