Congress to vote on labelling Christian persecution in the Middle East 'genocide', as pressure on Obama grows

The US Congress will on Monday decide whether to recognise atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide.

The motion is brought forward by House Republicans and if passed would put significant pressure on President Obama to follow their example and label the persecution as a genocide. The resolution has over 200 signatories from both parties and many expect it to pass.

It comes after the release of a 278-page report compiling evidence of crimes committed against Christians in Iraq, Syria and surrounding countries. The report was released in an attempt to present Secretary of State John Kerry with irrefutable evidence after he said an "additional evaluation" was needed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will have the final say in whether the White House will label atrocities against Christians in the Middle East as genocideReuters

However director of campaign group A Demand for Action, Steve Oshana, told Christian Today he believed the Obama administration had already made a decision.

"If I were to guess I think they have already made their determination at this point and it is just a question of when they will come out with it," he said.

"I cannot imagine there are still deliberations given all the evidence that has already come out."

The label of genocide carries significant weight and would mark a shift in the US' tone towards the conflict in the Middle East. Thus far it has restricted its description of events as "brutal atrocities" but has refrained from using the term genocide.

Oshana said that while there was a "correlative effect" between using the term and subsequent action taken, it would not necessarily place legal obligations on the US. Rather, he said, it was a "moral imperative".

"In instances where the word genocide wasn't used and a lesser term like 'ethnic cleansing' was used, we often see that no action is taken," he said.

The decision likely brings bad memories for the White House – former president Bill Clinton refused to describe the situation in Rwanda in 1994 as a genocide. Over three months, death squads from the Hutu tribe killed 800,000 people from the Tutsi tribe in a planned "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis." It later emerged Clinton's administration knew about the genocide but refused to label it as such to justify its own inaction.

The report launched by Knights of Columbus alongside International Christian Concern on Thursday collates evidence of genocide against Christians in the Middle East.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said there was a "very real danger" that persecution against the Yazidi community would be termed genocide by the US, but not against Christians.

Yazidism is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, which blends ancient religious traditions with both Christianity and Islam. ISIS believes them to be "devil-worshippers", and has systematically targeted the group.

Bishop Angaelos told Christian Today: "Partial recognition would in some way put out the message that what is happening to Christians is less criminal. That may not be the message intended but that is how it would be viewed in the Middle East."

He said the report was good and necessary but needed constant updating.

"The problem is that events are constantly unfolding so even at the launch evidence was still coming in."

At the report launch, he said: "Inaction is inexcusable and will lead to further persecution, not only of Christians but of others. It has also led to an unprecedented displacement of people and the resulting refugee crisis that we are witnessing."

Monday's vote will not officially change the US' position, but it will add to the growing pressure on the White House. It is already under scrutiny after the European Parliament unanimously backed a resolution in February asserting ISIS was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities.

However the White House is not alone is treating the word with caution. The UK government has avoided it, although dozens of MPs have signed an early day motion concluding that the violence "clearly falls within the definition of genocide".

Interestingly neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the Catholic Archbishop of Wesminster have followed Pope Francis' lead in labelling the conflict a genocide. The pope said last year: "In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place."