James Foley. Steven Sotloff. David Haines. These are the now familiar names of Westerners executed by ISIS terrorists. But they are not ISIS’s only victims.
As I write, more than 800,000 Iraqis have fled their homes, and thousands of women and girls have been abducted throughout Iraq and Syria. In fact, the number of women missing due to ISIS far eclipses the number of schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria last spring.
Yesterday the Senate approved aid to help fight these extremists. But as Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the United States Commission on International and Religious Freedom, has said, “There will not be able to be an effective solution crafted without very direct” American engagement We can and should do more to help those suffering at the hands of terrorist organizations abroad.
Earlier this month, I, along with Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), joined Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski to launch the Senate Human Rights Caucus and bring public attention to ISIS’s egregious human rights violations and targeted persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, women and children, moderate Sunnis, and non-Sunni Muslims. The organization’s name, the Islamic State of Iraq and the al-Sham, is a misnomer. Make no mistake about it: ISIS is not a state—they are terrorists.
ISIS’s barbaric actions are unparalleled. Their actions are not random, but as the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Manal Omar pointed out, “frightfully strategic.” According to Human Rights Watch, ISIS’s actions are crimes against humanity due to the “scale and widespread systematic scope.” The briefing exposed systematic brutality being perpetrated by ISIS throughout Iraq and Syria by hearing from experts who recently returned from the region after meeting with family members of those who have disappeared.
Dr. Lantos Swett emphasized that “ISIL seeks to root out by any means necessary including forced conversions, mass torture and murder, any trace of thought, belief or identity that dares to contradict this extremist interpretation.” As part of its gruesome tactics, ISIS is engaging in a sophisticated campaign of sexual violence against women and children. Reports estimate that over 1,500 women and children, some as young as seven years old, have been abducted by ISIS and forced into sexual slavery.
I was particularly struck by Bishop Benjamin’s testimony. He had recently returned from a humanitarian mission to Iraq and was frightened by what he saw. “What I have seen in Iraq should concern all you here. It is a human tragedy,” he warned.
As ISIS gains strength from increased funds, swelling membership, territorial gains and a campaign of brutality and persecution, it has become clear that the United States has the responsibility to act and must look at all options on the table to confront this threat. Assistant Secretary Malinowski underscored that “ISIL is not self-limiting. It won’t exhaust itself; it won’t draw-up at a certain point and decide that it has gone far enough or been sufficiently barbaric; it will always want more towns and regions to conquer, more lives to ravage and destroy.”
You can watch a summary of the panel discussion above or read the panelists’ full statements here:
Assistant Secretary Malinowski
Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s Chair (Coming Soon)
Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch (Coming Soon)
Manal Omar, acting vice president for the Middle East and Africa Center at USIP
Bishop Mar Paulus Benjamin, Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East
Senator Coons and I formed the Senate Human Rights Caucus in the spirit of The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, originally created by former Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and John Porter (R-Ill.) in 1983. Later re-named the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, its members have been working to defend and advocate for internationally recognized human rights in a nonpartisan manner for more than 30 years. The Senate Human Rights Caucus will continue the Commission’s legacy by highlighting and defending key human rights issues throughout the world.
In order to raise awareness on specific violations and issues, the Caucus will hold timely briefings on key topics, as well as periodic events to boost awareness and spearhead solutions to worldwide injustices and abuses. In bringing Congressional-level attention to global human rights issues that the public may be unaware of, the Caucus will be able to provide a voice to the voiceless and work to provide a lifeline to those suffering at the hand of repressive regimes.
Introducing The Senate Human Rights Caucus
Coons, Kirk launch Senate Human Rights Caucus
Inaugural Hearing: ISIS Violations of Women, Children and Religious Minorities in Iraq and Syria
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today launched the Senate Human Rights Caucus with an inaugural discussion on ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the al-Sham), and its growing threats to minorities, women and children in the Middle East. Along with the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, the Senators were joined by Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pascale Warda with the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, Manal Omar from the United States Institute of Peace, Bishop Mar Paulus Benjamin from the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, and Sarah Margon from Human Rights Watch.
The expert participants, along with Senators Kirk and Coons, highlighted the growing threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In recent months, ISIS has systematically violated human rights, including ethnic cleansing and other atrocities targeting women, moderate Sunnis, non-Sunni Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Ahead of President Obama’s address to the nation this evening regarding ISIS’s global terrorist threat, the participants outlined and discussed the human rights atrocities that are also unfolding and potential policy options for Congress and the Administration.
“The strength of ISIS in the Middle East is based on the fear and abuse of innocents,” Senator Kirk said. “The Senate Human Rights Caucus will be a voice for the voiceless and oppressed around the world by bringing in the top experts and champions of those putting their lives on the line for democracy and freedom. My partner, Senator Coons and I are grateful to Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski for being here to launch this event, in addition to other panelists for helping to bring awareness to the atrocities that ISIS continues to unleash in the Middle East.”
“America is at its best when we lead with our values and a foreign policy that prioritizes human rights,” said Senator Coons. “Too often, those suffering under tyranny and oppression are forced to suffer in silence. The Senate Human Rights Caucus will amplify the voices of victims around the world and ensure that our policy responses reflect our highest values. I’m proud to co-chair this bipartisan caucus with Senator Kirk and look forward to working together to protect the rights and dignity of all.”
The Senate Human Rights Caucus was formed by Senators Kirk and Coons in the spirit of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, originally created by former Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and John Porter (R-Ill.) in 1983. Later re-named the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, its members have been working to defend and advocate for internationally recognized human rights in a nonpartisan manner for more than 30 years. In this vein, the Senate Human Rights Caucus will continue the Commission’s legacy by highlighting and defending key human rights issues throughout the world.
In order to raise awareness on specific violations and issues, the Caucus will hold monthly staff-level briefings on key topics, as well as periodic Member-level events to boost awareness and spearhead solutions to worldwide injustices and abuses. In bringing Congressional-level attention to global human rights issues that the public may be unaware of, the Caucus will be able to provide a voice to the voiceless and work to provide a lifeline to those suffering at the hand of repressive regimes.