In March 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry declared the Islamic State (also called ISIS or Daesh), an Sunni extremist group controlling territory in Syria and Iraq, guilty of genocide.
“In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in territory under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims,” Kerry said in a speech at the State Department. According to NPR, this is the sixth time the United States officially labeled state or group actions abroad in this way, the previous instance being against Sudan in 2004 (Darfur).
Kerry was under pressure from Congress to make such a declaration; Republicans and Democrats joined together in the House of Representatives and voted 393-0 on Monday to call ISIS actions genocidal. Congress set Thursday as the deadline for the State Department to accept or reject the designation, a deadline many expected the Obama administration to miss.
Kerry did not suggest that military action against ISIS would increase, the main objective of many politicians, particularly Republicans, that sought the designation. The U.S. currently targets and bombs both known and suspected ISIS operatives using unmanned drones, a tactic that protects the lives of American servicemen but also kills far more innocent bystanders than it does terrorists, according to multiple sources, and aids in terrorist recruiting efforts, inspiring further violence.
ISIS crimes against humanity include mass public executions, torture and mutilation, crucifixion, rape, kidnapping, sex trafficking, expulsion, destruction of places of worship, and forced conversion. Members have set about “stoning alleged adulterers to death and throwing gay men off buildings to their death and using child executioners,” to quote the International Business Times. Shia Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis (who worship one God, honor seven angels who look over the Earth, and believe in reincarnation) are the main targets of ISIS, whose members wish to subjugate others to Sunni Islam (the “true,” “pure” Islam) and their new caliphate.
Journalist Amy Goodman‘s claim that “ISIS has killed more Muslims than certainly members of any other religion,” is likely accurate. Shia Muslims (13% of Syrians, 60-65% of Iraqis) have likely lost the most civilians at the hands of ISIS, followed by Yazidis (less than 1% of Syrians and Iraqis) and Christians (10% of Syrians, less than 1% of Iraqis).
In the first 8 months of 2014, ISIS killed 8,500 civilians in Iraq (a country with very few Christians), according to a U.N. report. From mid-2014 to late 2015, ISIS executed an estimated 10,000 people in Syria and Iraq, including 2,000 civilians in Syria and 3,000 civilians in Iraq. Thousands more people have died in suicide bombings, in battles, and massacres. For example, nearly 1,700 Iraqi Air Force cadets, mostly Shia, were murdered at Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq in June 2014 and up to 5,000 Yazidi were mowed down in August 2014 in Sinjar Province, Iraq. Those events are not included in the 10,000 tally. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians identified some 1,100 Christians killed by ISIS in the report they sent to Kerry on March 9.
The reports caution these estimates are conservative — the precise number of deaths among all these groups is unknown, but likely higher.