Lord Alton meets survivors of the Holocaust and genocide ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day 2019
On Wednesday September 12th Lord Alton heard the testimony of Helen Aronson who survived the Holocaust as a teenager – at the launch event in Parliament for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019.
Holocaust Memorial Day, held on 27 January each year, remembers the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, and the millions of people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.
Survivor of the Łódź ghetto in Poland, Helen Aronson said: ‘It is vital that we do everything in our power to ensure that these things never happen again, anywhere in the world.
‘Children must be allowed to grow up safe and secure and not be wrenched from their homes, like I was.
‘That’s why it is so important that you, as members of parliament are here today and that we make a commitment to mark Holocaust Memorial Day every January.’
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) supports HMD activities across the UK and chooses a theme each year. The theme for 2019 is Torn from Home.
Lord Alton said: ‘The experiences of survivors such as Helen remind us about the importance of marking Holocaust Memorial Day – a day when we remember the millions of people who were affected by the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
‘I want to encourage others to mark HMD on 27 January 2019.’
Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: ‘As the world becomes more fractured and divided, we need to come together to learn from genocide – for a better future.
‘We can all mark HMD, and the resources HMDT provides enables individuals and organisations to organise their own HMD activity.’
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) – Intervention in short debate on AntiSemitism on September 13th
My Lords, in a recent interview, my noble friend Lord Sacks said that,
“the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews”.
Anti-Semitism is a virus that singles out Jews but which then spreads its hateful contagion to other minorities and to vulnerable groups, who are all too easily scapegoated.
The noble Lord, Lord Popat, reminded us how Pastor Martin Niemöller, having failed to speak out against the rise of Nazism, described how a democratic nation with, nominally, millions of good citizens, succumbed to the virus of anti-Semitism, paving the way for the Holocaust.
One who of course did speak out was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis. He famously said:
“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”.
Never let that be said of any of us.
There is an urgent need to confront anti-Semitism and to ensure that vibrant and inspiring educational learning hubs are created that challenge the rising generation to see the link between the Holocaust and contemporary forms of genocide, and to see the links between anti-Semitism and racism.
As recent events have underlined, we must urgently redouble our efforts in combating this hateful virus that, yes, invariably begins with the Jews, but never ends with them.
13 September 2018
Question for Short Debate in the name of Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to change the way formal international declarations of genocide or crimes against humanity are made and to further the expeditious prosecution of those responsible.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords taking part in this short debate on the way in which formal international declarations of genocide and crimes against humanity are made, and on how we might give greater effect to our obligations as a signatory to the 1948 genocide convention and our duty to protect, to prosecute and to punish genocide—the crime above all crimes.
I also thank the Library for its helpful briefing note and Ewelina Ochab, a volunteer, for organising an excellent seminar that I chaired in your Lordships’ House and providing further background material for today’s debate.
After a visit in 2004 to the genocide sites of Rwanda, I visited Darfur, where more than 2 million people have been displaced and between 200,000 and 300,000 people killed. Since 22 May 2003 I have raised some 204 questions or interventions in your Lordships’ House about Darfur. Only yesterday, I was told by a former senior British official in Sudan that 2 million people remain displaced in Darfur, with 300,000 refugees living in desperate conditions across the border in Chad. Meanwhile, although indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir travels with impunity and seeks trade deals with the United Kingdom.
In a recent debate I highlighted the same pattern of events now unfolding in northern Nigeria, where the former head of the country’s army recently described atrocities by Boko Haram and Fulani militias as a genocide, with 1.8 million displaced persons, 5,000 widows, 15,000 orphans, and more than 200 desecrated churches and chapels. This is simply a repeat of what has happened to the Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq—whose plight I have raised through questions and interventions on 65 occasions since 26 November 2008, when I specifically drew attention to,
“the Chaldeans, the Syriacs, the Yazidis and other minorities, whose lives are endangered on the Nineveh plains”.—[Official Report, 26/11/08; col. 1439.]
By 21 April 2016, following mass executions at Mount Sinjar in 2014, I was drawing attention to,
“accounts of crucifixions, beheadings, systematic rape and mass graves”.—[Official Report, 21/4/16; col. 765.]
Meanwhile, over the 12 years since I first raised the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in this House on 17 July 2006—and in 58 interventions of one kind or another since then—I have watched as the classic contours of genocide have unfolded. First, there is discrimination, scapegoating and targeting of a group because of its ethnicity, religion or some form of difference; then there is ostracism; then there is persecution; then come crimes against humanity; and then comes outright genocide. We have seen it again and again, from Armenia to the Holocaust, from Bosnia to Cambodia, from Burma to Darfur, with “never again” happening endlessly, all over again.
Against that backdrop it is impossible for me to understand why Governments utterly fail to make formal declarations of genocide and to take appropriate action. On 27 August 2018, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar published its report stating that the Burmese military has committed genocide in Rakhine state, along with crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states. The report indicated that the estimate of 10,000 people being killed in Rakhine state is conservative; more than 700,000 were forcibly displaced to Bangladesh, and the situation is nowhere near over.
Earlier today, a letter by Rushanara Ali MP, supported by more than 160 British parliamentarians from both our Houses, was sent to the Prime Minister calling upon Her Majesty’s Government to lead on seeking a referral of the Burmese military to the International Criminal Court. The letter repeated the concerns identified by the UN fact-finding mission that the new inquiry established by the Burmese Government will not be able to deliver on the promises to provide independent and transparent processes, and:
“Expecting justice and truth from any Myanmar domestic process is simply naive”.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government intend to respond to that letter.
The Daesh atrocities in Syria and Iraq and the Burmese military’s atrocities in Burma are two examples of genocide perpetrated within the last four years. None the less, Her Majesty’s Government’s response to the question of genocide determination over many years has been the same: that it is simply for the international judicial systems—which are either inadequate, non-existent or compromised by Security Council vetos—to make the determination and not for politicians, regardless of the evidence, to support such a determination.
It has to be emphasised that, as it stands, Her Majesty’s Government do not have any formal mechanism that allows for the consideration and recognition of mass atrocities that meet the threshold of genocide, as defined in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide—the genocide convention. As a result, Her Majesty’s Government are at a disadvantage when trying to fulfil their duties to protect, prevent and punish. The lack of a formal mechanism, whether grounded in law or policy, was recently criticised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in its December 2017 report on the situation in Rakhine. The report stated:
“We are seriously concerned to find that the FCO has not undertaken its own analysis of the situation, nor committed its own expert team to gather evidence. The Minister said that its effort was focused on addressing the humanitarian situation, but it is unclear why humanitarian support and legal analysis cannot go hand-in-hand”.
Her Majesty’s Government will argue that the genocide determination is not crucial but that actions to address mass atrocities are. Actions and words are strongly connected. Gregory H Stanton, research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University, conducted a study on the perception and effects of determining genocidal atrocities using the words “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide”. I have shared the details of Professor Stanton’s work with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others. Significantly, the results of the studies revealed that:
“Choice of the term to be used is determined by willingness to take action to stop the killing. When the terms ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘crimes against humanity’ were used, it indicated unwillingness to take forceful action to stop the crimes”.
So we hesitate to name genocide for what it is.
