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What's the significance of the State Department officially labeling ISIS atrocities 'genocidal'
The executive branch has only used the "genocide" label once before, to describe conflict in Darfur in the early 2000s. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
The U.S. Department of State has officially characterized acts perpetrated by ISIS as genocidal, using a label that the executive branch has only employed once before, during the crisis in Darfur more than a decade ago.

"I hope that my statement today will assure the victims that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them," Secretary of State John Kerry said during a press briefing.

Organizations like the U.S. National Holocaust Museum advocated for this move for months before the State Department's announcement, which came three days after the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to condemn ISIS' violence as genocide. However, it remains unclear whether the label will affect the government's action plan for the Middle East.

"Kerry's statement inspires a new set of questions. Chief among them: Now what?" The Atlantic reported. The Obama administration began targeting ISIS long before Thursday's announcement, which adds to confusion about the value of the "genocide" label.

The administration focused military action on ISIS-controlled areas in response to the group targeting religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims and orchestrating terrorist attacks like November's shootings in Paris. "The United States is already leading a coalition that is fighting the militants, and American aircraft have been bombing Islamic State leaders and fighters, its oil-smuggling operations and even warehouses where the group has stockpiled millions of dollars of cash," The New York Times reported.

President Obama has ordered these military moves without congressional approval, which likely won't come even though the two government branches now agree on the "genocide" label, The Washington Post reported.

"Some members (of Congress) would quite simply rather not vote to authorize another war that might end up being unpopular," the article noted.

The "genocide" announcement is more about political appearances than military-related promises, analysts said.

"Even if the practical impact of Mr. Kerry's declaration is negligible, it carries an important symbolic weight," the Times reported.

It also paves a potential path toward involving the United Nations Security Council in efforts to stop ISIS or establishing war-crimes tribunals, The Atlantic reported.

Regardless of the label, the goal of lawmakers remains the same: to protect the people ISIS is targeting, Kerry said.

"We must find the resources to help those harmed by these atrocities to be able to survive on their ancestral land," he noted.

Kerry echoed Colin Powell's 2004 address to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when the former Secretary of State used "genocide" to describe Darfur for the first time, as The Atlantic reported.

"Let us not be too preoccupied with this designation. These people are in desperate need and we must help them," Powell said.
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