Enough is enough. Let's call this what it is — genocide

by Kyle Matthews and Riley Healy

March 24, 2016

The capital of Europe, Brussels, is reeling after a series of attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that left scores of civilians dead. The world is once again reminded just how deadly and violent this group of killers has become.  

But while the Canadian public and our elected leaders take notice of ISIS' atrocities in Western cities because they are reported on by major media outlets, what happens in remote villages and towns in the Middle East does not always penetrate our consciousness.

Unbeknownst to most Canadians is the fact that last week U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that ISIS “is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims."  

The United States government’s decision to use the word ‘genocide’ is due to the leadership of the U.S. Congress. Last week, the House of Representatives voted on a resolution urging President Obama to recognize ISIS’ actions as genocide that received unanimous support, 384 for and 0 against. Prior to that, last November, an open letter forged by both Republican and Democratic representatives was released that outlined the need to recognize the crimes committed by ISIS as genocide.

While the Canadian parliament just endorsed the Trudeau government’s new plan to fight ISIS, the time has come for our members of parliament to collectively debate the nature of the group’s crimes and determine whether Canada can do more to halt its horrific violence.

In the past, the Canadian parliament has recognized several genocides, albeit long after the killing had stopped. Those officially recognized include the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Holodomor (the Ukrainian famine) that lasted from 1932 to 1933, the Holocaust that lasted from 1933 to 1945, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the Bosnian ethnic cleansing that lasted from 1992 to 1995.

Like the U.S. Congress, Canadian parliamentarians have a history of leadership regarding these particular human rights violations. In 2010, Canada officially recognized April 23rd (Lester B. Pearson’s birth date) as the “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Mass Atrocities.” Each year Canadians gather to commemorate those who have suffered in the past and pledge to work towards preventing such atrocities from happening again.

Recognizing genocide after it has happened is one thing, but taking action to stop its recurrence is even more important. This is why past Liberal governments helped craft the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, which is a global commitment by nation states to be more proactive in stopping genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. 

It is important that Canadian members of parliament speak up on the true nature of ISIS’ atrocities and hold a vote in the House of Commons. Such an action would be very informative to all elected officials, regardless of party affiliation. They would learn, for example, that in 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report stating that “Attacks by ISIL (ISIS) and associated armed groups against civilians may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible genocide.” They would also hear that in 2015, Pope Francis warned everyone that “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide - and I stress the world genocide - is taking place, and it must end.” 

Last but not least, they would also learn that the European Parliament passed a resolution this past February condemning the actions of ISIS and labelling them as acts of genocide.

As a signatory of the Genocide Convention, Canada has a responsibility to show legislative leadership and act in a meaningful manner. This would position Canada as deserving a seat on the UN Security Council for taking a stronger stand against a trans-national group that is a threat to international peace and security, while also simultaneously working to protect minorities from extermination.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Azrad Lashkart

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