We vowed to help persecuted religious minorities — it’s time to act

We vowed to help persecuted religious minorities — it’s time to act
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The capacity of the United States to affect and influence action remains unrivalled in the world. This unique position means even a modest commitment to a cause can lead to a tremendous impact.

While the current political climate is not yielding agreement, congeniality or consensus, there is one issue the Trump administration, House and Senate — regardless of party affiliation — are in lock-step: The need to protect and aid religious minorities in the Middle East. 

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Genocide has been declared, hearings have been held, bills have been passed and funds have been provided. Yet, little has changed for these most vulnerable people.

 

The last decade has witnessed a rapid decline — over 80 percent — of minority populations in Iraq and Syria. Since ISIS began its genocidal campaign, over 7,000 Christian, Yazidi and other minority women and girls have been taken captive. They are used as sex slaves, raped and tortured, sold times over, generating significant revenue for ISIS.

Then they are left to die. They are forced to watch the murder of their fathers, brothers and husbands. Those that survive endure unimaginable and debilitating trauma.

Since 2014, One Free World International has helped rescue over 600 women and girls from the deadly grip of ISIS‘ slavery. The organization helped a Yazidi family of three sisters with six children and resettled them in the West. Their story is harrowing. 

In 2014, their village was taken over by ISIS. Delveen, one of the young children, was forced to “marry” an ISIS member. But through her own bravery and wit she fled from her captors. She was just 10 at the time. Her mother was forced to watch the murder of her husband by ISIS militia. Meanwhile, her aunts were sold and ritualistically abused by ISIS captors. 

The plight of these victims and the desire to provide assistance across government to survivors like Delveen is well known. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceHow China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade Trump says he disagrees with 'send her back' chant Trump refers to Ocasio-Cortez as just 'Cortez' because it 'takes too much time' to say full name MORE has stated religious minorities are a priority: “In the Middle East and North Africa, anywhere terror strikes, America stands with those who are targeted and tormented for their belief, whether they’re Christian, Yazidi…or any other creed.”

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats What is Trump's Iran end game? MORE made it clear that “ISIS is responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) noted “These religious and ethnic minorities are at risk of soon becoming extinct in Iraq, unless we help them.” His Senate colleague and Foreign Relations Subcommittee Chairman Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Fla.) stated, “The hour is late and their continued presence in the lands they’ve inhabited since antiquity literally hang in the balance.” 

With the support of the Trump administration, the House and the Senate unanimously passed resolutions declaring genocide. This is important legislation. H.Con.Res.75, championed by Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryHouse Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Nearly 40 percent of species worldwide face extinction — unless we reverse wildlife crisis MORE (R-Neb.) and passed by the House unanimously, puts Congress on the record as forcefully saying that the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria are in fact war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyLiberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown Laura Ingraham says her family won't wear Nike again after 'Betsy Ross flag' sneaker canceled MORE (R-La.) led a bipartisan Senate effort expressing the same. 

But unfortunately, little or none of the of the $1.4 billion Congress appropriated in fiscal 2017 for religious minorities and victims of genocide has led to desperately needed relief on the ground.

I commend Pence’s recent speech addressing the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East where he stated ‘This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need” and that persecuted religious minorities should “should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly." 

Yet, with all these statements, dozens of congressional hearings, legislation and appropriated funds, most survivors of ISIS persecution only see inaction and a dim future. Congress should pass H.R. 390, introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), which provides emergency relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria and enabling accountability for perpetrators of these war crimes. The Senate should confirm, and the administration should enable, an Ambassador for Religious Freedom with the authority to coordinate across the government the response to this ongoing tragedy and implement actions to protect and secure these populations.

This issue has a well-worn routine: pop up, fade away. Without daily and sustained leadership, it will fade from the agenda just as quickly as Christians and Yazidis fade from their native lands if action is not taken immediately. 

Rev. Majed El Shafie, a victim of torture and human rights advocate, is the Founder and President of One Free World International.