Legislation proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would provide relief to victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria and to hold perpetrators, namely the Islamic State, accountable.
The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2016 was introduced on Sept. 9 by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) with bipartisan support.
ISIS is “ideologically committed to exterminating ancient religious communities and cleansing its self-proclaimed caliphate of anything but its vicious and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam,” he said when introducing the legislation.
“The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2016 is an answer to the question of what the United States can do to mitigate this suffering, save lives and build a more sustainable future for Syria and Iraq.”
The bill has two key goals:
1. “To promote accountability in Iraq and Syria” through assisting governments and “support entities” that are investigating, collecting evidence and prosecuting persons committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
2. “To address humanitarian, stabilization and recovery needs” in Iraq and Syria through identifying, and providing humanitarian assistance to, those impacted by threats and manifestation of these crimes.
William Canny, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services, spoke about the legislation during a Sept. 22 hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
“We commend H.R. 5961 for recognizing the plight of Christians and other religious minorities,” he said. “In particular, it is noteworthy that H.R. 5961 calls for assistance for survivors of genocide and allows faith-based organizations (such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)), who already have a record of providing humanitarian assistance to these populations, to be funded for such life-saving work.”
During the hearing, Rep. Smith affirmed the State Department’s March 2016 declaration of genocide, while critiquing the lack of tangible action following the determination.
“When the Secretary [of State] declared genocide, we dared to hope that finally the administration would hear the voices of the victims and act,” he said. “Instead, the administration has said the right words and done the wrong things.”
Smith continued, “Administration officials have stated that it is in the interests of the United States to enable Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic communities to remain in their ancient homelands of Iraq and Syria. Yet, the administration has so far refused to identify the humanitarian needs of these communities and provide them with assistance so that they are able to survive in their home country.”
“Displaced genocide survivors cannot pay for food, medicine or shelter with words from Washington,” he added.
Smith’s comments join a litany of others criticizing “never again” proclamations about genocide from government leaders and the United Nations that are not translated into tangible actions aimed at preventing future genocide.