Her Majesty’s Government’s reliance on international judicial systems is flawed because parties to the genocide convention are the duty bearers under the genocide convention, not the international judicial systems. Parties to the genocide convention, such as the United Kingdom, must act to ensure that the determination is made by a competent body in accordance with the law and policy in the state and decisive steps follow that fulfil the state’s obligations under the genocide convention to prevent and punish. Furthermore, in the case of the Daesh atrocities in Syria and Iraq and the Burmese military atrocities in Burma, there are no international judicial systems that would have the mandate to make the determination of genocide. Establishing such mechanisms would take years and even more years before a formal determination of genocide is actually made.
Other states have been less shy to make the determination of genocide, whether in relation to historical mass atrocities or to current and ongoing atrocities. For example, the recent Daesh genocide against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq has been formally recognised by a few Governments and several parliaments, including our own House of Commons, and major international institutions. None the less, the Government refuse to make this recognition, relying on their long-standing policy. Canada and the Netherlands previously took the same position as us, using the same argument that it was not for politicians to make such a determination. However, both countries have now reversed their position in relation to the Daesh genocide.
I hope that the Minister will take the trouble to look at what has happened in those two jurisdictions and that she will also carefully study the Genocide Determination Bill that I have introduced into your Lordships’ House. It seeks to address the lack of a formal mechanism to make the determination of genocide. It would invest the High Court of England and Wales—not politicians—with the power to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide and subsequently refer such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal, which would not necessarily be dependent on the Security Council. The proposal responds to the argument of the UK Government that the determination of genocide should be made by a competent court—the competent court here is the High Court, not an international court—and recognises that under the genocide convention it is the duty of the state, not international institutions, to act.
As the 70th anniversary of the genocide convention approaches, it is time for the Government to reconsider their long-standing policy on genocide determination and look at new approaches to ensure that they are fully equipped to fulfil their obligations under the convention to prevent and punish the crime of genocide and fill this gaping lacuna. I look forward to the debate and I thank all those who are participating in it.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I thank him on behalf of everyone, globally, internationally and in the United Kingdom, for his lifelong devotion to those who are unable to worship as they wish and who suffer death for attempting to maintain their family and their community faith. His name, reputation and his activities on their behalf are known absolutely everywhere. I thank him from the bottom of my heart because he is a very great Member of your Lordships’ House.
I have been working more modestly on the issue of genocide against the Yazidis. I first raised this in the House in the autumn of 2014 following the devastating assaults and occupations by ISIL in northern Iraq, where there were unspeakable scenes of torture and death, all supposedly validated by Muslim writings. Mr al-Baghdadi, the leader of this awfulness, claimed in his instruction letter to his assigned rapists that it was the duty of every Muslim to wipe out the Yazidis since they were devil worshippers. His written word—his fatwa—was followed with increasing sadism: rapes and crucifixions, drownings with cameras recording the struggles of bound victims repeated several times with the captives being re-drowned to get stronger and more salacious pictures for the web. It was death pornography using blameless people.
I brought the first rescued rape victims here to give evidence to the Select Committee on PSVI, which I had the honour to chair. The evidence was so terrible that our clerk bowdlerised it at the last moment. It was a clear example of our classic and all too squeamish refusal to face up to the ghastly reality of genocide and its Hieronymus Bosch-like visions of the fourth level of hell. We defy it to be true, but true it is. Unless we, the lucky ones living in peace, accept its foul reality, genocide after genocide and massacre after massacre will continue to stalk our world.
I chair the charity AMAR, an international charitable foundation. On finding desperate victims fleeing from Mosul and dying on the roads to Najaf and in Baghdad, the medical director acted immediately and the staff have not stopped. They are all Iraqi and almost all Muslim—not Yazidi at all; they did not know about them. They stepped in and gave all the help they possibly could to a high-level WHO standard. Doctors, pharmacists, teachers and women health volunteers all rushed to help victims countrywide.
Our London team approached interested individuals, groups, businesses and industry for urgent funding, all of whom responded magnificently. AMAR has continued to serve 350,000 encamped internally displaced people, with the figure rising from 12 June 2014 until today. They are all heroes, especially Dr Ali Nasir Munthanna, Dr Ammar and Rewaq. Very special friends came forward immediately and I shall name them: the Church of the Latter Day Saints charities, Jeff Holland, Sharon Eubank and many other friends and colleagues. Their insight has been superb and their compassion boundless. Right reverend Prelates on the Bishops’ Bench and other colleagues in this House understood immediately the real point at issue: religious persecution demands an understanding of the faith under cruel assault and an acceptance of it as a decent way to live and worship despite—or, dare I suggest, because of—its difference from other faiths that are better tolerated.
Canon Edmund Newell of Cumberland Lodge helped to lead discussions with a number of different faiths. He produced a paper and resolved the theological constraints of the Yazidi. It was a major multifaith achievement to describe the Yazidi faith and has been accepted by the Yazidi Prince and the Spiritual Council as the first and only accurate description of their faith. But still today Yazidis are unsafe in their own country and much more needs to be done. I raise the point particularly in the context of this debate. The Right Reverend Bishop Alastair Redfern has pointed out that the injustice of categorising the Yazidi people and others like them as refugees is that the real issues are obscured, leading to less than appropriate strategies of response. How right he is. Their faith is the key.
We raised the question of whether, for example, the Yazidi faith is a reasonable one. Does it promulgate horror, hatred and extension of “the other”; some globally accepted faiths do just that. It is not a happy thought at all. But no, the Yazidi faith is blameless of calls for extermination or harassment of the supporters of any other faith. Their daily prayers are mirrored, or we mirror them—I speak as an Anglican—in our nine offices of the day. Like the Jews—our UK laws and customs are Judeo-Christian-based—Yazidis are hard workers and decent people who produce high-level professionals and follow the rule of law, which had enabled their faith to be accepted into the world’s faiths after it was discarded by the Ottoman Empire. In our multifaith world, we must take them in. The Westminster declaration that we pulled together calls for signatures to enable that to happen.
The second question, therefore, is why their future and the futures of people like them are so uncertain. After the genocide of the Holocaust, the generation of my grandparents and parents declared, “Never again”—but that has not been the case at all. As the co-author with Dr Neil Quilliam of a paper coming out next week, we feel that genocide—and its ugly sister, massacres on religious grounds—has a horrible similarity in consistent occurrence and sameness of methods. We have carefully pulled apart religious persecutions carried out over 500 years by most major faiths. This is the key: we have to accept that religious persecution is at the heart of most of these genocides.
I ask noble Lords to recognise the Yazidi faith and work to help other genocide and massacre victims to identify their identity. Religion is liable to be at the heart of that identity. If we do not do that and secular societies everywhere continue to sideline faith, we cannot save the victims or survivors—and their families—of religious discrimination.
I will end with a quotation from Prince Tahsin, the head of the Yazidi people. He asked me to tell your Lordships that he wants to take this opportunity to thank the British Government and the AMAR Foundation for the great humanitarian work that the British do. He said:
“We know that nobody can change the fact that four years ago, genocide of the Yazidi people made my community lose their faith in humanity. Thousands of members of our religion were murdered. Many endured the horror of being burned alive and 3,000 young women and children are still missing. The famous Mount Sinjar is still not safe. Approximately 2,000 Yazidi people are still in camps without any idea of what’s going to happen to them in the next few years. On this stage, we would like to say that we need international help and, more importantly, we need to rebuild our lives. Please deliver this message to the entire world on our behalf. Thank you. Prince Tahsin”.
