The brutal persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East edged closer to being recognised as genocide yesterday, as a top US committee passed a key resolution condemning the violence.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously in support of Resolution 75, which states that "those who commit or support mass murder and atrocities against minorities" in the Middle East are guilty of "genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Steve Oshana, director of A Demand for Action, a campaign group for minorities in the Middle East, said the resolution "now reflects the ethnic and indiginous rights of the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people".
"This is a solemn victory but an important step forward in full recognition of this genocide, and we will continue our work here in Washington to ensure this resolution makes it to the floor for a full vote," he said.
"Our next hurdle is that this bill must prevail when the voting on the house floor takes place... Our fight will continue to push for this genocide to be recognised alongside many of our partners who strongly believe in this bill."
International Christian Concern (ICC) also praised the move, saying it marks "a victory for religious minorities in Iraq and Syria" and is a "remarkable showing of solidarity with the Christian communities in the Middle East."
"A government declaring a genocide shows a new change in politically correct leaders who have typically been unwilling to unify together against a genocidal tragedy before it's too late," a statement from the organisation said.
Regional manager for the Middle East at ICC, Emma Lane, said: "This is a big step for humanity seeing unanimous support from a bipartisan committee during such a divisive time in American politics".
Lane urged Secretary of State John Kerry to back calls for the persecution to be named genocide. "We pray that the administration and Mr. Kerry stand with the world, overcoming politicly-motivated or self-serving stances to join much of the Western world in publicly recognizing the plight of the various Christian groups, Yazidis, and religious minorities in a firm declaration that we have not forgotten their plight."
The move in the US follows the European Parliament unanimously passing a motion on February 4 to acknowledge continued slaughter of minorities in the Middle East as genocide. It is the first time the body has recognised an ongoing conflict as genocide.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or belief in the UK has led a group of prominent legal authorities in writing to Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him also to take a stand.
The term genocide carries significance because of the obligations it places on states to intervene. Pressure is mounting on the US and UK to follow the European Parliament's motion.