U.S Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday declared that violence by Islamic State against religious minorities was genocide, saying the United States would do everything it could to hold the militant group accountable.
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"In my judgment Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups ... under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia (Shi'ite) Muslims," Kerry said in a statement to reporters, using another term for Islamic State.
"Naming these crimes is important, but what is essential is to stop them," Kerry said.
Kerry's finding will not obligate the United States to take additional action against ISIS militants and does not prejudge any prosecution against its members, officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ahead of the announcement.
The determination marks only the second time a U.S. administration has declared that a genocide was being committed during an ongoing conflict.
The first was in 2004, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region constituted genocide. Powell reached that determination amid much lobbying from human rights groups, but only after State Department lawyers advised him that it would not - contrary to legal advice offered to previous administrations - obligate the United States to act to stop it.
In that case, the lawyers decided that the 1948 UN Convention against genocide did not require countries to prevent genocide from taking place outside their territory. Powell instead called for the UN Security Council to appoint a commission to investigate and take appropriate legal action if it agreed with the genocide determination.
The officials said Kerry's determination followed a similar finding by department lawyers.
Although the United States is involved in military strikes against ISIS and has helped prevent some incidents of ethnic cleansing, notably of Yazidis, some advocates argue that a genocide determination would require additional U.S. action.
In making his decision, Kerry weighed whether the militants' targeting of Christians and other minorities meets the definition of genocide, according to the UN Convention: "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
His determination, however, does not carry the legal implication of a verdict of guilt or conviction on genocide charges, the officials said. Such decisions will be left to international or other tribunals.
In a bid to push the review process, several groups released reports last week documenting what they said is clear evidence that the legal standard has been met.
The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, which had applauded Monday's House resolution, said they hoped the delay would ensure that Kerry makes the determination.
"There is only one legal term for this, and that is genocide," said Knights of Columbus chief Carl Anderson.
The groups' 280-page report identified by name more than 1,100 Christians who they said had been killed by IS. It detailed numerous instances of people kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery and driven from their homes, along with the destruction of churches.