Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryFBI Director Comey sought to reveal Russian election meddling last summer: report Congress, Trump need a united front to face down Iran One year ago today we declared ISIS atrocities as genocide MORE on Thursday said he believes the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is responsible for genocide.
It was the first time the United States has made such a proclamation since the war in Darfur, Sudan, in 2004.
"My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgement, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims," Kerry said, using a derogatory Arabic name for ISIS.
"Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions, and what it says, what it believes, by what it does," he added.
Congress had given the State Department until Thursday to decide whether the group's actions against the Yazidis and other groups were genocide.
Lawmakers were pushing for Kerry to do so sooner, but the State Department had said — as recently as Wednesday — that he was not at the point yet where he felt he had all the information and evidence needed to make a decision.
On Monday, the House unanimously voted on a resolution to express the sense of Congress that crimes perpetrated by ISIS against ethnic minorities should be considered genocide, and called on all governments and international organizations like the United Nations to label the violence in the same way.
On Thursday, Kerry acknowledged, "We have not been able to compile a complete record — I think that's obvious on its face. We don't have access to everywhere."
"But over the past months, we have conducted a review of the vast amount of information gathered by the State Department, by the intelligence community, by outside groups and my conclusion is based on that information and the nature of the acts reports."
Kerry said, however, he was not the ultimate authority of determining a genocide.
"Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and a formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal," he said.
"But the United States will 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.
Kerry said he hoped his statement would provide assurance to ISIS's victims, and galvanize others to oppose ISIS.
Kerry said the U.S. is also funding the investigation of mass graves, and supporting care for victims.
Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeff FortenberryThe Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan Trump's plan for safe zones in Syria necessary for the civil war's end A guide to the committees: House MORE (R-Neb.), who authored the House resolution, hailed Kerry's announcement.
"I commend Secretary Kerry and the State Department for making this important designation. The genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and others is not only a grave injustice to these ancient faith communities, it is an assault on human dignity and an attack on civilization itself. The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority," he said.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who introduced a companion resolution in the Senate, also praised Kerry's announcement.
"This is good news. The Administration made the right call by stating the obvious truth that ISIS is responsible for genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East," he said.
"Telling the truth and condemning genocide against those who seek to worship or not worship as they see fit is a small but important step to recovering a coherent American foreign policy. This decision does not end the atrocities but it does name them."
—Updated at 11:10 a.m.