WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- The House of Representatives voted unanimously to formally classify Islamic State attacks on Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities as genocide.
The 393-0 vote Monday, while only advisory and lacking in enforcement, puts pressure on the executive branch to apply the same label to IS actions. A measure passed months ago calls on Secretary of State John Kerry to inform Congress by March 17 if reported atrocities by IS -- also identified as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL -- constitute genocide.
"It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis and others by its proper name, genocide," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who introduced the measure.
The unanimity of the House vote came as a surprise. The Senate has not scheduled a vote on the issue.
Genocide is a precise legal term, and its application in the case of IS could trigger debate on whether the United States should open its borders to IS victims. Congress has rarely faced a decision on the complex interpretation of the term, most recently in 2004 when the House said genocide was committed in Sudan's Darfur region.
The vote Monday came several days after a report by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, U.S.-based pro-Christian advocacy organizations, graphically stated the IS campaign in the Middle East constitutes genocide. For years, Christian groups worldwide, predominantly Catholics, have urged that more attention be paid to the worsening situations of Christians in the Middle East, a focus accelerated by the rise of IS.