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Global Human Rights and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs



Opening Statement of
Mr. Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus
Before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health
Global Human Rights and International Organizations
of the
Committee on Foreign Affairs
U.S. House of Representatives

At a hearing titled
The ISIS Genocide Declaration: What Next?

May 26, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this subcommittee to discuss the next steps needed to protect the survivors of genocide in Iraq and Syria. The House of Representatives, the State Department and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom are all to be commended for declaring the situation confronting Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, genocide.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding now in the Middle East. In addition to millions of refugees, many of the region’s indigenous communities now face extinction. These communities may disappear in less than a decade. But their fate is not inevitable. The United States can avert this unfolding tragedy with a policy that contains the following six principles:

(1) Increase aid and ensure that it actually reaches those most in need;

We are reliably informed that official government and U.N. aid does not reach the Christian genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria.

Repeatedly, we hear from Church leaders in the region that Christians – and other genocide survivors – are last in line for assistance from governments. Significantly, the Archdiocese of Erbil, where most Iraqi Christians now live, receives no money from any government whatsoever. If assistance from outside Church affiliated agencies ends in Erbil, Christians there will face a catastrophic humanitarian tragedy within 30 days. The situation is similar in Syria, according to Christian leaders there.

Those who face genocide are a tiny fraction of the population. They often must avoid official refugee camps because they are targeted for violence there by extremists. As a result, these minorities often do not get “official” aid. This will continue to be the reality unless specific action is taken to bring the aid to where these minorities are forced to reside by continuing violence.

The Knights of Columbus and others private sources have responded to this situation. But non-governmental organizations can only do so much. It is essential therefore that government aid is increased and reaches those most in need even if special emergency appropriations are required.

(2) Support the long-term survival in the region of these ancient indigenous religious and ethnic communities;

In Iraq, the Christian population has declined by more than 80 percent, and in Syria by nearly 70 percent.

American policy should recognize the important differences in the situations of those fleeing violence and those targeted for genocide. And we should prioritize the latter.

Consider this analogy. After World War II, there were approximately 50 million refugees, and only a small fraction were Jews. Yet the world understood that Jews, who had survived genocide, faced a qualitatively different situation, and deserved heightened consideration.

The same is true today for the indigenous minorities of the region. They have an indisputable right to live in their country – in whatever region of it they wish. Depending on the circumstances, this may mean where they are originally from, or where they find themselves now. But as survivors of an ongoing genocide, they deserve to be prioritized in American policy-making decisions.

(3) Punish the perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity;

The United States should support action by the U.N. Security Council to refer key perpetrators of genocide for prosecution. Equally important, we should support the Iraqi Central Government and the Kurdish Regional Government’s adjudication of the cases of thousands of ISIS fighters and supporters who remain in local detention centers. This will assist in the important work of obtaining and preserving evidence of genocide.

(4) Assist victims of genocide in attaining refugee status; A news report as of last week indicated that of the 499 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in May, not one was explicitly listed as being Christian or as coming from any of the groups targeted for genocide. How long will this situation be allowed to continue?

The U.S. should appropriate funding and work with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to make provisions for locating and providing status to individuals – such as Yezidis and Christians – that have been targeted for genocide. Many of these genocide survivors fear going into official U.N. refugee camps, where they are targeted. Thus they are overlooked, and find it nearly impossible to acquire official refugee status or immigrate. Congress should act now. Senator Tom Cotton has introduced the Religious Persecution Relief Act, S. 2708, to provide for overlooked minorities in the prioritization of refugees. We support this bill and urge its passage.

(5) Prepare now for foreseeable human rights challenges as ISIS-controlled territory is liberated by ensuring that Christians and other minorities have equal rights to decide their future;

We should prepare now for the consequences of the liberation of ISIS controlled areas, including Mosul and the Nineveh Region, as well as regions in Syria. We are likely to see another humanitarian crisis as civilians flee the fighting or return to their former communities when fighting ceases.

There has been much debate concerning plans for victims of genocide in Iraq. Some have argued for returning people safely to the Nineveh Region, others that they should be allowed to stay in Kurdistan, still others that they be allowed to immigrate. But these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, competing proposals. People should be allowed to decide their own future. And when they do, we should work to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity and equality. This also means that it will be increasingly important to ensure that the property rights and claims of minority groups are respected.

(6) Promote the establishment of internationally agreed upon standards of human rights and religious freedom as conditions for humanitarian and military assistance.

The United States should advocate for full and equal rights for religious and ethnic minorities in the region in exchange for our military and humanitarian aid. A necessary first step to prevent genocide is to overcome the social and legal inequality that is its breeding ground.

We should not accept one standard for human rights in the region and another standard for the rest of the world.

The rich tapestry of religious pluralism in the region must be preserved now or it will be lost forever. With its loss will come increased instability and threats to our own security and that of the world.

We have a unique opportunity—and some would say, unique responsibility--to protect the victims of genocide. The United States can provide such protection with a policy that includes the principles outlined above. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for your leadership and that of the members of this subcommittee.

(1) See, Patrick Goodenough, Record 499 Syrian Refugees Admitted to US So Far in May Includes No Christians, CNSNews.com, May 23, 2016, at http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/patrick-goodenough/may-brings-biggest-monthly-number-syrian-refugee-arrivals-conflict.

(2) Fulfilling the Humanitarian Imperative: Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Africa, Global Health, Global H. Rights and Intl. Orgs. of the H. Foreign Aff. Comm., 114th Cong. (2015) (Statement of Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA16/20151209/104273/HHRG-114-FA16-Wstate-AndersonC-20151209.pdf.