White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted Thursday that the Obama administration's hesitation to label the Islamic State's persecution of Christians and other religious minorities as "genocide" is because of the legal ramifications behind such a designation.
As hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities have been forced out of their homes in Iraq and Syria or have been slaughtered for their faith during IS' rise to power, human rights and religious freedom advocates have been calling on the Obama administration for several months to label the situation as a "genocide" — arguing that the terminology has an impact in the manner on how urgently the global community responds to end the crisis.
IS has become notorious for its brutal executions, kidnappings and selling of religious minority girls to jihadis through sex slave markets. According to a recent report by the United Nations, over 18,800 people have been killed in Iraq since 2014, while over 3,500 women and children remain captured as slaves.
The Blaze reports that Earnest was asked on Thursday by a reporter why the administration won't call IS' repeated crimes against humanity and violations of international law as genocide.
Earnest responded by saying that the hesitation to use the genocide designation all comes down to "legal ramifications." However, Earnest assured that "administration lawyers" were looking into the possibility of a genocide designation.
"There are lawyers considering whether or not that term can be properly applied in this scenario," Earnest said. "What is clear and what is undeniable and what the president has now said twice in the last 24 hours is that we know that there are religious minorities in Iraq and in Syria, including Christians, that are being targeted by ISIL terrorists because of their religion and that attack on religious minorities is an attack on all people of faith and it is important for all of us to stand up and speak out about it."
"This is an open question and one that continues to be considered by administration lawyers," Earnest continued, as he again went on about the president's call for people of faith to stand up for oppressed religious minorities.
Earnest's explanation comes after the European Parliament voted unanimously on Thursday in France to label the human rights crisis as genocide.
"Genocide is an internationally recognized legal term and it is necessary to call for further steps such as a referral by the U.N. Security Council to the International Criminal Court in order to condemn and punish the perpetrators of genocide," Sophia Kuby, director of EU Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom International, told The Christian Post in a statement. "We hope that the resolution that the European Parliament adopted today will ultimately help to save lives."
On Jan. 13, The U.S. State Department's Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein asserted at an event at the National Press Club that even if the U.S. government had made the genocide distinction a year ago, it would have made no difference in how Obama administration's response to the situation.
"Had we a year ago made a determination about genocide crimes against humanity, it would have resulted in what we are doing [now]," Saperstein, who is a rabbi, said. "You phrase the question, 'Is there significance?' 'Is their importance?' We are doing what we would have done regardless of whether the designation had been made or not."
Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, told The Blaze that the administration's refusal to call IS' treatment of religious minorities genocide is based out of "political fear."
"If they don't think there is enough evidence of genocide against Christians and Yazidis, I'm not sure what they're waiting for," Weber said. "This is based on a political fear. There is moral and legal weight behind calling it genocide. Under the treaty, parties must prevent and punish genocide. This is the reason for the [Bill] Clinton administration's reluctance to act in Rwanda."
But even Clinton's wife, Hillary, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, believes there is enough evidence to label IS' atrocious crimes as genocide.
In November, it was reported that the Obama administration was strongly considering whether to designate IS' atrocities against Yazidis as acts of genocide but was going to leave Christians and other religious minorities out of the consideration. Although a Yahoo report indicated that an official announcement from Sec. of State John Kerry could have been made in the following weeks, no official Yazidi genocide designation has been made.
"This administration has worked hard to try to protect religious minorities who are being victimized by ISIL. There is no doubt that Christians are among those who have been and are being targeted," Earnest said. "As it relates to the specific use of this word — the decision to apply this term to this situation is an important one, it has significant consequences and it matters for a whole variety of reasons both legal and moral. But it doesn't change our response. The fact is that this administration has been aggressive even though that term has not been applied in trying to protect religious minorities who are victims or potential victims of violence."