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Smith: Offer Victims of Genocide in Iraq and Syria a Lifeline

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today called for swift passage of his Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R. 5961), bipartisan legislation that provides relief to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq and Syria, and accountability for perpetrators.

“Members of vulnerable religious and ethnic groups in Iraq and Syria – including Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims – are being directly targeted by ISIS in its vicious campaign to exterminate ancient religious communities,” said Chairman Smith. “How long can we continue to stand aside while innocent victims face genocide, rape, and other heinous crimes? We must offer the victims of these atrocities a lifeline, and ensure that the perpetrators are punished.”

Among its key provisions, H.R. 5961 directs the U.S. Administration to:

  • Create the “Priority Two” (“P-2”) designation for persecuted religious and ethnic groups in Iraq or Syria;
  • Support entities that are investigating, documenting, and prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq and Syria;
  • Close gaps in U.S. law so that the American justice system can prosecute foreign perpetrators present in the U.S., as well as any Americans who commit such crimes;
  • Encourage foreign countries to add identifying information about suspected perpetrators  of such crimes in their security databases and security screening;
  • Identify warning signs of deadly violence against genocide survivors and other vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq or Syria;
  • Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force survivors to flee their homes;
  • Support entities that are effectively serving genocide survivors in-country, including faith-based entities.

On Thursday, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing titled “Atrocities in Iraq and Syria: Relief for Survivors and Accountability for Perpetrators.”

Witnesses include:

  • Chris Engels, Deputy Director, Commission for International Justice and Accountability
  • David Scheffer, Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues
  • Steve Rasche, Legal Counsel and Director of Resettlement Programs, Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil
  • Bill Canny, Executive Director, Migration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus

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