President Donald Trump signed two bills crafted by Congressman Chris Smith into law on Tuesday: a five-year, $30 billion extension of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, legislation to ensure ISIS genocide victims in Iraq and Syria receive humanitarian relief and hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
Smith’s Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act was introduced in the House over two years ago, after he chaired 10 congressional hearings focused in whole or in part on Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria for genocide and other atrocity crimes. These genocide survivors had not received direct aid from the U.S., and Smith introduced his legislation first in 2016, and again in 2017 (after he led a human rights mission to Erbil, Iraq) to ensure they would receive U.S. aid and to support criminal investigations into the ISIS perpetrators.
Among other key provisions, the law authorizes and directs the Administration to:
- Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minorities;
- Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee;
- Identify warning signs of deadly violence against religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq or Syria that have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes;
- Support entities conducting criminal investigation into ISIS perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq – including collecting and preserving evidence that links specific perpetrators to specific atrocity crimes and is usable in a range of courts; and
- Encourage foreign governments to add identifying information about suspected ISIS perpetrators to their security databases and security screening and to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators.
“After over two years, my legislation, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, HR 390, is now law,” Smith said. “The Administration can now provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria, and enforce new standards to hold ISIS perpetrators accountable.
“We must move quickly to implement this law. As Archbishop Bashar Warda, the head of Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, told me, “Christians in Iraq are still at the brink of extinction.” The future of endangered religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS for genocide, and pluralism in the Middle East, will depend on prompt help from the United States.”
Smith’s PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018—a five-year, $30 billion extension of PEPFAR—was also signed into law by the President today, continuing a successful program that has saved over 16 million lives.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of PEPFAR, the U.S. government’s effort to fight global HIV/AIDS which began under President Bush and has continued under the Obama Administration and into the Trump Administration. The program is a bipartisan success story:
- Under PEPFAR, the U.S. has invested more than $80 billion in bilateral HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programs and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria;
- PEPFAR has emphasized a long-term approach to treating HIV/AIDS, funding specific training of health care workers in partner countries. In 2017, PEPFAR invested nearly $600 million in health care systems;
- To learn from the best in innovation and expertise in fighting HIV/AIDS, PEPFAR leverages public-private partnerships by working with many organizations from international to local levels: foreign governments, the private sector, philanthropic organizations, multilateral institutions, international organizations, civil society and faith-based organizations, and people living with HIV;
- PEPFAR uses data to more effectively determine the populations at the highest risk of HIV/AIDS, and target those populations for treatment and prevention;
- Since 2003, PEPFAR has saved an estimated 16 million lives, and global AIDS-related deaths have fallen in half since 2005;
- 13 countries today are on track to control their HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2020;
- Before PEPFAR, only some 50,000 people in Africa had access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment. Now, approximately 14 million receive treatment for HIV/AIDS;
- Thanks to antiretrovirals, some 2.2 million babies have been born HIV-free to HIV positive mothers;
- Since the start of PEPFAR new HIV infections have declined between 41-76%.
“Each year we are closer and closer to achieving an AIDS-free world, and an AIDS-free generation, and my law will bring us one giant step closer to achieving this goal,” Smith stated. “So much has been accomplished since the beginning of PEPFAR 15 years ago—more than 16 million lives have been saved because of the program.”
“And yet much more remains to be done—every week, according to UNAIDS approximately 19,000 people die of AIDS-related illnesses. Roughly 37 million people around the world are infected with HIV,” Smith said. “This law continues the fight against HIV/AIDS with the hope of one day eradicating this epidemic.”