By Susan Crabtree | Washington Free Beacon
President Trump has issued a White House directive forcing the State Department and USAID to bypass the United Nations and stop its “ineffective” relief efforts aimed at helping Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and other persecuted religious minorities, and instead to provide the assistance either directly or through “faith-based groups.”
Vice President Mike Pence, in a speech at the In Defense of Christians annual Solidarity Dinner highlighting the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, announced the directive and lambasted the United Nations, arguing the international body has “often failed to help the most vulnerable communities, especially religious minorities.”
“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence said.
“The United States will work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith,” he said. “This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need.”
The White House decision is at least six months in the making and comes after several lawmakers and human rights activists have repeatedly argued their case to top officials at the State Department and USAID, which have resisted any change to their “religion-blind” policy of channeling most of the aid money to the United Nations.
That policy, the two U.S. agencies have argued, is “needs-based” and does not give priority to Christians and Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq, even though both the Obama and the Trump administrations have publicly declared that both groups, as well as Shiite Muslims and others, have suffered genocide at the hand of ISIS.
Pence said the United Nations has repeatedly denied funding requests from faith-based groups “with proven track records” working most directly with Christians in Iraq to help provide basic necessities.
“Those days are over,” he said. “Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly.”
Pence said the plight of Christians in Iraq and the Middle East more broadly is dire, and that they are on the verge of extinction in northern Iraq, an area where Christian communities have thrived for thousands of years.
ISIS murders and kidnappings have decimated the Christian population in Iraq, which numbered between 800,000 and 1.4 million in 2002 and is below 250,000 now, according to human rights groups.
Pence also repeatedly referred to ISIS and other extremist Muslim terrorist groups as “radical Islamic terrorism” and held them responsible for the genocide against Christians and other religious minorities.
“Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are: vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the gospel of Christ,” he said. “And so too does this president know who and what has perpetrated these crimes, and he calls them by name: radical Islamic terrorists.”
Catholic charities and activists who have spent years urging the Obama administration and now Trump administration to better assist Christians, Yazidis, and other minority communities in Iraq cheered the move and Pence’s strong words.
“A year ago the United States used the right word to describe what was happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. That word was genocide. Tonight, those words were put into action,” said Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus.
“For almost two years, the K of C has warned that Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East have been falling through the cracks in the aid system, and has been urging the United States government to provide aid directly to genocide-targeted communities. We are pleased that tonight, the administration has promised to do just that.”
Anderson added that the “real impact” the new Trump policy would have to help Christians in the Middle East and the survival of minority communities “cannot be underestimated.”
Other activists who helped chronicle the genocide against religious minority communities in Iraq also applauded the move.