WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today launched the Senate Human Rights Caucus with an inaugural discussion on ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the al-Sham), and its growing threats to minorities, women and children in the Middle East. Along with the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, the Senators were joined by Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pascale Warda with the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, Manal Omar from the United States Institute of Peace, Bishop Mar Paulus Benjamin from the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, and Sarah Margon from Human Rights Watch.

The expert participants, along with Senators Kirk and Coons, highlighted the growing threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In recent months, ISIS has systematically violated human rights, including ethnic cleansing and other atrocities targeting women, moderate Sunnis, non-Sunni Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Ahead of President Obama's address to the nation this evening regarding ISIS's global terrorist threat, the participants outlined and discussed the human rights atrocities that are also unfolding and potential policy options for Congress and the Administration.

"The strength of ISIS in the Middle East is based on the fear and abuse of innocents," Senator Kirk said. "The Senate Human Rights Caucus will be a voice for the voiceless and oppressed around the world by bringing in the top experts and champions of those putting their lives on the line for democracy and freedom. My partner, Senator Coons and I are grateful to Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski for being here to launch this event, in addition to other panelists for helping to bring awareness to the atrocities that ISIS continues to unleash in the Middle East." 

“America is at its best when we lead with our values and a foreign policy that prioritizes human rights,” said Senator Coons. “Too often, those suffering under tyranny and oppression are forced to suffer in silence. The Senate Human Rights Caucus will amplify the voices of victims around the world and ensure that our policy responses reflect our highest values. I’m proud to co-chair this bipartisan caucus with Senator Kirk and look forward to working together to protect the rights and dignity of all.”

The Senate Human Rights Caucus was formed by Senators Kirk and Coons in the spirit of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, originally created by former Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and John Porter (R-Ill.) in 1983. Later re-named the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, its members have been working to defend and advocate for internationally recognized human rights in a nonpartisan manner for more than 30 years. In this vein, the Senate Human Rights Caucus will continue the Commission's legacy by highlighting and defending key human rights issues throughout the world.

In order to raise awareness on specific violations and issues, the Caucus will hold monthly staff-level briefings on key topics, as well as periodic Member-level events to boost awareness and spearhead solutions to worldwide injustices and abuses. In bringing Congressional-level attention to global human rights issues that the public may be unaware of, the Caucus will be able to provide a voice to the voiceless and work to provide a lifeline to those suffering at the hand of repressive regimes.