Human Rights

Genocide Working Group

Mapping Genocide:  Using data to look backwards for prosecution and forwards to predict and prevent.

What if it were possible to bring the tools of data analytics to the crime of genocide?  To collect, organize and visualize data that would ensure the chain of custody required of legal evidence, while at the same time predicting potential crises before the horrors of genocide could be unleashed?

That is exactly what IPR's colleagues at the The Center for Data Analytics at the University of New Haven, and the Knights of Columbus are pursuing. Their focus is primarily on war torn areas of Northern Iraq that were beset by ISIS from 2014 to 2017, but their platform can be applied anywhere in the world. The attacks in Iraq were intended not just to create a caliphate but to wipe out minority religious communities, including Shia and Yezidi peoples, and entire cities, towns and villages of Christians who have made the Nineveh Plain their home since the earliest days of Christianity.

Official numbers of these religious minorities in Iraq were hard to come by during the time of Saddam Hussein, but it has been estimated that Christians numbered about 1.5 million. The Iraqi Kurdistan Christianity project, begun in 2011, was started  by Professors Robert Destro, James Quirk, Marshall Breger and Carol O'Leary, along with mapping expert Rich Michael of Michael-Moran Associates, LLC., to gather demographic information on the many communities of Christians in the region, including Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Melkite and Armenian Christians. Many of these people had been under siege by a rising tide of Salafi jihadist terror in the region after the U.S. invasion in 2003, and reliable information was needed on who was where, and what was happening to them.  The project conducted extensive interviews and rigorous GIS (geographic information systems) surveys in the region, documenting the bombings, killings and other attacks by Sunni Islamic fighters, as it counted and located communities.  Sadly, by the time of the ouster of ISIS, and the near destruction of the city of Mosul, the count of Christians in the country was said to be as low as 250,000.

The Genocide Working Group (GWG) succeeded in getting a genocide declared in ISIS-controlled Iraq, but after such a declaration, what then?  Professor Robert Destro, with a lifetime of professional work supporting religious freedom, says, "Our enemy is a criminal network, not Islam.  Al Qaeda has more in common with narco-terrorist groups who seek to control whole regions in South America than it has with any legitimate religious movement.  Our goal is to take down that network, from the head-cutters to the bankers who launder the money, to the sheiks who provide it, and the Imams who incite the violence."

The GWG has continued to push for ways to bring the leaders of ISIS and Al-Queda to justice, both in Iraq and in other areas of the world, and digital techniques are at the forefront of this effort.  Using apps in the field with trained operators, evidence can be geo-located, tagged with crime metadata, and interviews, photographs and video can be encrypted, uploaded, stored on secure sites and made available to prosecutors.  Equally important, this kind of information-gathering and analysis can help researchers keep an eye on hot-spots around the globe as patterns emerge that point toward genocide.


Digital platforms like this can encourage collaboration between policy makers, humanitarians and law enforcement.  In an era of big-data, the hope is that violence, crimes against humanity, even genocide, can be prevented.

Robert Destro at the In Defense of Christians press conference held to generate support for the genocide resolution.

Carl A. Anderson, Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight, with the Genocide Report presented to the U.S. State Dept.

Mar Mattai, near Mosul in Northern Iraq, is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in existence.



What began as a group of volunteers grew into a 'Genocide Working Group' that worked closely with Congress to make real, continuing  progress on the  genocide issue."                             

 Robert Destro, Dir., IPR

The Institute for Policy Research, as part of a Genocide Working Group (GWG), was instrumental in convincing the U.S. State Department in 2016 to make a formal declaration of genocide against ISIS in Iraq. The religiously inspired killings of Christians, Yezidi and Shia Muslims, and the world's slow response, brought together a group of experts in law, human rights, genocide studies and religious freedom. Spurred to action by the 2014 invasion of Iraq by ISIS, the goal of GWG was to help these religious minorities and to convince the State Department that a genocide was taking place.

The group included Professor Robert A. Destro of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, and representatives from the Knights of Columbus; In Defense of Christians; Genocide Watch; and the Center for Relgious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, all of whom were moved by the plight of these Christians and other religious communities.


The group's deep ties to the Christians in northern Iraq sprang from a project called the Iraqi Kurdistan Christianity Project that began in 2011 to tell the story of Al Queda's persecution of the Christians of the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, and to introduce these eastern Christians to their brothers and sisters in the west.

Representative Jeff Fortenberry, (R) of Nebraska and Anna Eshoo (D) of California, were instrumental in working with the Genocide Working Group to get a genocide resolution passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. The first draft of the resolution was written by Professor Robert Destro.  Sen. Bill Cassidy (R) of Louisiana and Sen.Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia introduced a similar measure in the Senate.  

Resistance at the State Department to the use of the "G" word was fierce, and prompted a fact-finding mission to Iraq, funded by the Knights of Columbus. This trip gathered evidence of 1600 incidents of ISIS' intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the minority religious communities in the region. ISIS was killing and kidnapping, forcing religious conversions, and trying to erase every sign of Christianity in communities that had endured in Iraq for nearly 2000 years.

On March 14, 2016, the House resolution passed unanimously, 393 to 0, which raised the political stakes for the State Department. Three days later, convinced by the evidence in the formal report delivered to him, Secretary of State John Kerry made a formal declaration that a genocide was occurring.

The Genocide Working Group at the National Press Club in 2016.

Representatives Fortenberry and Eshoo were instrumental in getting the genocide resolution passed in the House in 2016.

On March 14, 2016, the House resolution passed unanimously, 393 to 0. ... Three days later, convinced by the evidence in the report delivered to him, Secretary of State John Kerry made a formal declaration that a genocide was occurring. Home
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