IMAGE: CNS photo/Suhaib Salem, Reuters
By Josephine von Dohlen
(CNS) — The Trump administration renews its commitment to the protection of
religious minority groups
threatened by the Islamic State in the Middle East, according to Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson in the preface of the annual State Department report on
international religious freedom, released Aug. 15.
“ISIS is clearly responsible
for genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it
controlled,” Tillerson said in a statement Aug. 15. “ISIS is also responsible
for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups,
and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities.”
Since the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the State
Department documents the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries
around the world, reporting to Congress the “violations and abuses committed by
governments, terrorist groups, and individuals.”
Michael Kozak of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and
Labor, which produces the report, spoke about it in a news conference Aug. 15,
saying the report is used to create a fact base for U.S. government
reported that while conditions for many do remain critical, there are signs of
hope for the future.
“ISIS is being defeated,” Kozak
said. “Since the defeat of ISIS in great chunks of Iraq, it means that
religious minorities can return to their liberated towns and villages and the
next challenge is to see that they have security and that their homes are
Over the past 15 years, the number of Christians has fallen
from between 1.4 million and 800,000 Christians to 250,000 Christians in Iraq
today, with two-thirds being members of the Chaldean Catholic Church and nearly
one-fifth members of the Assyrian Church of the East, according to the report.
In Syria, less than 10 percent of the entire population is Christian.
“There is a growing consensus on the
need to act, the genocidal acts of ISIS awakened the international community to
the threats facing religious minorities,” Kozak said.
One way the U.S. responds to the
threats of IS, as the Islamic State also is known, is through the Global
Coalition, which was founded in 2014 as a group of 68 members, formed
specifically for the purpose of reducing the number of threats from IS through
military and other campaigns against the militant group, as well as providing
humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and Syria.
“In the areas
liberated from ISIS, the preferred option is to return people to their
traditional villages and areas because we don’t want to uproot communities that
have been there for thousands of years and take them elsewhere, if we can help
them with the security and other means that they need to be able to resume
traditional role as the valued members of their own societies,” Kozak said.
Kozak told the press that the U.S. has a “good record” in fighting
against genocide, stating that the U.S. is in the process of “defeating the
perpetrators of genocide pretty soundly” in Iraq and elsewhere, as he discussed
the legal and moral obligations of countries working to combat genocide.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry first used the word genocide
to describe the IS attacks in Iraq and Syria against minority religious groups
such as the Christians, Yezidis and the Shiite Muslims back in March 2016.
recently nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to the post of ambassador at large
for international religious freedom, whose position would allow him to work
with the office of international religious freedom in the U.S. State Department
to support religious freedom throughout the world.
In his weekly video address in April, President Donald Trump reminded America
of the country’s commitment to religious freedom.
“From the beginning, America has been a place that
has cherished the freedom of worship,” Trump said April 14. “Sadly, many around
the globe do not enjoy this freedom. … We pray for the strength and wisdom to
achieve a better tomorrow — one where good people of all faiths, Christians
and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according
to their conscience.”
In April, the U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom released its own report covering the 2016 calendar year and
up to February 2017. Separate from the State Department’s Office of
International Religious Freedom, the commission offers similar recommendations
to the administration and to Congress on the state of religious freedom
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