The dramatic evidence pointing to the extermination of Christians and Christian culture in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s (ISIS) is impossible to ignore. This past week, upset Iraqis rallied outside the White House. A few days ago, an administration official finally met with Iraqi Christians. But the leader of the free world has yet to forcefully condemn one of the clearest cases of genocide since World War II.
President Obama has previously addressed humanitarian issues by appealing to the Responsibility to Protect – a relatively recent doctrine not clearly established or grounded in international law. While its validity can be debated, clearer grounds exist on which to address the plight of Iraq’s Christians – the obligation to prevent genocide contained in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948.
After the horror of the Nazi ideology and ensuing Holocaust was fully realized, the nations of the world gathered together, formed the United Nations, and affirmed they would never let such horrors happen again.
The Genocide Convention laid down into international law a binding treaty arrangement in which contracting nations agreed to “undertake to prevent and to punish” genocide. While some argue that this “obligation to prevent” genocide is not an independent requirement of the treaty, the clear language and purpose of the treaty suggest otherwise.
Indeed, the whole point of the treaty was to prevent horrors like the Holocaust from happening again. This understanding is solidified by a decision of the International Court of Justice holding that the treaty contains a clear, independent obligation to prevent genocide
According to the Convention, genocide consists of “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” –
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
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