The Iraq and Syria Genocide Bill that just passed Congress

November 28, 2018

What just happened?

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, sending the legislation to the White House. The bill unanimously passed the Senate earlier this fall. H.R. 390 was sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R–N.J.) and Anna Eshoo (D–Ca.) and enjoyed the support of the ERLC along with a myriad of other advocacy groups. After diligent effort by supporters of the bill on Capitol Hill and in the advocacy community,  the legislation is now on its way to the president’s desk for signature to become law.

What is H.R. 390?

Congress declared these tragedies as genocide in 2016 with the unanimous passage of H.Con.Res.75 in the House and S.Res.340 in the Senate. In March of that same year, then secretary of state John Kerry named the actions of ISIS what it is—a genocide, marking the second genocide declaration by the executive branch in American history. H.R. 390 comes as a way of follow up on that genocide pronouncement.

The bill seeks to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of the genocide in Iraq and Syria and hold perpetrators accountable. This legislation would provide desperately needed relief and stabilization through USAID and other aid organizations, including faith-based groups, to persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the region. Additionally, the bill would support entities working to collect evidence of genocide to establish a prosecution mechanism to hold accountable the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.

Why does H.R. 390 matter?

In recent years, the world witnessed unspeakable violence against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria during this devastating series of conflicts. More than 9.3 million people in the region are internally displaced, and another 5 million sought refuge abroad. The ISIS launched a military campaign targeting religious groups because of their faith—the mass extermination of the Yazidi people, Shia Muslims, and Christians—qualified their violence as a genocide under international law.

Before the invasion of ISIS, nearly 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today, the number of Christians in Iraq is estimated to be less than 250,000. Of the 550,000 Yazidis in Iraq prior to 2014, over half are internally displaced and only 20 percent have been able to return to the Yazidi historic homeland in Sinjar. One particularly deadly attack at Camp Speicher in Iraq took the lives of 1,700 young military cadets.

Though ISIS recently lost the bulk of its stolen territory, the situation for genocide victims remains dire. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced. Over 3,000 Yazidi women and girls remain trapped as sex slaves of ISIS fighters and thousands of boys and men are missing. According to a United Nations report last year, “the genocide is ongoing and remains largely unaddressed, despite the obligation of States . . . to prevent and to punish the crime.”

H.R. 390 matters because perpetrators of genocide must be held accountable and the surviving victims desperately need aid and humanitarian relief. Commenting on the passage, ERLC president Russell Moore emphasized the significance of this legislation, “I am thankful for the tireless work of Representatives Smith and Eshoo on this important bill. As a nation, we must not be indifferent to the slaughter of the innocent throughout the Middle East. These atrocities cry out for justice. I am thankful this bill will help provide for those fleeing terror and work to bring perpetrators to justice. I am praying for swift implementation and look forward to the president signing this bill into law.”

ERLC Policy Intern Kelsey Beck contributed to this article.