Baroness D’Souza (CB)
My Lords, as we heard in my noble friend’s eloquent introduction, genocide has long been determined a crime. The Genocide Convention was adopted in 1948, came into effect in 1951 and was ratified by the UK in 1970. The crucial and unassailable core of that convention was and is that genocide—whether committed in times of peace or war—is always punishable and that all states signatory to the convention have an obligation to prevent and prosecute genocide. This, of course, was in response to the unspeakable attempts by the Nazi regime to rid Europe of its Jewish populations.
The UK has recognised the need to give effect to the Genocide Convention: first, by enacting legislation to implement the convention in 1969, and subsequently by incorporating the crime of genocide into the International Criminal Court Act 2001. It is clear that UK authorities are obliged to investigate genocide with a view to ensuring that the crime is prosecuted and punished, whether acts committed in the UK or abroad.
Since 1948, the convention has undergone many interpretations, legal provisos and reforms for implementation. It is estimated that between 1956 and 2016, there have been 43 genocides resulting in the death of some 50 million people, an equal number of whom have been displaced. The crime of genocide is irrespective of the context in which it occurs: peace, war, internal strife or international armed conflict. The indicators of impending genocide have also been documented, thereby allowing, in theory at least, action to prevent ensuing mass killings. These indicators include: repeated allusions to “us” and “them”; symbols of hatred being forced on pariah groups, such as the yellow star in Poland and its ghettos; pariah groups being defined as less than human—for instance, Tutsis being called “cockroaches” or “vermin” by Hutus in Rwanda prior to the 1994 genocide; trained and armed specialist armies or militia groups; victims being identified and separated as distinct groups, such as the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar; and, finally, an outright denial of any atrocities having been committed. These are warning signals and inevitably result in massacres.
So what precisely are the responsibilities of member states party to the convention when these warning signs are evident? As I said, all signatories are required to prevent and punish genocide. Genocide is such a heinous crime that its prevention and prosecution qualifies as customary international law. Furthermore, since 2002, the International Criminal Court in The Hague can exercise jurisdiction if national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute the offence, but it leaves the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute alleged criminals to individual states. The UK has unambiguous jurisdiction to prosecute UK and any other nationals and residents for a range of international crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity such as hostage-taking and torture—wherever they are committed within the scope of universal jurisdiction. This is where we must now look at the actions of the UK Government in fulfilling their obligations in today’s world.
The Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, seeks to facilitate individuals or groups applying to the High Court for a preliminary determination that genocide has taken place. If this is determined, the UK Government—that is, the Foreign Secretary—are then obliged to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court or the UN Security Council, or both. This then would be the trigger mechanism for further international action, which is to be welcomed. However, the UK Government’s position is that it is for the international judiciary to determine whether or not genocide is likely to take or has taken place. I assume the International Criminal Court and/or the International Court of Justice are what is meant by international judiciary.
It is worth remembering that the UK already has legislation: the Genocide Act 1969, which has now been taken over by the wider International Criminal Court Act 2001, enables the UK to investigate and prosecute genocide before the UK courts. My concern is that the Government do not attempt to evade their obligations by invoking the authority of the international judiciary—they already have active obligations. An appeal to the High Court would be time-consuming and may not even succeed if, legally speaking, the evidence put before the court is not sufficient to make a determination of genocide. What is most important is that the competent UK authorities investigate all cases of genocide which come before them, are sufficiently resourced to carry out this work and do not, under any circumstances, allow the UK to become a safe haven for the perpetrators of genocide.
The UK Government should also lend their assistance to the International Criminal Court when requests are made for information, transfers or other types of support. Equally, the Government should support, foster and encourage international efforts to secure accountability for genocide through Security Council referrals to the ICC, and related actions to encourage states to surrender suspects to the ICC in response to arrest warrants.
In conclusion, in recent times the UN has put fact-finding missions in place to assess whether genocide has occurred or will occur. The findings of these missions are then used to support action by the UN Security Council, including referrals to the International Criminal Court or some other special tribunal. This is an important process to support and may be a more direct mechanism for action than going through the UK High Court. The major block is the lack of agreement to refer by the permanent five, which is always a matter of politics. Reform of the Security Council—for example, binding its members to vote rather than abstain or vote against—if this were to come about, would be a far more powerful option.
While welcoming any efforts to persuade Governments to act upon their moral and legal obligations, at the same time I would be cautious of shifting responsibility down to a High Court to make a determination that genocide has occurred, with no guarantee that the Government would take immediate notice and action.
Baroness Flather (CB)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving me an opportunity to speak about an issue that bothers me hugely. The genocide of the Armenians in Turkey happened some time ago in 1914. Everybody’s attention was focused on the war in Europe. Nobody’s attention was focused on the Armenians in Turkey, who had lived there for generations. It was not like they had just arrived there; they were part and parcel of the community.
What is so sad is that a number of Governments have recognised the genocide but our Government have not. It was horrendous. I am sure that your Lordships know about it and would agree that it was pretty appalling. The younger men who could have done anything were mostly killed and the older men, women and children were pushed into the desert where most of them perished. If that is not genocide I do not know what amounts to it.
We have to recognise the huge amount of contemporary evidence. It is not like we can say, “Oh, we didn’t know what was happening, we don’t have any evidence”. Every newspaper around the world had headlines four inches high about the genocide happening in Turkey. There are photographs of doctors being hanged, some of whom were Turkish and had been seen to try to help the Armenians. It was an appalling situation. Women, children and older people were pushed into the desert and perished because they were there. That is a very horrible part of that genocide. I do not want us to forget that.
I have been to Armenia three times. I have looked at its memorial to the genocide and all the photographs and newspaper headlines. They were not made up. They are real newspapers with real headlines. We in this country refuse to recognise it. To me that is a matter of great shame. We do not want to upset Turkey. Why? It is all right: it can do whatever it likes, but we have to be honest to ourselves.
A noble Lord
Thank you. If something like that was done, which it was, we should not put it aside and say, “No, we cannot do that”. We ought to recognise that genocide. The first time the term “genocide” was used was in that connection. It was the first time that a genocide in the traditional sense—the sense in which we use it now—happened but we do not recognise it in this country. Maybe if your Lordships make the effort we might get it recognised in the UK. It is not right for this country, which stands by being at least somewhat moral, to let it go.
The second thing I want to mention is something that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has quite rightly spoken about: the Rohingya issue. However, I wish he had said something about Aung San Suu Kyi as well. I have never valued her. I have been to Burma and seen what went on there. I do not think that she was quite as great a person as everybody made her out to be. If she had been she would not be saying that the Muslims attacked the military. How can the Muslims, who have nothing, attack the Burmese military, which is probably the most properly funded military in that part of the world? She has said recently, as I am sure your Lordships have read, that it is up to the Bangladeshis when the Rohingya go back. What are they going back to? All their homes have been not just emptied but razed to the ground. There is nothing there; there is nothing where they came from. Aung San Suu Kyi says that it is up to Bangladesh when they go back, but it is nothing to do with Bangladesh. It is do with her and Myanmar. In 1995, the generals offered her the opportunity to become Prime Minister. At that time, she refused, saying that she would get no power. Nobody gives power to anybody. Those who have the power hang on to it, and that is what will happen in Myanmar as well. Let us not think that anything will get better any time soon.
