The Cable

Obama Administration Declares Islamic State Genocide Against Christians

Secretary of State John Kerry declared on Thursday that the Islamic State has carried out acts of genocide against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks, November 18, 2015, at the Overseas Security Advisory Councils (OSAC) 30th Annual Briefing, in the Dean Acheson auditorium of the Department of State in Washington, DC. More than 1,300 public and private security professionals from US-based businesses, academia, faith-based institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the federal government attended the two-day conference.       AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS        (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks, November 18, 2015, at the Overseas Security Advisory Councils (OSAC) 30th Annual Briefing, in the Dean Acheson auditorium of the Department of State in Washington, DC. More than 1,300 public and private security professionals from US-based businesses, academia, faith-based institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the federal government attended the two-day conference. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry declared Thursday that the Islamic State has carried out acts of genocide against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria.

“In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims,” Kerry said, using an Arabic acronym to describe the Sunni extremist group. He said the finding is meant to demonstrate that the U.S. recognizes “the despicable nature of crimes” carried out by the group.

The timing of the declaration is unexpected: The Obama administration had come under sharp criticism for announcing a day earlier that the State Department would miss a March 17 congressional deadline to determine whether or not a genocide had been carried out because Kerry needed “additional time” to gather the facts.

The department may have moved up the date of the announcement to avoid a further backlash on Capitol Hill.

The declaration could give momentum to humanitarian organizations advocating for a more welcoming refugee policy, but efforts to do so have been sharply opposed by the GOP-controlled Congress. Advocates for a more aggressive military solution to the conflict may also seize on the determination to bolster their calls for more airstrikes and potentially even the deployment of U.S. ground troops.

However, a senior State Department official told reporters on Thursday that there are “no new obligations” on the United States that result from this finding. Even so, he said the U.S. would continue its efforts to degrade and destroy the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. When pressed about the usefulness of the declaration, the official said the U.S. believes it is important to “document the history of what’s happened to these innocent people,” formally recognize their suffering, galvanize the international community to help defeat the Islamic State and contribute to the effort to document and analyze the group’s atrocities.

This article has been updated.

Photo credit: Getty Images

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola