Kerry's statement comes on the same day that a congressional deadline urging the Obama administration to make its own judgement was set to expire. Earlier this week, the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution 393-0 that actions taken by ISIS against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute genocide.
"My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgement, Dae'sh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims," Kerry said from the State Department briefing room, using a local moniker to describe ISIS. "Da'esh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions in what it says, what it believes and what it does."
The U.S. military returned to Iraq in August of 2014 to halt the ISIS massacre of the Yazidis, an ancient ethnic minority living in the Sinjar area. That intervention led to an anti-ISIS coalition and the ongoing military effort. ISIS, comprised mostly of Sunni Muslims, has targeted Shia Muslims, a group it labels as disbelievers.
"One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group in whole or in part," Kerry said. "Its entire world view is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology."
"The fact is that Da'esh kills Christians because they are Christians, the Yazidis because they are Yazidis, [and] Shia because they are Shia," he added.
It's unclear what impact such a declaration from the United States will have. Although there are legal definitions associated with the term, there are no legal obligations to enforce a response. The last time a U.S. administration declared genocide during an ongoing conflict was in 2004 when Colin Powell determined it applied to the actions of the Sudanese government Darfur. That, however, did not compel the U.S. to act.
Kerry did not indicate any policy shift in the ongoing U.S.-led effort to degrade and defeat ISIS.