Vice President Mike Pence under fire for calling Christian persecution 'genocide'

ReutersLast week Mike Pence said ISIS was guilty of a 'genocide' against Christians. He's been questioned for his use of the label.

US Vice President Mike Pence has received criticism for describing Christian persecution by ISIS as 'genocide'.

Speaking at the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, DC, last week, Pence spoke about the plight of Christians worldwide, and estimated that 125 million Christians are persecuted for their faith in more than 100 countries.

'The reality is, across the wider world, the Christian faith is under siege. Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ.'

Pence added: 'I believe ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against people of the Christian faith, and it is time the world called it by name.'

Pence has received pushback for his use of the word 'genocide', according to Al Jazeera.

'You have to be so careful with the genocide word,' said Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. 'This is not just a word to throw around because it serves political advantage.'

Adams agreed that 'mass atrocities' have been committed against Christians, but warned against mislabelling the situation. The  proper use of 'genocide' as a descriptor has been hotly debated, and some now say the word is used to liberally. 

'We were very careful when we came out and said that we thought that there had been a genocide committed against the Yazidis, that was based on investigation, on argument, on deliberation,' he said.

Yazidis are a minority ethnic group who have also been a target of ISIS attacks in Iraq. Its estimated that around 1500 Yazidi women and girls have captured and forced into slavery by the jihadist group.

'Where is [Pence's] passionate speech for the Yazidis', or Shia Muslims or Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar - 'one of the most persecuted religious minority groups in the world?' Adams asked. 

Last week Christian Today enquired about the contested Christian persecution figures touted by evangelist Franklin Graham, who led the DC summit. Graham claimed that at least 100,000 Christians are killed for their faith every year. However, the statistic appears to be a dubious extrapolation of data, and Christian persecution charity Open Doors put its figure on global Christian martyrdom in the past year at just 1,207.

Peter Prove, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs at the World Council of Churches, told Al Jazeera that Pence's figures – implying exclusive levels of Christian persecution – 'may be questionable'.

'We know numerically that Muslims have been by far the greater victims of Islamic extremism,' he said.