US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) is committing genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.
Kerry said on Thursday that ISIL was responsible “for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at the same groups and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities”.
“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions, in what it says, what is believes and what it does,” he said, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym.
He said that the US would hold the group accountable.
“Naming these crimes is important, but what is essential is to stop them,” Kerry said.
His comments came after a review of information gathered by the State Department, the US intelligence community and outside groups, Kerry said.
“I want to be clear. I am neither a judge nor a prosecutor, nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by specific persons,” he said.
“Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through a formal legal determination by a competent court or tribunal.”
But he said the US would support efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyse any evidence of atrocities.
“I hope that my statement today will assure the victims of Daesh’s atrocities that the United States recognises and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them,” Kerry said.
“Second, I hope it will highlight the shared interest of the otherwise diverse groups have in opposing Daesh.”
Earlier this week, the US House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution by a vote of 393-0 condemning ISIL’s actions as genocide.
Kerry’s comments came just in time to meet a March 17 deadline set by Congress for a classification.
On Thursday, Representative Jeff Fortenberry, the author of the House bill, commended Kerry’s decision.
“The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority,” Fortenberry said in a statement.
“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands.”
The last time a US administration made a genocide finding was in 2004, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that genocide had occurred in Darfur and that the government of Sudan was responsible.