Let us do what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said and make an effort to see that those who commit such atrocities are not forgotten and that, in whatever way we can, we try to get to them.
Lord Dholakia (LD)
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for this important debate. It is as delightful as always to see him speak on such humanitarian issues.
For some time now, some of us have been observing the UK Government’s response to mass atrocities amounting to genocide or crimes against humanity, in my case as a member of several all-party parliamentary groups focused respectively on, for example, the atrocities in Sri Lanka, North Korea, Yemen and Syria, as well as engaging in debates in this House. I have always been highly concerned by the response of the UK Government—quite rightly referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza—that it is not for politicians to make the determination of genocide but for the international judicial bodies. I have never accepted that argument. We have to be careful to ensure that arguments about the decision-making process never override mass genocide of communities in war-torn areas.
Such an argument fails to recognise one fundamental issue: that the obligations under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are imposed on states and not on international bodies. States that ratified the convention are under a duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. This duty cannot be fulfilled when a state fails to make the determination of genocide and waits until an international judicial body does so. By waiting and not undertaking any actions, the state fails to prevent genocide. Similarly, this delays punishing the perpetrators of the crime.
I recall the UK Government saying that, despite not recognising the Daesh genocide of religious minorities, they have taken steps to stop it with the Global Coalition against Daesh and to ensure prosecutions by way of working with the Iraqi Government on a UN Security Council resolution to establish an investigative team. Those steps are good and certainly welcome. However, this is not the usual response from the UK Government to mass atrocities that may amount to genocide. The UK’s response to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, quite rightly identified by my colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, is a good example of the UK’s failure to have an adequate law or policy to deal with such cases.
Similarly, as in the case of Daesh atrocities, the UK Government refused to recognise the atrocities perpetrated by the Burmese military against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma as genocide. They have not done anything to stop the atrocities or to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
After engaging in a dialogue with the Burmese Government, the UK Government accepted their assurance that they had established an investigative mechanism and would conduct independent and transparent investigations. We expected similar things in Sri Lanka; unfortunately, they did not materialise. This is even though the recent report published by the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar indicated that:
“Expecting justice and truth from any Myanmar domestic process is simply naive”.
This gives me an opportunity. I do not absolve Aung San Suu Kyi from this situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has quite rightly said. We find today that she has vehemently defended the imprisonment of the two Reuters journalists who were given seven-year jail terms after reporting on the massacre of Rohingya Muslims. This is a case condemned by international Governments and the United Nations as a miscarriage of justice and a major regression of freedom of expression in Myanmar. The civilised world stood by Aung San Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest; the least we expect from her is to speak up for the massive number of refugees in Bangladesh. Not having any laws or policies to deal with the question of genocide or follow-up actions cannot be justified. It was not justified when genocide was perpetrated in Pakistan in 1971; it was not justified during the Khmer Rouge genocide in 1975; it was not justified during the Hutu genocide against the Tutsi in 1994; it was not justified during the Bosnian genocide in 1995; and it was not justified during the genocide in Darfur in 2003, or in many other places. Inaction in the face of genocide cannot be justified.
It is shameful that, approaching the 70th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the UK Government have not done anything to consider such laws or policies but rely on their unjustifiable long-standing policy of leaving a determination to international judicial systems and acting only where they find the political will to do so. We need a change and we need it now, as we have failed too many times over the years, as we are failing the Rohingya Muslims in Burma right now.
Lord Loomba (CB)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate at a critical time, with the concerns of genocide never more apparent that with what is happening in Myanmar; he has previously raised issues relating to the actions of the Burmese military in Rakhine state. The UN’s recent report on Myanmar states quite categorically that genocide has taken place. The silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was so lauded and praised in this very place in 2012 when she spoke to both Houses, is deafening; yet when she spoke in this place she was so full of hope and optimism and called on the international community to assist with Burma’s long road to becoming a fully democratic country where all human rights are respected. Now, with our laws inadequately addressing the problems of genocide, we are letting the people of Myanmar down; we are letting down anyone suffering from human rights abuses if we do not do something to make our international laws stronger and more robust, so that action can be taken to stop these heinous crimes taking place.
Yet this is neither new nor rare; it is an issue that goes to the very heart of my work with widows across the world, and here I declare my interest. I have been working with widows, often survivors of genocide, for many years, especially female survivors who have lost their husbands to genocide. I work to help them rebuild their lives. The situation of widows post genocide is often neglected. The fact that men constitute the majority of causalities of genocide is neglected. The Srebrenica genocide is an example, where more than 7,000 men were killed. Their wives then had to become the head of their household, local leaders and activists, fighting to rebuild their lives.
During genocide, women are often subjected to rape and sexual violence, which is used as a weapon of war. This is something that the UN report outlines in stark detail regarding the horrendous atrocities happening in Myanmar. Women are often sold into slavery, as if they were property, and abused daily. However, even if they escape it does not mean that their despair is over. They often have no place to go or return to. They will also have to live with the memories of genocide for the rest of their lives. The recent case of the Yazidi and Christian women and girls abducted by Daesh is a glaring example. Here again I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his work on raising the issue of the genocides perpetrated by Daesh against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.
Through my work, I know very well the challenges faced by survivors of genocide. The scars of the past, the physical injuries and the long way they have to go to rebuild their lives mean that they need protection. They need the opportunities to rebuild their shattered lives but also clear laws or policies, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, proposes, on genocide determination and follow-up actions. They need states and international institutions to recognise the nature of the atrocities that they were subjected to, and to clearly identify genocide when it occurs. Most importantly, they need to see their perpetrators brought to justice. I would like the Minister to tell us how the UK Government are going to deal with these atrocities.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is to be congratulated on obtaining this short debate on genocide, that most heinous of collective crimes in the international rulebook—outlawed by a convention some 70 years ago but still all too present in today’s world. On a personal note, I was serving as the British representative on the UN Security Council when the two acts of genocide which disfigured the 1990s, in Rwanda and at Srebrenica, occurred and when the international community was found wanting, unable to do anything to prevent them. I remain deeply ashamed of that failure.
Following those terrible events the world said, as it has said, alas, all too often in the past, “Never again”. In 2005, every member state committed to giving effect to that thought in the norm of the responsibility to protect. If only it had been that easy, but it has not proved so. In recent years we have seen genocidal acts around the world, most blatantly by IS against the Yazidis in Iraq and by the Burmese military against the Rohingya. Nothing effective has been done to prevent those acts or to bring their perpetrators to justice. That is not, I suggest, an acceptable or sustainable state of affairs if we do not want to see our world slipping back into a state of Hobbesian violence.
What can be done? I will suggest four lines of policy to be pursued. First, we really must not give up on the responsibility to protect. It may have given rise to some unexpected and undesirable consequences in Libya but in Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, it has saved and is saving many lives. It is not just a recipe for military intervention. Rather, it is a method of deploying everything in the international toolbox—political and economic measures, peacekeeping and peacebuilding—to avoid major breaches of international humanitarian law, including genocide, from ever occurring.
