White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Obama administration attorneys are researching whether the violence the Islamic State is committing against Christians meets the legal definition of genocide.
A reporter, citing the atrocities and murders in Iraq and Syria, asked Earnest, “Why won’t the Obama administration call this genocide, Christian genocide?”
Earnest responded that the term genocide has “legal ramifications.”
“There are lawyers considering whether or not that term can be properly applied in this scenario,” Earnest said. “What is clear and what is undeniable and what the president has now said twice in the last 24 hours is that we know that there are religious minorities in Iraq and in Syria, including Christians, that are being targeted by ISIL terrorists because of their religion and that attack on religious minorities is an attack on all people of faith and it is important for all of us to stand up and speak out about it.”
On Wednesday, Obama denounced attacks on people of faith while speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore and repeated the sentiment Thursday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast.
The reluctance by the Obama administration is most likely based on obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, said.
“If they don’t think there is enough evidence of genocide against Christians and Yazidis, I’m not sure what they’re waiting for,” Weber told TheBlaze. “This is based on a political fear. There is moral and legal weight behind calling it genocide. Under the treaty, parties must prevent and punish genocide. This is the reason for the Clinton administration's reluctance to act in Rwanda.”
Citing the treaty, Weber said the Islamic State's slaughter and torture of Christians meet the treaty’s criteria for genocide, which include any of the following:
● Killing members of the group
● Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
● Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
● Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
● Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
At the White House press briefing, the reporter followed, “The distinction of genocide provides people persecuted with the ability to come to the United States seeking refuge. When will this happen?”
Earnest said the terminology doesn’t change the administration’s serious response in combatting the Islamic State.
“This is an open question and one that continues to be considered by administration lawyers,” Earnest said. “I can tell you that the president was quite blunt in talking about the responsibility that all people of faith have in standing up for individuals who are targeted for their faith, particularly religious minorities and particularly the people who are marginalized because of their minority status based on the religion they practice.”
Earnest noted that the Islamic State has also targeted Yazidis and Shia Muslims.
"This administration has worked hard to try to protect religious minorities who are being victimized by ISIL. There is no doubt that Christians are among those who have been and are being targeted,” Earnest said. “As it relates to the specific use of this word — the decision to apply this term to this situation is an important one, it has significant consequences and it matters for a whole variety of reasons both legal and moral. But it doesn’t change our response. The fact is that this administration has been aggressive even though that term has not been applied in trying to protect religious minorities who are victims or potential victims of violence.”