Article Jun 9, 2017

Advocating relief for victims of the Islamic State genocide

Twenty-three years ago, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were targeted and killed by their Hutu neighbors. In just 100 days, the genocide left 800,000 Tutsis dead and 500,000 women raped. And for 100 days, the United States stood by and allowed one of the world's greatest atrocities to go unnoticed, while our Christian brothers and sisters were viciously murdered.

Today, another genocide is ongoing, ravaging the cities and countryside of Iraq and Syria. Over 470,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have lost their lives at the hands of ISIS. This hate-filled group devastates cities and villages, incinerating homes and tearing families apart.

The fear of death and loss of shelter has left 9.3 million people internally displaced within Iraq and Syria, and 5 million seeking refuge abroad. Entire communities of persecuted religious minorities, as large as 400,000, have been captured, killed, or displaced. In Iraq, the Christian population has declined by over 800,000 since 2002, while the Yazidi population has dropped by 150,000 in just three years. With so many displaced people, on-the-ground humanitarian organizations are utterly lacking in the necessary resources to treat, feed, and care for everyone.

By this fall, the already scarce resources will run out. The lack of funding and the massive number of persons in need of care are putting these lifelines to shelter, education, and emergency health care at risk of disappearing. And unless swift and decisive action is taken, tens of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq and Syria will suffer in and die in isolation, just like the Hutus in Rwanda

In the past, our nation missed the opportunity to stop genocide, to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced, and to show compassion towards those who are marginalized simply because of what they believe. But today, we have a tangible opportunity to provide relief and care for those who have been persecuted for their faith and their identity as followers of Jesus Christ.

We care for those displaced from their homeland because we too are displaced from our homeland.

Last year, the U.S. government finally condemned the massacre in the Middle East and publically labeled it an act of genocide. This declaration comes with an obligation to protect the survivors of the genocide, prevent further violence, and prosecute the perpetrators of the violence. Southern Baptists should take notice that this is only the second time in U.S. history that the Executive Branch has declared genocide.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017 (HR 390). This bill would name religious minorities who have survived the genocide, the rape, and the kidnapping of ISIS to be of “special humanitarian concern to the United States,” More importantly, it would call upon senior human rights officials within the State Department to identify which institutions are in need of USAID and determine how much funding the institutions need to continue providing adequate food and medical supplies to those who have been internally displaced.

With serious consequences and limited time facing fellow Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, the ERLC calls on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to expedite HR 390 and bring this bipartisan bill to the Senate floor.

As Southern Baptists, we are deeply committed to religious freedom for all people and desire human dignity be upheld in all reaches of the globe. We pray for the rapid cessation to senseless killing of Christians in the Middle East. And we long for the safety of our persecuted Christian brothers, for when one member suffers, the entire body suffers.

We care for those displaced from their homeland because we too are displaced from our homeland. Our citizenship lies in another kingdom (Heb. 13:14), a heavenly kingdom. Our love of neighbor extends beyond our borders, and reaches to every corner of the world. Thus, we desire the security of sojourners who have been victims of widespread brutality.

Twenty-three years ago the United States missed an opportunity to step in while Rwanda experienced its brutal genocide; we failed to provide aid in the midst of unspeakable violence. Driven by our understanding of mankind as a the crowning work of God's creation, Southern Baptists were encouraged by the United States' decision to formally declare that the massacre in Iraq and Syria is a genocide. Let that declaration be more than words: may we as a gospel-driven people call upon our government to serve, protect, and provide for vulnerable and persecuted Christians, Yezidis, and all other religious minorities.

The House passed bipartisan HR 390. We now call upon the Senate to get this bill to the President’s desk for his signature.

ERLC Policy Intern Zack Jones contributed to this article.