Secondly, I suggest that we must sustain the International Criminal Court in good working order—all the more so in this week when the US National Security Adviser spoke in a most disgraceful manner about the ICC. I hope the Minister will be repudiating those thoughts that he put into the public domain. Where possible, we should try to extend the jurisdiction of the court. Is there really no way of bringing the IS perpetrators of the crimes against the Yazidis to justice? Is there no way over time to do the same for the Burmese military? After all, it took an awfully long time to get General Mladić before a tribunal in The Hague but that is where he is now.
Thirdly, we need to persist, in concert with our French friends and allies on the Security Council, with their initiative to get the permanent members of the council to forgo the use of the veto when there is the risk or actuality of genocide or other gross breaches of humanitarian law. The multiple vetoes by Russia and China of a policy towards Syria are a stain on their records, and we should not accept that as a given for the future.
Fourthly, we should get a bit less namby-pamby about calling out genocide, and here I join the views of others who have suggested that, because that is what we have been all too often in the past. Of course it is correct to say that only a court—the ICC, another international tribunal or national tribunals—can determine definitively whether the crime of genocide has been committed in particular circumstances. However, why can the Government not say that they have seen prima facie evidence that genocide has taken place in a particular set of circumstances? I know that is less far-reaching than the measure that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is pressing for, but if we were to become a little more forthright about this matter, and to do so in a way that did not pre-empt the determination by the court as the final instance, then we would be starting to put together another building block in the wall of deterrence that needs to be erected against this appalling crime.
I hope the Minister will be able to respond to these four points. We are not going to be able to abolish genocide overnight, but we need to act against it far more effectively than we have done in recent years.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for calling this important debate and for all his wonderful, tireless work in pursuing human rights.
Every year we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and remember the systematic killing of and brutal atrocities against the Jewish community. Every year we remember and say “Never again”, but since the end of the Second World War we have seen many more systematic attempts to eliminate whole communities simply because of a difference of religion or culture. Worldwide revulsion at such inhuman behaviour led to the 1951 UN convention on crimes of genocide, including incitement to group murder.
By any measure, the deliberate mass killing of Sikhs in 1984 meets the necessary criteria, yet no action has been taken against government Ministers seen inciting rampaging mobs. The 30th anniversary of these killings coincided with the announcement of UK government support for an inquiry into the mass killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In a debate in this House, I asked for a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India and gave details of the scale of the atrocities: state-controlled All India Radio constantly repeating a message inciting people to kill Sikhs, the use of municipal buses to ferry groups of killers around New Delhi, the beating and burning of male Sikhs and the gang-raping of women and young girls. I concluded by asking Her Majesty’s Government to support the establishment of an international inquiry into the killings. But India is an important UK trading partner, and the curt answer from the Government was that that was a matter for the Indian Government.
Despite the setting up of the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute genocide, offenders continue to escape punishment. Only countries that sign up to the ICC can be prosecuted, and some, such as the United States and India, fearing possible prosecution, simply do not sign up to membership. Other drawbacks are that the ICC cannot investigate crimes committed prior to its establishment, and there is no proper mechanism for pursuing possible genocide committed by militant groups such as Daesh against the Yazidis and other minorities in Syria.
As has been mentioned, Governments are reluctant to raise questions of human rights abuse with important trading partners. We must face reality. Even when ethically untenable, considerations of so-called strategic interest in trade tend to trump abuse of human rights. The only long-term strategic interest for us all is to move to a world free from such recurrent genocides. To do this, we must take responsibility for examining possible genocide away from the conflicting and understandable pulls of government and give it to a wholly independent arbiter, such as the High Court, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I strongly support his wise and far-seeing lead.
Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB)
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for all that he has done over the years in this most tragic field, the field of man’s inhumanity to man. I became particularly concerned in this area in 2002, when the ICC was created under the Rome statute and I was privileged to be one of the committee of five charged with responsibility for recommending a UK judge to that court. As it happened, a judge now on the Court of Appeal last year was appointed the chief Investigatory Powers Commissioner under our own recent security and terrorism legislation.
My involvement, so far as I had any in the field of international crime, has generally arisen in the context of asylum claims. They were usually claims of refugee status brought by those actual or threatened victims of such crimes abroad, but occasionally, and altogether more problematic, cases falling under Article 1F(a) of the convention, which excludes from entitlement to refugee status anyone who has committed or is otherwise responsible for one of the crimes against humanity or other such grave international crimes. They can raise difficult points as to the precise nature and extent of an individual asylum seeker’s involvement in a terrorist group—for example, one such case involved a Tamil Tiger—and whether they are properly to be regarded as disqualified from the safe haven to which they would otherwise be entitled.
I mention the problematic nature of those cases in contrast to the comparatively straightforward nature of the core question which underlies today’s debate. It is a comparatively straightforward question whether the string of undoubted atrocities committed by ISIS/Daesh—committed over recent years and continuing today in Syria and Iraq—constitute in law the crime of genocide, a crime of universal jurisdiction. It seems to me all too obvious that these atrocities, so consistently and convincingly described and documented over the years, amount to genocide.
I find it entirely unsurprising that it has been explicitly so characterised by a range of political bodies, including the US House of Representatives and Secretary of State John Kerry, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and, of course, our own House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has made the point that the Government are of course right to say—as they have respectfully said and continue to maintain, whenever invited to recognise these atrocities as genocide—that ultimately this is a question for legal rather than political determination and for judges and courts rather than government and parliamentary bodies. But surely, equally obviously, that is so with regard to all criminal offences—for example, murder. Yet one does not find the Government fastidiously abstaining from describing, say, the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter and the unfortunate woman who later sprayed her wrist with that substance as murder or attempted murder. Plainly, such a description and such a calling out of the offence in no way pre-empts or prejudices any final judicial determination of the issue if, as one hopes—albeit too often vainly hopes—those accused can eventually be brought before an appropriate judicial tribunal for trial.
For my part, and for the life of me, I can see no good reason why our Government should resolutely continue to refuse recognition of these atrocities for what they are, particularly when, as I understand the position, it tends to lead to Catch-22 and to the “circular argument” or “stalemate” referred to by Fiona Bruce during the April 2016 Commons debate—Hansard col. 959—whereby the UK is declining as a state party to the Rome Statute to refer the situation to the ICC prosecutor with a view to initiating an appropriate prosecution in that clearly most appropriate of tribunals.
In short, although I am intrigued by my noble friend Lord Alton’s proposal, I am not yet persuaded of the need for some domestic statute to provide for some judicial declaration in our courts by one of our own judges as a precondition for referral to the ICC. I have time for no more, save perhaps to recommend to any of your Lordships—in this packed house—who have not yet read it Philippe Sands’s compelling and enthralling book East West Street, which deals with the origins of this still all too relevant and prevalent crime.
Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate and I join the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, the noble Lords, Lord Brown and Lord Dholakia, and others, in recognising the passionate, lifelong commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to humanitarian issues and to human rights. He really is outstanding in this area and has been a champion for very many years.
The Rome statute established four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Under the Rome statute, the International Criminal Court has limitations. There are time limitations, as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, mentioned, and it can investigate and prosecute these four core international crimes only in situations where it finds states are “unable” or “unwilling” to do so themselves, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza.
The jurisdiction of the court is complementary to the jurisdictions of the domestic courts. Of course, in this country we have not had any prosecutions for the crime of genocide. In 2007, I was engaged in the court martial at Bulford arising from the death of Baha Musa. The defendant, an Army corporal, pleaded guilty to the war crime of inhuman treatment. That is the only conviction ever recorded in this country for a war crime, as defined in the Rome statute.
