By Patrick Goodenough
An Iraqi Christian refugee family. The U.S. government says ISIS atrocities against Christians and other minorities in areas under the terrorist group’s control amount to genocide. (Photo: Open Doors USA)
(CNSNews.com) – Seeking to establish what the Obama administration is doing in response to the genocide being waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) against Christians, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a lawsuit Tuesday, after the State Department failed to respond to earlier to Freedom of Information Act requests.
It’s been five months and 14 days since Secretary of State John Kerry declared, in response to a legislative requirement – and after months of advocacy from the ACLJ and others – that atrocities being carried out by ISIS against Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in the areas it controls constitutes genocide.
In that announcement, Kerry said the perpetrators must be held accountable, and added, “Naming these crimes is important. But what is essential is to stop them.”
Last July, the ACLJ sent FOIA requests to the State Department, asking for records that would indicate what action the administration is taking to respond to, or stop, the genocide.
The ACLJ said Tuesday the State Department had “ignored” the requests, thus prompting it to file a lawsuit aimed at forcing the department “to show what it has done to confront the ISIS genocide and protect the Christian victims and other religious minorities, or confirm that it hasn’t really done anything at all.”
Under U.S. law, federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days – which in this case would have been August 15.
The complaint filed with the District Court in Washington, D.C., said the State Department “has a reputation for flaunting and disregarding its public accountability and FOIA obligations.”
It said the department had not provided documents in response to the request, indicated when it would do so, or claimed a statutory exemption for the requested documents.
(Under the statute, exemptions may apply for classified information relating to foreign policy or national defense, trade secrets, personnel and medical files, etc.)
The FOIA requests sent to the State Department on July 18 sought records of officials discussing or referencing genocide against Christians in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere; or discussing or referencing department efforts or actions to stop or counter genocide, and provide relief to victims, among other things.
“This administration continues to refuse to acknowledge the enemy and won’t engage and eliminate ISIS – which continues its unabated genocide of Christians,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement.
“We participated in a concerted effort to pressure the Obama administration to finally recognize this slaughter and publicly recognize this eradication as ‘genocide.’ But what is the Obama administration doing to stop the genocide?”
The complaint filed Tuesday noted that the ACLJ, in letters to Kerry in May and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power in June, had urged the administration specifically to raise the ISIS genocide issue at an session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that was to run from June 13-July 1.
A subsequent State Department fact sheet outlining the achievements of that HRC session had made no reference to the issue being raised, however.
Neither had the U.S. representative to the HRC, Keith Harper, mentioned the words “genocide” or “Christians” in a statement on Syria which he delivered to the council on June 21. (Harper did refer to ISIS abuses, sexual violence, enslavement, and to Yazidis as victims of ISIS atrocities.)