John Kerry: Isis is committing genocide in Syria and Iraq

John Kerry: Isis is committing genocide in Syria and Iraq

The US has declared that Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities, amid mounting global pressure to recognise atrocities committed in Iraq and Syria as a deliberate drive to wipe out certain religious groups.

US secretary of state John Kerry said that Isis, known in Arabic by its acronym Daesh, was “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions, in what it says, in what believes and in what it does”.

He said: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”

Christians and members of other religious groups have been killed, tortured, raped and driven out of their homes. Isis has taken women and girls as sex slavesand forced children and teenagers into battle at an unprecedented rate, according to US researchers.

In August 2014, at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect were trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they faced slaughter by Isis if they fled, and dehydration if they stayed.

Kerry said the “full facts” must be established by an independent investigation and justice sought by a competent court or tribunal.

The United States would “strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyze the evidence of atrocities. And we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.”

He added: “I hope that my statement today will assure the victims of Daesh’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them.

“Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities. I say this even though the ongoing conflict and lack of access to key areas has made it impossible to develop a fully detailed and comprehensive picture of all that Daesh is doing and all that it has done.”

He did not say how such a declaration would affect US involvement in areas controlled by Isis.

The announcement came amid mounting international pressure to declare the acts against Christians and other religious minorities as genocide.

Displaced people from minority Yazidi sect
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Displaced people from minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards Syrian border in August 2014. Photograph: Rodi Said/Reuters

Last month, the European parliament unanimously backed a resolution to label the atrocities as genocide. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Republican candidate Ted Cruz have also said they consider the acts genocide.

Barack Obama has hesitated to make such a declaration, though he has spoken about the “brutal atrocities” committed against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities.

Last year, speaking about the Middle East, Pope Francis said: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place.”

Organisations which monitor religious persecution have warned that Christianity is in danger of being wiped out in the Middle East. Welcoming Kerry’s statement, Lisa Pearce of the global NGO Open Doors said: “It’s clear that the region is being purged of Christians and there are clear elements of religious cleansing. It’s easy to see why many people including the Pope and European Parliament have called their actions genocide.”

In his announcement, Kerry said that Shia Muslims, Christians and Yazidis were targets of genocide, but also said Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities experienced crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing at the hands of Isis.

It is not entirely clear why Kerry made the distinction between religious and ethnic groups, but Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, suggested that it had to do with qualitative differences in how each group has been targeted.

“All of these groups have experienced ethnic cleansing and war crimes, it’s really though the Shia, the Yazidi and the Christian that have experienced I think a more systematic targeting based very specifically on their group identity,” Hudson said.

“There has been qualitative differences on the ground between how certain groups have been treated, in one respect,” Hudson said, adding that Isis has treated everyone “somewhat the same in the sense of they’ve just gone in and cleansed entire areas.”

Kerry’s declaration came the same week the US House voted 383-0 in favor of classifying the atrocities as a genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities.

The House resolution said that Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities “have been murdered, subjugated, forced to emigrate and suffered grievous bodily and psychological harm, including sexual enslavement and abuse, inflicted in a deliberate and calculated manner in violation of the laws of their respective nations, the laws of war, laws and treaties forbidding crimes against humanity”.

But some have hesitated to use the word genocide out of fear of playing into a perception of a “Christian crusade” against Islam. Others say there are simply too many unknowns. Accurate data on the killing of Christians and members of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria by Isis is impossible to obtain.

The UN 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide states: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” listing killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy the group in whole or in part, preventing births and the forcible transfer of children.

The convention compels nations that recognize genocide to prevent and punish those responsible, but intervention is not mandatory, rather it is how the declaration has been interpreted in the decades since it was enacted.

Further, the legal and policy architecture of the genocide convention is predicated on the idea that states or countries commit this crime, but this declaration challenges that assumption, said Hudson.

“Now that we’re acknowledging that Isis, a non-state group, has the power and the intention to commit this crime, it represents a very new challenge to how we treat terrorist groups and what our policy is for combatting it, because it’s not simply about defeating Isis now, it’s also about holding them for accountable for these crimes,” Hudson said.

US-led airstrike in Kobani Syria
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Heavy smoke rises following an airstrike by the US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and Isis militants. Photograph: Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

The US has already conducted airstrikes in Syria and deployed special forces troops to Syria, Iraq and Libya to target Isis militants.

