The US Government says that the Islamic State has committed genocide. That announcement came from US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, saying that the State Department found ISIS routinely killed Christians, Shiite Muslims, and other minorities in areas of its control.
But some critics have asked the US government why it took so long in the first place to label the terrorist group’s actions genocidal. And will this declaration do anything in how the US responds to the ISIS threat?
Richard Stoll, a professor of political science at Rice University, specializes in international conflict and American defense policy. He says the United Nations has defined, with specifics, what genocides means in international criminal court.
“It doesn’t simply mean killing a lot of people,” Stoll says. “It means you are trying to destroy a particular national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Part of it is you legitimately do not know, necessarily, when something starts, if that’s what the aggressor is doing.”
Stoll also says although no law obligates the U.S. to mitigate or end genocide, the United States has been reluctant to attach that term to actions by other groups. “We’ve only done it six times in our history,” he says.
Because the term was coined in 1944 to describe the German government’s treatment of Jews, labeling actions “genocide” carries weight.
“Once you say, ‘We declare this to be genocide’ – then people say, ‘Well, if it’s that serious, why aren’t you doing more to stop it?” Stoll says.
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.