WASHINGTON, D.C.— Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) legislation to provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria, and hold ISIS perpetrators accountable—HR 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018—passed the House on Tuesday night and now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law, after over two years in the making.
“When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid to enable these people to survive–especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at-risk,” Smith stated on the House Floor before the vote. “HR 390 would ensure our actions match our words.” (Click here to read excerpts of Rep. Smith’s Floor remarks.)
Less than 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before ISIS swept through the region on its genocidal campaign. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Erbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. After the ISIS invasion, 60,000 Yazidis fled to Europe, and of the 550,000 Yazidis still in Iraq, 280,000 remain displaced and only 20 percent have been able to return to their historic homeland of Sinjar, according to the Yazdi organization Yazda. Those displaced will also need assistance to return to their homes.
Smith introduced the legislation in 2016 and again in 2017, with lead Democratic cosponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). “Tens of thousands of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria were targeted for genocide by ISIS between 2014 and 2017,” Rep. Eshoo said. “As survivors return to their homes and begin rebuilding their communities, the United States government must make it a priority to help families in need of assistance now, while ensuring the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity are held accountable. H.R. 390 will aid in these efforts and send a powerful message to these communities that we haven’t forgotten them. I thank Chairman Smith for his passionate leadership on this issue and I look forward to the President swiftly signing this legislation into law.”
Among other key provisions, H.R. 390 authorizes and directs the Administration to:
- Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minorities;
- Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee;
- Identify warning signs of deadly violence against religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq or Syria that have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes;
- Support entities conducting criminal investigation into ISIS perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq – including collecting and preserving evidence that links specific perpetrators to specific atrocity crimes and is usable in a range of courts; and
- Encourage foreign governments to add identifying information about suspected ISIS perpetrators to their security databases and security screening and to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators.
Smith introduced the legislation following a human rights mission he led to Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, in December of 2016 at the invitation of Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil. There the U.S. delegation met with genocide survivors, religious leaders, aid workers from the Archdiocese, and officials from the U.S., other governments and the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations.
Many Christian survivors of the ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria had reported receiving no aid from the U.S. or the UN, relying completely upon aid from donations of non-governmental organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need. The Trump Administration has focused on targeted religious and ethnic minorities whose survival is at risk, including Yezidis and Christians, under the leadership of Vice President Pence. This legislation provides the foundation for future appropriations and clear, detailed authority for the Executive Branch.
H.R. 390 was co-sponsored by members from both parties in the House, and leading faith-based groups and religious and human rights leaders support the bill, including Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yezidi survivor of ISIS slavery, and all four of the former Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, who span Republican and Democratic administrations. (Click here to see the full list of cosponsors and supportive groups.)
As chairman of the House global human rights subcommittee, Smith has held 10 hearings in whole or in part on the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. He has called attention to the atrocities committed by ISIS there, the lack of access that genocide victims there have to vital aid, and what the U.S. could be doing to ensure the safe return home of genocide survivors who wish to remain in their homeland.