The international community still carries collective guilt over its failure to recognise the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days.

The last time the US declared genocide was in 2004, when then secretary of state, Colin Powell, said the acts of killing and destruction in Darfur were genocide.

International law experts said Kerry’s declaration that Isis was committing genocide in the Middle East would be politically influential but would not in itself trigger any formal war crimes investigation.

Rodney Dixon QC, of Temple Garden Chambers, an expert in international law said: “The International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over the territories of those countries that have signed up to it. Neither Iraq nor Syria have done so.

“However an allegation of genocide could be considered by the United Nations Security Council which could then decide to refer the situation to the ICC if it is deemed to affect international peace and security. That was done in the cases of Sudan and Libya.

“Another way the ICC could consider action against Islamic State is if the acts took place on the territory of a country that has signed up, for example France where the Bataclan massacre took place, or if nationals of States who are parties to the ICC are perpetrating crimes even on territories that are not signed up.”

Mark Ellis, executive director of the London-based International Bar Association, said: “The US has previously been reluctant to engage with the debate on genocide. By elevating this to crimes of genocide it will focus the international community’s attention of accountability.

“This may also assist other states to focus on the responsibility of all countries to help to bring to justice those who have comitted these crimes. The Genocide Convention does not have universal jurisdiction but if [the US] designates something as genocide it forces the international community to respond more aggressively to the problem.”

At the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the office of the prosecutor said: “The decision on whether to initiate an investigation as well as the selection of cases within a situation, is for the prosecutor to decide following a preliminary examination to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.”

The court’s intervention is normally triggered by a referral from a state, the UN security council, “a non-state party accepting jurisdiction of the ICC” or the prosecutor’s “initiating an investigation using his/her own powers where s/he believes crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the Court may have been committed.”

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US election 2016: Trump and Rubio row over Islam ‘hate’

US election 2016: Trump and Rubio row over Islam ‘hate’

Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio has attacked Donald Trump for saying that Islam hates America, in a televised debate in Miami.

Mr Rubio, who faces a do-or-die contest in Florida on Tuesday, said Islam had a problem with radicalisation but said that many Muslims were proud Americans.

“Presidents can’t just say whatever they want. It has consequences,” he said, to cheers from the audience.

The four Republicans heeded pleas from party leaders to have a civil debate.

Unlike in the last TV event, which was littered with personal insults, this one was more substantive with a focus on policy.

“So far, I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here,” Mr Trump observed at one point.

But on the issue of Islam, there was clear distance between Mr Trump and the others. Mr Trump stood by comments he made earlier in the day when he said “Islam hates us, there’s a tremendous hatred”, and railed against political correctness.

But Mr Rubio said: “I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m interested in being correct.”


Analysis: Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Miami

It’s now clear that the remaining candidates in the Republican field have run out of ideas on how to stop Donald Trump’s march to the Republican nomination.

In early debates the top-tier candidates largely ignored the New York billionaire, hoping he’d self-destruct on his own. In the past few showdowns, they’ve gone after him relentlessly.

Now, in this 12th event, they started by avoiding confrontation, then prodded him only ever-so-gently.

“I can’t believe how civil it’s been up here,” Mr Trump said at one point.

Given that Mr Trump has a lead in convention delegates and is ahead in many of the states set to vote on Tuesday, a fireworks-free debate is nothing but good news for the front-runner.

While Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tried to draw contrasts with Mr Trump on issues like foreign policy, trade protectionism and his reliance on anti-Islamic rhetoric, the enthusiasm just isn’t there anymore. Mr Cruz, in particular, launched most of his barbs with sighs and head-shaking resignation, rather than ferocity.

This race isn’t over yet, but Thursday night’s proceedings show that – barring some sort of massive upheaval – the end is likely in sight.

Read Anthony’s analysis in full

 


All three of Mr Trump’s rivals distanced themselves from Mr Trump’s statement in December that in the fight against terrorist “you have to take out their families”.

“We’ve never targeted innocent civilians and we’re not going to start now” Mr Cruz said.

When Mr Trump was challenged on the legality of targeting civilians, he said that America had to be able to fight on “an equal footing”.

“We have to obey the laws, but we have to expand those laws”, he said.

On Tuesday five large states will vote for presidential candidate in each party, with Ohio Governor John Kasich and Mr Rubio, a Florida senator, under pressure to win their home states.

