WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously
passed a measure late Nov. 27 to provide humanitarian relief to genocide
victims in Iraq and Syria and to hold Islamic State perpetrators
The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, or
H.R. 390, now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature. The
White House has said it supports the legislation. The Senate also has
passed its version of the measure unanimously.
"When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United
States should direct some of its humanitarian, stabilization and
recovery aid to enable these groups to survive -- especially when they
are minorities whose existence as a people is at risk," Rep. Chris
Smith, R-New Jersey, said in remarks from the House floor before the
vote. "We should commit to such a response whether the victims are the
Rohingya in Burma or Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria."
Smith, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global
Health, Global Human Rights, introduced the legislation in 2016 and
again in 2017, with lead Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo,
D-California. More than a dozen Democrats and Republicans also
co-sponsored H.R. 390.
He noted that he had just met earlier that day Chaldean Archbishop
Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, and the prelate told him: "Christians in
Iraq are still at the brink of extinction. H.R. 390 is vital to our
survival. If it becomes law, implementation must be full and fast.
Otherwise, the help it provides will be too late for us."
Among its key provisions, the bill directs the administration to:
-- Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing
humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide
survivors from religious and ethnic minorities.
-- Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee.
-- Identify warning signs of deadly violence against religious and
ethnic minority communities in Iraq or Syria that have been victims of
genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
-- Support entities conducting criminal investigation into ISIS
perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq
– including collecting and preserving evidence that links specific
perpetrators to specific atrocity crimes and is usable in a range of
-- Encourage foreign governments to add identifying information about
suspected ISIS perpetrators to their security databases and security
screening and to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators.
In Iraq, the number of Christians is below 200,000, down from 1.4
million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before IS militants went on a
genocidal campaign, according to figures provided by Smith's
Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in
Irbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their
homes and stay in Iraq. Of the 550,000 Yezidis who remain in Iraq, about
280,000 are still displaced and also need assistance to return to their
A number of religious liberty organizations, human rights activists,
and faith-based and other advocacy groups threw their full support
behind H.R. 390, including the Knights of Columbus, In Defense of
Christians, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Family Research
Council, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern
Baptists Convention, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, the
Religious Freedom Institute, and the Hudson Institute’s Center for
Religious Freedom and its Working Group on Christians and Religious
Pluralism in the Middle East.
"The Knights of Columbus applauds the passage of H.R. 390, which
makes clear that those targeted for genocide by IS should be included in
American government assistance in the region, said Supreme Knight Carl
Anderson, who twice testified in support of the bill before Smith's
Smith told House members that Anderson's testimony "was the blueprint
for the legislation." He praised the Knights for being "unflagging
supporters of the bill."
Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus has committed more than $20
million for relief efforts on behalf of Christians and other religious
minorities in the region.
"The fact that this bill passed both the House and the Senate
unanimously," Anderson added, "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 Yezidis, who were targeted for extinction."
USCCB officials also have given testimony to Smith's subcommittee in support of H.R. 390.
"The Catholic Church has consistently raised our voice in support of
Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities who are facing
persecution in the Middle East and are internally displaced or have fled
as refugees," said a 2017 joint letter from the chairmen of the
bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace and Committee on
"Pope Francis has denounced the persecution, torture and killing of
Christians in the Middle East, calling it a 'form of genocide' that must
end, and lamenting the wider conflicts that have put so many in
danger," the letter said. "The USCCB has joined with Pope Francis in
condemning the actions of those who would persecute others solely for
reasons of their faith and ethnicity."
The House action came amid a tribute to today's Christian martyrs
underway at several U.S. churches as part of a worldwide “Courage in
Red” campaign sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, the international
papal charity that provides pastoral and humanitarian aid to persecuted
Catholic places of worship were lit up in red, the color of
martyrdom, including Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the
Immaculate Conception, which was holding an evening vespers service
Nov. 28. Archbishop Warda was scheduled to be among the speakers
offering testimony about religious persecution.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the
Military Services, who is the current chair of the bishops' Committee on
International Justice and Peace, was presiding, with Archbishop
Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., to deliver a message
from the Vatican.