WASHINGTON – State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday that media reports claiming the agency is systematically scrubbing references to Islamic State “genocide” are “categorically false.”
“I can tell you I have seen an article that indicates that the United States has allegedly taken that word – the State Department, in fact, an article said, has taken that word ‘genocide’ out of some documents, and I can tell you that that is categorically false,” Nauert said when asked about the reports by Breitbart News. “We have looked through documents ourselves.”
“The word ‘genocide’ is, in fact, in there,” Nauert said. “That has not been removed.”
“When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yezidis, some of the Christians, we – the Secretary [Rex Tillerson] believes, and he firmly believes that that was genocide, okay?” Nauert said. “That’s all I’m going to have to say about that, okay?”
“I hope I’ve been clear,” Nauert said.
Reports this week suggested that State Department officials had begun removing the word “genocide” from texts regarding the Islamic State’s attempts to eradicate Christian, Yazidi, and other communities in Iraq and Syria, which would have legal implications for those fleeing the violence. One media report claimed that Richard Visek, appointed by President Obama to head the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser in October 2016, led an effort to remove “genocide” from official documents.
There is no evidence on the State Department website suggesting the removal of references to genocide. One report titled “The Global Coalition – Working to Defeat ISIS” does mention genocide and explicitly states that holding the Islamic State accountable for genocide remains a priority for the department.
“Internationally, coalition partners are exploring ways to also hold ISIS members accountable for international crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity with international investigative mechanisms,” the document states.
“On March 14,  Congress passed, by a historic, unanimous 393–0 vote, House Continuing Resolution 75, recognizing the ongoing genocide of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities under ISIS,” the National Review reported. “Seven days later, Secretary [of State John] Kerry followed suit.
“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions,” Kerry said at the time. “We must recognize what Daesh is doing to its victims.”
Representatives from the religious minority community in the Middle East strongly supported the Obama administration’s decision to finally concede that the Islamic State is committing genocide against religious minorities.
Leaders of the affected religious minorities spoke to Breitbart News last year about the declaration. “The Turkmen Rescue Foundation (TRF) stands in solidarity with the Assyrian Christians and Yezidis and considers this declaration an important step to relieve the suffering of all appressed communities in Iraq and Syria,” Dr. Ali Akram Al Bayati, a Shiite Turkmen and TRF chief, told Breitbart News.
“Finally, we see a light shining for our future,” Fr. Behnam Benoka, a Syriac Catholic priest from Iraq, told Breitbart News, but months later expressed frustration that the declaration didn’t seem to be having the desired effect on the ground.
“Since the US declaration of ‘genocide,’ we are still waiting for a determined act in order to help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and protecting them before they flee thoroughly from the country,” Benoka added. “There is no more time to lose, because entire ethnic-religious communities of the most ancient Iraqi populations are facing the danger of extermination, the alternative will be a big loss for the humanitarian heritage.”
The Obama administration resisted the genocide designation for years until the pressure from Congress and human and religious rights advocated grew too strong to ignore.
Kerry noted at the time that his designation doesn’t carry much weight, but that he hoped it was clear “the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes committed against them.”