In 2014, the now discredited and struck-off solicitor, Philip Shiner, jointly with a human rights organisation, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, submitted a dossier to the International Criminal Court of alleged war crimes—allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault committed, it was alleged, by British forces in Iraq. The complainants also alleged that the United Kingdom was unable or unwilling to bring these cases to court, which would have given jurisdiction to the ICC.
On 4 December 2017, the court’s Office of the Prosecutor, notwithstanding its own investigation into Shiner and his activities, nevertheless announced that it saw a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK Armed Forces committed war crimes against detainees in Iraq. Prosecutors in The Hague are now engaged in a phase 3 assessment of whether genuine investigations and prosecutions are being conducted in the United Kingdom in respect of the 60 or so cases before them. The fairness of British justice is under international scrutiny at this moment.
Generally, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over crimes only if they are committed in the territory of a state party to the Rome statute, or if they are committed by a national of a state party. This has its limitations because, clearly, large jurisdictions such as the United States are not state parties.
The exception to this jurisdictional rule—with which we are particularly concerned today—is that the ICC may have jurisdiction over crimes if its jurisdiction is authorised by the United Nations Security Council: in other words, it can go outside the state parties and deal with crimes committed elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out from his own unhappy experiences involving Rwanda and Srebrenica, this is insufficient and unsatisfactory. I agree with him that it is important to try to extend the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court beyond what happens in the territory of a state party.
At the moment, how do allegations come before the Security Council? Despite being a permanent member, this Government have resisted attempts on a number of occasions to make a declaration that crimes committed by Daesh amount to genocide. As noble Lords have pointed out, this is notwithstanding that declarations to that effect have been made in a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and by the European Parliament in March and April 2016, in addition to the declaration by the US Secretary of State to which the noble Lord, Lord Brown, referred.
The United Kingdom is itself under the scrutiny of the ICC for its own actions. It is therefore demeaning for it to seek to shelter behind legalities—to argue that genocide is a matter for legal, not political decision, and that the Government are not a prosecutor, judge or jury, so cannot come to a conclusion. I await with interest the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the legal determination of genocide. No doubt, I shall support it. As the noble Lord, Lord Brown, said a moment ago, how is it justiciable for the Government to take, for example, Burma to the High Court in this country to seek a declaration—with the Burmese Government having the opportunity to put forward their case—that what they are doing to the Rohingya in Burma is genocide? I do not find that an attractive solution.
In December 2004, regulations laid under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 adopted the text of the Elements of Crimes defined by the Assembly of States Parties under the Rome statute. Nothing could be clearer. Genocide in all its aspects requires, first, an intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. The second element is knowledge: knowledge by the perpetrator to be inferred from relevant facts. Thirdly, the conduct complained of must be part of a manifest pattern of similar conduct directed against the group. “Manifest” is an objective qualification, and I have to agree with the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Loomba, that Burma must qualify for committing acts of genocide.
Under Article VIII of the 1948 genocide convention, the fact of genocide does not have to be established in a court of law of one of the “contracting parties” before complaint may be made. This country is a “duty carrier”, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, put it.
Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but although we have some slack after some noble Lords have scratched, we are running out of that time. If the noble Lord could bring his remarks to a conclusion, we would be grateful.
Lord Thomas of Gresford
I am very grateful—I have a further paragraph, if your Lordships will permit me.
Article VIII says:
“Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action … as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III”.
Since the implementation of the Rome statute, guilt or innocence is to be established in the International Criminal Court on a charge brought by the Office of the Prosecutor.
What does it say of this country if, with manifest evidence of genocide in the Middle East, Darfur or anywhere, it cannot bring itself to “call upon” the Security Council to set the wheels of the ICC in motion? It is a manifest breach of the UK’s undertaking to prevent and to punish genocide under Article I of the 1948 convention. Our reputation in the world is likely to be seriously damaged.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating today’s debate. At every opportunity he has raised the plight of peoples who have been subjected to horrendous treatment.
Forced displacement and genocide often go together. Genocidal massacres terrorise a targeted group into fleeing, as we have seen in recent times in Syria, Myanmar and, of course, Sri Lanka. Every act of genocide or crime against humanity needs to be investigated. Impunity must be challenged; we cannot have a situation where years and years of crimes against humanity are ignored. To ensure that the people responsible are held to account for their actions is not only important to secure peace and reconciliation, it is vital and key to preventing it happening again. That is why the “crime without a name”, as Churchill put it, committed by the Nazis was given the legal definition of genocide. Never again would the international community stand aside while such heinous acts were committed. But as we have heard in today’s debate, sadly, they have happened again.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords have highlighted, the Government have a long-standing policy on international declarations of genocide. We heard two years ago that,
“as the Prime Minister has said, genocide is a matter of legal rather than political opinion. We as the Government are not the prosecutor, the judge or the jury”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/4/16; col. 995.]
In your Lordships’ House, in relation to the Daesh crimes which we have heard about today, the Minister at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, repeated that assertion. But in doing so, she also referred to the number of meetings the Government and she had held with the ICC, saying it was important that we made progress on reaching a position where it was possible for the ICC to determine whether it will proceed. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has put it:
“Having no formal mechanism to refer evidence of genocide … simply leads to government buck-passing and hand-wringing”.
I would appreciate it if the Minister could give the House an up-to-date assessment of the ICC meetings. What further meetings have been held and what was the outcome? As we have heard, Article 1 of the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that contracting parties must prevent and punish and that any party may call upon the UN to take appropriate action to suppress acts. The convention also outlaws:
“Conspiracy to commit genocide … Direct and public incitement to commit genocide … Attempt to commit genocide … Complicity in genocide”.
We have plenty of evidence of that today, some of which has been indicated by political leaders. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government believe that the range of options open to either the ICC or the UN in preventing genocide should be broader? As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, should we see a revision of those responsibilities? Since the adoption of the convention, we have seen the rise of non-state actors among the worst perpetrators of these heinous crimes. In the light of this, how does the Minister believe that international law should be adapted to best allow for the prosecution of such groups?
Ministers have previously told this House that they are focused on gathering evidence in preparation for any future prosecution, particularly of Daesh for genocide. What is the progress on that gathering of evidence? What commitments are being made by the Government to resource it? We need to see some definite action. Sadly, I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. When policymakers refuse to call genocide by its proper name, their denial becomes an excuse for inaction.
Baroness Goldie (Con)
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate. The issue of whether and how the UK should make determinations of genocide and other international crimes is one on which I know he holds strong views, as do other noble Lords—many of whom have spoken today—and Members of the other place. I say specifically to him that I know he is a passionate and tireless advocate of his position. I respect that. While the Government may not always be able to agree with him, we cannot but admire the tenacity and resolve he shows in constantly pursuing these issues.
It is right that we properly debate the issues and the rationale behind government policy. That policy remains, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that any determination of genocide or crimes against humanity, or war crimes, should be made only by competent courts and not by Governments or non-judicial bodies. These could include international courts such as the International Criminal Court, or national criminal courts that meet international standards of due process. We maintain that this position provides a clear, impartial and, perhaps very importantly, independent measure for the determination of whether genocide has occurred.
