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Kerry: IS Atrocities Are Genocide

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has determined that atrocities committed by the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria constitute genocide.

“My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that in my judgment Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shi'ite Muslims," Kerry said Thursday, referring to IS by the Arabic term Daesh.

"Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions, in what it says, in what it believes and what it does,” Kerry said. "Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities.”

Kerry's declaration met a March 17 congressional deadline for the Obama administration to make a decision about atrocities the Islamic State group has committed against religious and ethnic minorities. Just a day earlier, Kerry had indicated that decision might take longer.

The genocide declaration means the United States would prosecute any Islamic State member in the U.S., but it does not obligate any specific American action against the terror group in Syria or Iraq, where U.S. warplanes have been striking IS targets for months.

Experts on international law and genocide told VOA the U.S. could bring the issue before the United Nations Security Council and human-rights bodies, which could, in turn, ask the International Criminal Court to charge members of the extremist group.

“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 would strongly support efforts to collect document, preserve and analyze the evidence of atrocities, “ Kerry said.

The top U.S. diplomat said he hopes the U.S. stand “will assure the victims of Daesh’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them.”

WATCH: Genocide Designation Could Have Several Results

Congressional reaction

The genocide declaration was welcomed by the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations. "Secretary Kerry is finally making the right call," Congressman Ed Royce said in a statement.

Gregory Stanton, a research professor of genocide studies at George Mason University, outside Washington, is president of a group called Genocide Watch. He told VOA the U.S. is only required to prosecute Islamic State members who are found to be in the United States following the official genocide designation that Kerry made Thursday.

The State Department says acknowledging that genocide or crimes against humanity have taken place in another country would not necessarily result in any legal obligation for the United States. However, a U.S. designation of genocide would have certain policy implications.

"The genocide resolution does have particular meaning when it comes to migration for emergency purposes," Representative Jeff Fortenberry told VOA. "For instance, if this is declared by the State Department, you may see more prioritization given to those who are in severe threat of having their life eliminated."

What is Genocide?

Genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

Fortenberry represents a district in Nebraska that has a substantial population of Yazidis, a Kurdish religious group whose members in northern Iraq have been attacked and victimized by Islamic State's terror tactics.

"When there is a systematic attempt to exterminate another group of people, Fortenberry told VOA, "it's not only an injustice, it's an assault on human dignity and therefore a threat to the civilization itself."

The last State Department designation of genocide was in 2004, by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in response to murders and mass rapes in Sudan's Darfur region.

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