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Congress Passes Bill to Support Minorities in Iraq and Syria and Hold ISIS Accountable

11/28/2018

By Andrew Fowler

Following the U.S. House of Representatives’ unanimous vote to pass the Iraq and Syria Emergency Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390) in June 2017, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson participated in a press conference on Capitol Hill. With him were Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai Soro of San Diego and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who joined the supreme knight in stressing the urgency of the situation facing Christian and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Rep. Smith and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) were the principal co-sponsors of the legislation. (Lloyd Wolf)

After years of advocacy, testimony before congress and support from the Knights of Columbus, bipartisan legislation that will provide humanitarian relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, while holding ISIS perpetrators accountable, was passed on Nov. 28, by the House of Representatives.

“The Knights of Columbus applauds the passage of HR 390, which makes clear that those targeted for genocide by ISIS should be included in American government assistance in the region,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a statement regarding the legislation. “The fact that this bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously shows that the American response to genocide transcends partisanship and that there is enormous political will to protect and preserve religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians and Yazidis, who were targeted for extinction.” READ THE FULL STATEMENT.

Known as the “Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018,” the bill, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature for its passage into law.

What does the legislation do?
The legislation authorizes the “financial and technical” assistance for “humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery needs” for former and current religious minority residents of Iraq and Syria.

This assistance could come through the federal government or through entities, including faith-based entities that are providing support to address the recovery.

In addition, the legislation allows the State Department – in collaboration with other federal agencies – to conduct criminal investigations and apprehend individuals identified as alleged ISIS members, and identify warning signs of genocide and threats of persecution.

Why is this important?
According to the State Department’s annual reports on international religious freedom, the number of Christians living in Iraq has drastically declined from an estimated 1.4 million in 2002 to fewer than 250,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile, Christian communities in Syria are “considerably” smaller as a result of the ongoing civil war that began in 2011.

How have the Knights been involved with the U.S. government?
The Knights of Columbus, a proponent of the legislation, have advocated for the protection of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East for several years. In December 2015, Supreme Knight Anderson testified before Congress, urging the House Foreign Affairs Committee to “adopt a resolution recognizing that the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria, as well as other vulnerable communities facing genocide,” emphasizing these attacks preceded the rise of ISIS.

The Knights then provided a comprehensive report to the Obama Administration in early 2016 that recommended the State Department declare the persecution of Christians and religious minorities as a genocide. The recommendation was taken when then-Secretary of State John Kerry publicly issued a declaration in March 2016 stating ISIS’s “entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”

Since then, Supreme Knight Anderson has met with members Trump Administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, encouraging the protection of vulnerable religious communities as an official foreign policy initiative. Vice President Pence pledged the government’s direct aid, thanking the Knights for their “extraordinary work caring for the persecuted around the world.”

Back in October 2018, the Knights commenced a joint effort United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in assisting religious minorities in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities.

What else have the Knights been doing in the Middle East?
Since 2014, the Knights have allocated nearly $20 million to aid Christians and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria to provide food, shelter and clothing.

Last year, the Knights committed raising $2 million to rebuild the liberated Iraqi town of Karamles after it was demolished by ISIS soldiers.

The Knights also worked in conjunction with the Trump Administration to de-escalate tensions between Kurdistan and Iraqi governments that threatened a recently rebuilt Christian town.

What happens next?
The Knights will continue to support the efforts of providing humanitarian assistance to Christians at risk of persecution throughout the world. No Christian community is an island, isolated in itself. Every Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and therefore must never be forgotten.

To help persecuted Christians, you can donate here.

Andrew.Fowler@kofc.org