Your Lordships will be aware that the UK is not alone in the position it adopts. I also mention that our position is well understood, and we are not lobbied by other countries to change our approach. As the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, explained:
“Not only are the courts best placed to judge criminal matters but their impartiality also ensures the protection of the UK Government from the politicisation and controversies that often attach themselves to the question of genocide”.
That is why we do not agree with the provision contained in the noble Lord’s Genocide Determination Bill to empower the High Court of England and Wales to make a preliminary finding on cases of genocide. These are crimes that require the application of a criminal standard of proof on the basis of individual criminal liability—that is, any decision must be made after consideration of all the evidence available in the context of a credible criminal trial of an individual or individuals; it must not be an abstract opinion based on incomplete evidence. That could have the unwelcome and, I know, unintended consequence of prejudicing a subsequent criminal trial. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, was wise in counselling caution in relation to a High Court referral.
I make it clear that this policy relating to the formal determination of genocide in no way undermines the UK’s commitment to the principle that there should be no impunity for perpetrators of the most serious crimes of international concern. My noble friend Lady Nicholson eloquently described the horrors of such repugnant activity, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I hope that that also reassures the noble Lords, Lord Loomba and Lord Collins, who also made important comments on that aspect.
As a party to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, we are committed to taking steps to prevent violations of international law that may amount to genocide and to ensuring that those who are guilty of its commission are brought to justice. I think that it was the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, who referred to that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Indeed, while we recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested, that in some cases the terminology used to describe certain crimes may influence how some people view them, I emphasise that it does not influence the UK’s response; nor do we wait for a determination on the nature of a crime before taking appropriate action. That is why we do not agree that it is possible to address the situation only if a determination of genocide is made, and this is where I respectfully disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Singh of Wimbledon.
In reference to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, although I certainly do not want to lock horns with such an eminent lawyer, on the question of terminology I see a distinction between opining on an instance of murder by an individual and the much more challenging and complex determination of concluding that acts by citizens of a state against other citizens of that state constitute genocide.
What is the UK response to atrocities? I shall illustrate. Let us take, for example, our action in response to the appalling actions of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and by the Burmese military in Rakhine, to which a number of your Lordships referred. The UK has played a leading role in the 77-member Global Coalition against Daesh, supporting efforts that have resulted in taking back 98% of the territory that Daesh once occupied and liberating 7.7 million people from its reign of terror. That is a very significant achievement.
We have also worked closely with the Government of Iraq to negotiate Security Council Resolution 2379 on Daesh accountability. That resolution, passed unanimously almost exactly a year ago, established an investigative team to collect, preserve and analyse evidence of Daesh’s appalling actions, and I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Collins. That team is led by Karim Khan QC, a highly experienced British advocate. It will consist of international and Iraqi experts, and will work closely with both the Government of Iraq and organisations already collecting evidence of Daesh’s crimes. We will provide Karim Khan and his team with every assistance to collect vital evidence before it is lost or destroyed.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred specifically to Darfur, the Niger Delta and to Rwanda. On Darfur, the UK supported the United Nations Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court and has been a strong supporter of the court in helping to fulfil its mandate, providing almost £1 million last year alone. That funding is also allowing the court to conduct preliminary examinations and investigations across the globe, including the situation in the Niger Delta and the Middle Belt states. In Rwanda we supported the United Nations Security Council, acting under chapter 7 of the UN Charter, to establish an international criminal tribunal for Rwanda in 1994 and subsequently provided political and financial support until its closure.
The noble Lord, Lords Alton and Lord Hannay, and others also spoke about Burma. Following the allegations of serious human rights violations in Burma against the Rohingya, including sexual violence, we are taking action to pursue justice and to support the victims. Let me reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on that. We co-sponsored the creation of the fact-finding mission, together with resolutions condemning the human rights violations and calling for unfettered UN access. We deployed our own team of experts in sexual violence to assess the situation on the ground. We are also applying pressure on those responsible for the violence, through targeted sanctions against members of the Burmese military. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that among other things, our £129 million of humanitarian funding is providing psychosocial support for the victims in camps in Bangladesh.
On the comments about Burma by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the Government are clear in their condemnation of the atrocities in Rakhine. The Foreign Secretary believes that action is warranted in the light of the fact-finding mission’s findings. The Foreign Secretary plans to convene a meeting of fellow UN Security Council Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly this month to discuss how best to ensure that perpetrators of atrocities are brought to justice. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others who raised the question of Aung San Suu Kyi—yes, we believe that she should have spoken out more against the atrocities that the military has perpetrated in Rakhine. We have consistently urged her to use her moral authority in leadership to ensure that the Rohingya refugees can return safely.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who, specifically in relation to the International Criminal Court, asked about the UK’s response to the recent US threat of sanctions. We have always been clear that the ICC can play an important role in ending impunity for the most serious international crimes. It has our full support in pursuing the mandate that it was given under the ICC statute. We have noted recent comments. I think that Mr Bolton does tend to have a bit of form in being sceptical about certain international organisations, but that does not diminish in any way the UK’s commitment to the ICC.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that in relation to Iraq the UK is co-operating fully with the ICC prosecutor as her office carries out due process in this preliminary examination. We expect to be able to fully satisfy the prosecutor that the UK efforts to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute—
Lord Hannay of Chiswick
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way; I think that she is drawing to a conclusion. However, she has not really addressed issues raised by myself and several other noble Lords, which fall short of the idea that is put forward in the draft legislation proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of establishing a judicial determination, but which suggests that the Government should be more open to stating, in circumstances where they have compelling evidence, that they believe there is prima facie evidence of genocide.
If the Minister is not armed with the Foreign Office legal advisers’ rock-ribbed determination not to move on this matter, will she please take the matter back and, in writing, tell noble Lords who have participated in this debate whether the Government are prepared to contemplate taking a more open attitude towards statements of the sort that I have suggested, which are not—I repeat, not—legal determinations?
I listen, as I always do, to the noble Lord with great interest. I had endeavoured in my introductory remarks to indicate what the Government’s position is and why we hold that position. The Government are always interested in the observations and contributions of your Lordships and this is no exception. I shall certainly ensure that the noble Lord’s reflections are relayed to the department. More than that I cannot say.
Lord Deben (Con)
Does my noble friend also accept that very many of us would like her to do that because, if we cannot, we are in fact conniving with the wrong words being used for really serious offences?
I strongly refute any question of connivance. That is not what the Government are doing. They have made their position clear. What I do respect is the attitude and opinion of certain of your Lordships that there might be some scope for revisiting how the Government adopt criteria to determine their approach. I have made clear what the Government’s policy decision is. However, we are always open-minded and we are certainly prepared to continue to look at these matters. But what I cannot do is give any false hope or, more importantly, any erroneous commitment. I can only undertake to relay the thoughts that have been expressed today.
I am now out of time. I had hoped to address a few other points. I will look at Hansard and endeavour to deal with any remaining matters that have not been addressed by corresponding with the appropriate noble Lords who made contributions.
This Government are committed to the principle that there should be no impunity for those who commit the most serious crimes of international concern. We have demonstrated this time and again through our unwavering support to international justice and investigatory mechanisms. We have provided support—political, financial and logistical—and been instrumental in the establishment of evidence-gathering mechanisms. I have made clear what the Government’s policy is: we believe that whether genocide has been committed or whether crimes against humanity or war crimes have occurred is a matter for judicial decision after consideration of all the available evidence, rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies.
