The U.S. State Department has "categorically" denied that the word "genocide" has been removed from official documents and speeches to describe the persecution of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria at the hands of the Islamic State terror group.
It was reported last week that human rights activists and attorneys familiar with State Department policies have claimed that top lawyers "are systematically removing the word 'genocide' to describe the Islamic State's mass slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic minorities" from official documents and speeches before they are delivered.
On Sunday, however, State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert maintained that the word "genocide" has not been removed from any of the official documents.
"I can tell you that that is categorically false," she told reporters. "We have looked through documents ourselves. The word 'genocide' is in fact in there. That has not been removed," she added.
According to international human rights lawyer Nina Shea, the decision to remove "genocide" from official documents was made by Richard Visek, who was appointed as the head of the State Department's Office of Legal Adviser by former President Barack Obama in October 2016.
The reports of the removal prompted Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, James Lankford, Roy Blunt, Ben Sasse, Cory Gardner and John Cornyn to write to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to seek clarification on the matter.
"When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yazidis, some of the Christians, we — the Secretary [Rex Tillerson] believes and he firmly believes that that was genocide," Nauert said at the press conference.
In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS was responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.
Activists and lawmakers had hoped that Kerry's declaration would help direct millions of dollars in U.S. relief funds to Christian, Yazidi and other persecuted religious minority communities.
In early May, Congress allocated more than $1.3 million in funds for refugee assistance and included a specific language in a legislation in an attempt to ensure that some of the money will be used to assist the persecuted minority communities. However, only $10 million was specifically earmarked for the Christians, Yazidis, and other persecuted minorities that have been deemed by the U.S. State Department as victims of genocide.
"There is congressional legislation ... that calls for the U.S. government to stop excluding the genocide-targeted minorities in Iraq. This has been a pervasive problem that this aid has not been getting to them," said Shea, who previously served as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) from 1999 to 2012.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, President Donald Trump's administration has until the end of September this year, when the stopgap funding bill runs out, to ensure that the funds will be distributed in the most effective way.