Marco Rubio and Donald Trump

Mr Trump picked up a key endorsement of Ben Carson, who last week dropped out of the race before the debate.

Debate highlights:

  • Mr Trump reaffirmed his opposition to H1-B visa programme, which allows US firms to employ highly skilled foreigners, saying “it’s bad for our workers”
  • Mr Rubio said he would delay retirement until 68 to help address the $150bn social security shortfall
  • And he accused Mr Trump’s numbers of “not adding up” because he said he could save social security by eliminating waste
  • Mr Cruz said he was going to build a wall, triple the border control and end welfare benefits for undocumented
  • Mr Trump said he would “make education great” and that former Republican candidate Ben Carson would be involved
  • And calling Vladimir Putin “strong” did not mean he was endorsing him as a good leader, said Mr Trump
  • Mr Kasich disagreed with Mr Rubio, who said he did not believe in manmade climate change

The candidates also clashed over President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba next week.

Mr Rubio, whose parents were Cuban immigrants, said he was opposed to efforts to restore relations until Cuba improved its human rights record.

But Mr Trump said he was not opposed to a US-Cuba deal, but it should be on better terms for the US.

The other Cuban-American candidate on the stage, Mr Cruz, accused Mr Trump of supporting the Obama-Clinton policy on Cuba

Islamic State commander Omar Shishani targeted in US strike in Syria

Islamic State commander Omar Shishani targeted in US strike in Syria

The US military says it targeted a top commander of so-called Islamic State in an air strike in Syria last week.

An initial assessment suggested Tarkhan Batirashvili, a Georgian known as Omar Shishani, was likely killed along with 12 other militants, officials said.

The strike took place on Friday near the north-eastern town of Shaddadi, where Shishani had reportedly been sent to bolster local IS forces.

There was no immediate confirmation of his death from IS or its supporters.

The US had offered a $5m (£3.5m) reward for Shishani, who it declared a specially designated global terrorist in September 2014.

Maria Sharapova lawyers seek meldonium ban of less than a year

Maria Sharapova’s legal team have said they intend to seek a ban of less than a year over her positive test for meldonium.

The world No7 is expected to face suspension for a minimum of two years under anti-doping regulations but her lawyers intend to argue for a much shorter ban and believe a period of one year or less is possible.

“Maria and I are looking at all our options,” said John Haggerty, Sharapova’s lawyer, in the New York Times. But he declined to comment, citing confidentiality, on whether Sharapova had listed meldonium on doping control forms when she had given samples in the past.

Sharapova’s legal team hope the precedents set in the 2013 cases of Victor Troicki and Marin Cilic – who each had bans imposed by an International TennisFederation-appointed panel reduced on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport – could minimise her suspension.

Troicki had a doping ban reduced from 18 to 12 months and Cilic’s term was cut from nine months to four. The Cilic ruling, according to the American sports lawyer Paul Greene, established a precedent for judging degrees of fault on a player’s part. No date has yet been fixed for Sharapova’s hearing.

Greene added that there was also the possibility of applying retrospectively for a therapeutic-use exemption for meldonium, which would be based on Sharapova’s long-term medical use. If approved, it could absolve her. Sharapova said she had been taking the drug since 2006 to treat a range of conditions, including indicators of diabetes and irregular electrocardiogram results.

Haggerty also said that it was only one of several drugs Sharapova was prescribed at the time. “I think there’s a misunderstanding that Maria took mildronate [the name by which Sharapova knew meldonium] and only mildronate, and that was to address all of her medical conditions,” he said. “She took mildronate and a number of other medicines.”

Questions have also been asked of Sharapova’s response after it emerged that five different communications were sent to athletes by the World Anti-Doping Authority in December last year informing them that meldonium would be banned from 1 January.

A statement from her management team said: “Maria has already acknowledged she should have known. She makes no excuses for missing it.”

Nancy Reagan, former first lady dies

Nancy Reagan, former first lady dies

The former first lady Nancy Reagan has died, at the agge of 94.She was married to President Ronald Reagan, who served in White House from 1980 to 1988. A official statement from ‘The Ronald Reagan Library’ said: ” Nancy David Reaga, former first lady of the United States, died this morning at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94.The cause of her death was congestive heart failure.”

Reagan endured a difficult start to her time in the White House but, like her husband, came to be revered, particularly in the Republican party and among conservatives in general.

Ronald Reagan died in 2014, at the age of 93 and after years of declining health.