State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that his boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, needs more evidence to determine if the Islamic State has committed genocide with its slaughter of thousands of innocents throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Congress had set Kerry a deadline of March 17 to officially determine whether atrocities committed by ISIS constitute genocide, but Toner told reporters during the State Department’s daily press briefing that the department will not have a decision by that date.
“Determining these kinds of legal definitions, such as genocide and crimes against humanity, require a very detailed, rigorous legal analysis,” Toner said. “[Kerry] is a lawyer, and, of course, that’s going to weigh into [how he makes his decision].”
“There are a lot of lawyers on [Captiol] Hill, too,” Associated Press reporter Matt Lee said in response, referring to the House of Representatives unanimously voting 393-0 on Monday to pass a resolution labeling the barbarity ISIS has perpetrated against Christians and other religious minority groups in the Middle East as “genocide.”
Toner clarified that his “only point is that he [Kerry] wants to base his decision on the best evidence available, and he has requested additional evidence, information, in order to [do so].”
“It just seems like there is a lot of evidence already out there,” Lee said in response.
The international community has decried ISIS’ slaughter and enslavement of anyone who does not submit to its uncompromising brand of Sunni Islam, killing Muslims as well as other religious and ethnic groups.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum determined last year in a report that ISIS is guilty of carrying out genocide against the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq, a term the museum rarely uses.
“We believe Islamic State has been and is perpetrating genocide against the Yazidi people,” the report says. “Islamic State’s stated intent and patterns of violence against Shia Shabak and Shia Turkmen also raise concerns about the commission and risk of genocide against these groups.”
The jihadist group has also carried out brutal violence against Christians and other groups, with Muslims making up the highest number of its victims.
The European Parliament voted last month to describe ISIS’ atrocities in Iraq and Syria as genocide.
There has been some debate as to whether using the term “genocide” with ISIS in an official capacity would legally obligate the U.S. to take further action against the jihadist group, which some people have argued is why the Obama administration is reluctant to do so.
Toner made clear at Monday’s press briefing that no legal requirement comes with using the term, but he stressed the international community has an obligation under the United Nations to stop crimes against humanity and other such atrocities like the ones being committed by ISIS.
In addition to the resolution on genocide passed Monday, the House also voted 392-3 to pass a measure calling for the creation of an international tribunal to try the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for war crimes.
Assad triggered the Syrian civil war in 2011 by slaughtering his own people for peacefully protesting his authoritarian rule. He has since waged a war against the Syrian people who formed an opposition in response, resulting thus far in about 400,000 deaths and the displacement of millions of others.
Assad has received help from Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russia to stay in power.