UPDATE: On the morning of March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry made an unexpected statement at the State Department declaring that in his view ISIL was guilty of genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.
WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Despite the U.S. House of Representatives voting unanimously March 14 to call the Islamic State's murderous rampage across the Middle East "genocide," a spokesman for Secretary of State John Kerry claimed Wednesday he would miss a congressionally-mandated deadline today for making the same designation.
Kerry has repeatedly put off the work of making the designation, insisting that he either has incomplete information or that a study is being conducted to see if ISIS's actions against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the region meets all of the legal parameters of genocide, as defined by the United Nations.
On March 16, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said in the State Department's daily briefing that Kerry "continues to study the issue of atrocities perpetrated by Daesh [ISIS] and is committed to undertake his assessment in a measured and deliberate way. He recognizes the seriousness of the atrocities committed by this terrorist group as well as the importance of this issue to its victims and survivors. Given the scope and the breadth of the analysis he's contemplating, he will not have a final decision completed by the congressionally mandated deadline tomorrow."
Kerry is not alone in dragging his feet. Earlier in March, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama still wasn't convinced that the purge of Christians and other religious minorities from the region was genocide because the designation required a "rather precise interpretation of the law."
Toner said the "issue" was very important to Secretary Kerry and he expected a decision soon. Asked by a reporter if the decision could be forthcoming at all this week, Toner said he did not know.
"Very soon is about as precise as we can get at this point," Toner said. He then changed the subject, focusing instead of the terrorist bombing of a mosque in Maiduguri and the destruction brought by Boko Haram elsewhere in Nigeria against moderate Muslims.
Reporters then pressed Toner again, claiming "it's been months" and Kerry has not acted. Toner said Secretary Kerry was still gathering details from the region – a "very rigorous" process.
"And the Secretary has urged his team here at the department as well as the broader intelligence community, and even the NGO community, to provide as much information and evidence as possible so that he can make the best decision possible. And if this has delayed the process, we believe it's worth it," Toner said. He added that Kerry was a lawyer and wanted to be certain the evidence fit within the legal definition of genocide.
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According to one reporter in the room, the State Department has missed congressionally-mandated deadlines before, including on its Human Rights Reports.
Toner said he and Secretary Kerry – a former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – certainly respects congressional deadlines, but he said they are aren't always realistic given the nature of the report. He said the State Department takes the genocide designation seriously.
"We take those [designations] very seriously. However, we take the process very seriously as well. And so if we need some additional time, a matter of a few days or a week or so, in order to reach what we believe is a more fact-based, evidence-based decision, then we're going to, working in consultation with Congress, ask for that extra time," Toner said.
The members of Congress, however, needed no more time. They voted 393-0 in favor of the resolution decrying the genocide carried out by ISIS radicals.
In November 2015, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, predicted the Obama administration would forgo any designation of genocide for Christians in Iraq. Shea later sent a letter to Kerry, pleading with him not to overlook the abuse, torture, expulsion and murder of Christians in the region.