The images are horrific. Who can forget the video of masked Islamic jihadists on a beach beheading Christians -- executing them on-camera for the world to see?
And while there has been condemnation of the massacre of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, there’s an important step the Obama administration must take to address this ongoing tragedy that has resulted in the slaughter or displacement of nearly one million Christians.
Words matter. And how we describe these atrocities is critical. Sure, these acts are barbaric, horrendous, and even monstrous.
But there’s one word the Obama administration will not use to describe these atrocities. The White House – as well as the State Department – refuses to call these acts “genocide.”
The United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts committed “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” That is certainly what is happening to Christians being executed by ISIS – the Islamic State – around the world.
But the word “genocide” carries with it important legal ramifications, too. “Genocide” violates international law and such a designation is necessary to activate certain legal requirements of the UN Genocide Convention that would force President Obama to protect Christians.
In short, all President Obama’s talk about the slaughter of Christians doesn’t require action. Labeling these heinous atrocities against Christians as “genocide” legally requires action. Dying Christians don’t need more talk; they need action.
In a letter to Secretary of State Kerry, the American Center for Law and Justice outlined in-depth the legal arguments explaining why the United States, the U.N., and the rest of the international community must recognize this as “genocide” and act accordingly to stop it.
We have been working in the international community and here at home to underscore the importance of this official “genocide” designation.
We have filed legal documents with the U.N. and on Friday we will be presenting key oral statements there. We filed an amicus brief, including testimony from survivors of ISIS genocide, with the European Court of Human Rights. And we have seen positive results.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament has declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians.
Here at home, members of Congress understand what’s at stake. The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution last week that would officially label what ISIS is doing to Christians as “genocide.”
The resolution expresses the sense of Congress that “all governments, including the United States … should call ISIL atrocities by their rightful names: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”
Many Americans understand the importance of acting now. In fact, we’ve heard from nearly 215,000 people urging the Obama administration to label the Middle East atrocities “genocide.”
However, the Obama administration refuses to act – refuses to embrace that language.
The White House continues to say that no determination has yet been reached with respect to labelling the ongoing massacre as “genocide.”
And Secretary Kerry continues to waffle. He recently told the House Appropriations Subcommittee that he is still reviewing the issue saying there must be “additional evaluation” done before a decision is made about using the designation.
Secretary Kerry, what are you waiting for? You have the facts. You see the carnage. Why is the Obama administration dragging its feet on this issue?
Some believe it goes directly to administration’s philosophy and repeated refusal to identify the enemy as “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Consider this important exchange as reported by NBC News from that same recent Congressional hearing:
"The whole world knows Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican and frequent critic of the Obama Administration. Rohrabacher also was not satisfied when Kerry said the greatest threat to the U.S. is "violent extremism, radical religious extremism." When Rohrabacher asked Kerry why he didn't use the words "radical Islamic terrorism," Kerry quickly answered: "It is predominantly Islamic and I have no hesitation in saying that."
Here’s what we know. As long as the Obama administration refuses to recognize the slaughter of Christians for what it is – genocide – the sad truth is that the United States is not doing everything in its power to protect the persecuted.
That must change. With the Obama administration facing a March 17th deadline for determining whether it will use the label, it’s time to send a powerful message to the president right now:
Mr. President, words matter. Call the ongoing massacre of Christians what it is – genocide – so the United States and the global community can provide them the vital legal protections they deserve.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He’s a New York Times bestselling author. Jay's latest book “Undemocratic: Rogue, Reckless and Renegade: How the Government is Stealing Democracy One Agency at a Time” (Feb 2) is available now. He hosts "Jay Sekulow Live"-- a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.