Congress has conveyed a clear message to the Obama administration that it wants the US to take more action against ISIS.
The House has overwhelmingly approved a resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities committed by the Islamic State (ISIS) group against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The non-binding measure, passed Monday by a vote of 393-0, illustrated the heavy bipartisan support for action on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry is leaning toward making a genocide determination against ISIS and could do so as early as this week, when a congressional deadline for a decision has been set.
But the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday’s deadline.
House Speaker Paul Ryan chided the White House for the anticipated delay. “As the administration waffles on this issue and doubles-down on its failed strategy to defeat (the Islamic State), the American people are speaking loudly and clearly on this issue,” Ryan said.
The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry who said his congressional district in Nebraska includes the highest concentration of Yazidis in the US. Many of them received visas in return for working as translators for American military forces and brought their families with them.
Congress Seeking Broader Action Against ISIS
An executive branch determination of genocide, however, would be different from the House measure and fraught with moral and potential legal consequences. It would also mark only the second time a US administration has reached that conclusion while a conflict is ongoing. The first was in 2004 when Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that atrocities being committed in Sudan’s Darfur region constituted genocide.
Although the United States is already involved in military strikes against the Islamic State and has helped prevent some incidents of ethnic cleansing, notably of Yazidis, some argue that a genocide determination could require additional US action. At the least, a determination would probably be accompanied by a referral to the UN Security Council for possible prosecution by either the International Criminal Court (ICC) or some other tribunal that might be set up specifically for Syria and Iraq.
Kerry must also weigh whether the Islamic State group’s targeting of Christians and other minorities meets the legal definition of “genocide,” which is “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group,” according to the UN Convention.
The House also on Monday passed a separate non-binding resolution by a vote of 392-3 that accuses Syrian President Bashar Assad and his main allies, Russia and Iran, of war crimes. The resolution calls on President Barack Obama to support the formation by the United Nations of a war crimes tribunal to investigate and prosecute those responsible.