We are determined to try, as a number of noble Lords perceptively identified, to seek an end to serious violations of international law, prevent the escalation of any such violations and alleviate the suffering of those affected, irrespective of whether specific international crimes are deemed to have occurred. That is what this Government will continue to strive to do.
House adjourned at 5.48 pm.
To view the debate go to
We Must Do More To Protect Vulnerable Populations
By Lord Alton and Ján Figeľ (EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion and Belief outside of the EU).
We need an international day for victims of religious persecution
September 5 2018, 12:01am, The Times, London.
After turning a blind eye to atrocities in Syria, Iraq and Burma, the international community must be reminded of its duties, writes Lord Alton of Liverpool
The international community has failed miserably in its response to the crimes against humanity inflicted upon religious minorities in Syria, Iraq and Burma.
Those responsible scoff at the notion that they will ever be brought to justice. As we fail to prevent the worst mass atrocities in recent history, including against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria and against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, they make a mockery of every human rights protocol.
We have singularly and spectacularly failed to prevent, protect or to punish.
Have we learned anything from the Holocaust or from the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and many more? We continue to miss the red flags of such atrocities, afraid of any obligations that may follow.
The question is: what else might be done to prevent this vicious, repetitive circle of mass atrocities?
First, states must do more to identify and consider mass atrocities for what they are. Governments must ensure that they have domestic mechanisms that would identify mass atrocities and enable a determination to decide whether they are likely to amount to genocide or crimes against humanity. Based on the preliminary determination and following recommendations, states should not shy away from acting.
This would put flesh on the bones of the duties to which many states already theoretically subscribe, those enshrined in the UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide.
Such actions could include a referral to the International Criminal Court or a UN resolution to establish independent international fact-finding missions to obtain the evidence of the atrocities and make recommendations for the UN to implement. This would umbilically link the crime of genocide to the systematic and determined pursuit of justice.
Second, states need to do more to assist the persecuted groups. It is crucial that religious persecution is properly understood and that decisive steps are taken to address the early signs before it reaches a threshold of mass atrocities.
One small step that could help to improve public and political awareness would be to establish a UN-led day commemorating the victims of religious persecution. Without acknowledging and addressing the religious character of such crimes, there will never be an adequate response.
The annual event could let the victims of such mass atrocities tell their stories and to remind the world of how it looked the other way.
The survivors’ memories of the humiliations, displacements and deaths suffered by their communities should motivate us and give us greater clarity in the approach we take.
Unless we address this issue with boldness we can be certain that such horrors will visit us again. If we really stand up to our words and commitments, if we responsibly protect defenceless and voiceless communities, we may finally end the century of genocides.
Lord Alton of Liverpool is a crossbench peer and former Liberal Democrat MP. Jan Figel, the European Commission’s special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, also contributed to this article.
This issue will be raised on September 13 at a short debate in the House of Lords, where the government will be asked what steps it is taking to change the way formal international declarations of genocide or crimes against humanity are made and to further the prosecution of those responsible
This is an extended version of abridged version which appeared in The Times
The world’s dismal response to the genocide in Syria and Iraq, against Christians and Yazidis, to the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Burma, against the Kachin and the Rohingya Muslims, stands as a shocking indictment of miserable failure. Like laughing hyenas those responsible scoff at the notion that one day they will be brought to justice and, meanwhile, as we fail to prevent the worst mass atrocities in recent history, they make a mockery every human rights protocol. We have singularly and spectacularly failed to prevent, protect or to punish.
We saw what Daesh was capable of and yet failed to act in time. Religious minorities and ancient communities in Syria and Iraq have been subject to a Holocaust while the world has generally looked the other way. Far too late in the day the Security Council finally began to talk about the collection of evidence and bringing those responsible to justice while all around the Globe legislators passed resolutions pinpointing the genocide while their Executives ignored them.
We then saw the ethnic cleansing by the Burmese army against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state and mass atrocities committed in Kachin and other states. As horror after horror has unfolded the world simply accepted the Burmese government’s claim that the Burmese military was just doing its job to counter militia active in the region. We continued to accept this argument when we saw the mass murder, witnessed forced displacement of over 700,000 people to Bangladesh, and heard testimonies of women and girls being gang-raped. Trusting the murderer to investigate the homicide we nodded approvingly as the Burmese government said that it would investigate the crimes.
Have we learned anything from the Holocaust, from the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, and many more? We continue to miss the red flags of such atrocities as we are shy to use the G-word afraid of any obligations that may follow. We continue to shy away from using the word claiming that it is not for us to do so, but for some international legal systems. We continue to act, too little and too late, but hiding behind the diplomatic fig leaf that we are doing our best. At best this is self -congratulatory delusion; at worst it is to silently collaborate through inertia and indifference. Be clear: we are not doing our best until we successfully prevent such mass atrocities; until we successfully protect vulnerable groups.
The question then, is what else might be done to prevent this vicious, repetitive circle of mass atrocities? Spare us the banalities of sound bites and slogans about Never Again until we get real about the distance that exists between the words and deeds; between the sentiments and the mechanisms for making preventing genocide when the alarm bells begin to sound.
First, States must do more to identify and consider mass atrocities for what they are. States must ensure that they have domestic mechanisms that would identify mass atrocities and enable a determination to urgently decide whether they are likely to amount to genocide or crimes against humanity. Based on the preliminary determination and following recommendations, States should not shy away from acting. This would put flesh on the bones of the duties to which many States already theoretically subscribe; duties and obligations to prevent and punish the crime of genocide enshrined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Such actions could include a referral to the International Criminal Court or a UN resolution to establish independent international fact-finding missions to obtain the evidence of the atrocities and make recommendations for the UN to implement. This would umbilically link the crime of Genocide to the systematic and determined pursuit of justice.
Second, States need to do more to assist the persecuted groups.
For example, the Daesh genocidal atrocities and the Burmese army atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims, graphically illustrate how outright persecution on the ground of religion continues to be misunderstood and unaddressed. It is crucial that religious persecution is properly understood; and that decisive steps are taken to address the early signs of religious persecution before it reaches a threshold of mass atrocities – which all too rapidly morph into crimes against humanity and genocide.
One small step that could help to improve public and political awareness would be the proposal to establish an official UN-led day commemorating the victims and survivors of religious persecution. The day could be used to raise awareness of the issue of religious persecution and to work on introducing positive steps to combat it, wherever and whenever it occurs. If such a “say” is not to become merely tokenistic it would need to be used as a focal point to stimulate a rather more substantial action plan to adequately address the religious aspect of such mass atrocities, such as those perpetrated by Daesh.
Without acknowledging and addressing the religious character of such crimes, there will never be an adequate response. We have suggested that such a universally recognised day could be commemorated on August 3, 2014, the day the fate of the Yazidi community in Sinjar changed forever. The annual event could also be used to ensure that the victims and survivors of such mass atrocities would have the opportunity to tell their stories and to remind the world of how it looked the other way.
The survivors’ memory of their communities’ fatalities, injuries, humiliations, dispersals and displacements should motivate us. Their active participation might assist in achieving greater clarity in the approach we take. Unless we address this issue with boldness, and a more radical determination, we can be certain that such horrors will visit us again.