Friday, October 18, 2019 3:32:24 PM – the use of white phosphorous against children and civilians
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that 13-year old Mohammed Hamid Mohammed, admitted to Tal Tamir Hospital following the bombing by Turkey, of Ras-al Ain, is a victim of white phosphorus; and what prosecutions they will seek for violations of the Geneva Convention and Chemical Weapons Convention?
Letter Oct 18 to Government Ministers, Lord Ahmad and Earl Howe:
In advance of answering my question to you about war crimes in North East Syria, I would like to draw your attention to the following report published today:
Oral Question October 18
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, a few moments ago the Minister said that a principal reason for our involvement in north-east Syria has been the defeat of Daesh. Vast numbers of people have been released from camps in north-east Syria. Some of those whose names I gave to the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, over the weekend, have been directly associated with Daesh and are now on their way to the streets of Europe. What is the Minister doing to ensure that these people are apprehended as soon as possible, and, more importantly, brought to justice by creating internationally recognised mechanisms under the convention on the crime of genocide?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
The noble Lord expresses a concern, shared by us all, about exacerbating the situation of not just those Daesh fighters but the families who were held. I assure him that I am in receipt of his email, which he referred to, and that we are looking at each case very closely. Where people are identified as due for prosecution—for example, if they arrive back in the UK—it will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to look at each matter individually, and appropriate action will be taken against those who committed these crimes.
Questions for Written Answer
Tabled on 15 October and due for answer by 29 October.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether the execution of Hevrin Khalaf, the secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, constitutes a war crime. HL18049
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the claim by the Syrian Democratic Forces that nine executions of civilians have been carried out since the invasion of Syria by Turkey. HL18050
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the government of the United States their condemnation of the executions of Syrian civilians by Turkish- allied Syria groups; and what plans they have to seek a referral of Turkey to the International Criminal Court. HL18051
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish the names of combatants fighting alongside Turkish forces in north-east Syria who are known to have affiliations with ISIS or other terrorist organisations. HL18052
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have received about the plight of religious or political minorities at risk from genocidaires in north-east Syria; and what action they are taking in accordance with the requirements of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide to protect them and to bring the perpetrators to justice. HL18053
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring those responsible for genocide in Syria and Iraq to justice.HL18054
4.37 pm Tuesday October 16th. The House of Lords Debate on The Queens Speech
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
I have three relevant interests to declare: I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, am vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs and am a patron of Hong Kong Watch.
I want to speak about north-east Syria and China.
How bitterly ironic it is that next week, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the universally applicable Geneva conventions.
Along with the genocide convention, they represent two of the emasculated pillars of a rules-based international order, both of which are being compromised by Turkey’s invasion of Syria.
Both conventions attempt to protect the most vulnerable: civilians, wounded combatants, humanitarian workers, prisoners of war and journalists. The Geneva conventions insist that even wars have limits and that where those limits are violated, it can constitute a war crime.
Consider, then, what has happened in north-east Syria, where 450,000 people live within three miles of the border with Turkey.
Following President Erdoğan’s tweet announcing the invasion, and heavy bombardment of the Kurdish-held areas using NATO-standard army hardware, an estimated 150,000 civilians have been displaced and many killed, including children.
Scores of Kurdish members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the West’s foremost ally in the fight against Daesh’s genocide, have been killed, along with members of religious minorities whom they had been protecting.
Some American servicemen have rightly described the betrayal of the Kurds as a,“stain on the national conscience”.
Little wonder that betrayed Kurds have been repeating their belief that their only true friends are the mountains.
How will history judge our dismal response to the long-standing Kurdish desire for a homeland? Consider that a female Kurdish politician, Hevrin Khalaf, secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, has been executed with others. Does the Minister regard these acts as war crimes? Who will be held to account and how?
Consider also our failure to stop the escape of hundreds of ISIS prisoners, prepare for the defeat of ISIS, establish arrangements to bring to justice those responsible for genocide or deal with thousands of foreign fighters and their children.
Has the Minister been able to verify the evidence I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, last weekend and which I referred to during the Urgent Question repeat yesterday, providing names of ISIS sympathisers now fighting alongside Turkish combatants and details of the camps from which ISIS genocidaires have escaped?
How does the Minister respond to a report in today’s Daily Telegraph that a source at the United Nations says that there is now,“no chance for a regional court, it was minimal before this, and is impossible now”?
Holding people to account in this region does not have a good track record.
Turkey should be particularly mindful of its own history in this region, not least in the mass killings of minorities, including Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians. The Ottoman Empire used the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor as the main killing fields for the Armenians. Our generation has a duty to contest any offensive which targets people because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion, race or orientation.
I am pleased that my genocide determination Bill came sixth in the ballot yesterday.
I hope the Government will consider supporting it and remedy our utter failure to prosecute those responsible for mass murder.
It gives me no pleasure to predict that what Turkey has done will result in ethnic cleansing and, potentially, genocide and war crimes. Inevitably, it will add to the unprecedented 70.8 million people currently displaced worldwide—a staggering 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every single day. Erdoğan has already threatened to push a further 3.7 million Syrian refugees into Europe if we dare to criticise him.
He says that Turkish-controlled territory will be a “safe zone”. Recall that Srebrenica was in a United Nations “safe zone” in 1995. Would you want to stay in an Erdoğan safe zone? Would the Yazidis or Christians, who have experienced one genocide, want to stay there?
Pre-ISIS Christians numbered 130,000 people; now they number around 40,000. Will this be the final blow to Christianity in its cradle?
In the context of the wider regional challenges, we need to question everything from our sale of arms to the implication for countries that look to us or the United States to guarantee their safety and security.
Today’s Times is right to remind us of Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum to,“speak softly and carry a big stick”.In a polar opposite approach, the White House has done neither and left a dangerous power vacuum.
As America lies diminished, Russia, Iran and ISIS are the beneficiaries. To at least partly correct this terrible blunder, we should get behind the bipartisan proposals of US Senators to sanction Turkey and target President Erdoğan’s overseas assets.
I will also say something about China.
We have just observed another 70th anniversary, of the Chinese Communists ending a long-running civil war with the Kuomintang and beginning 70 years of one-party rule.
I have secured a full debate on Hong Kong for next Thursday but, for now, let me reflect that 30 years ago, after the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese military murdered 10,000 people, mainly students wanting democratic reform.Deng Xiaoping’s welcome decision to place China on the road to reform has now been superseded by President Xi Jinping’s decision to return to the omnipotent days of leaders for life.
He may not have a Little Red Book, but in religious buildings he has replaced the Ten Commandments with his own list of Communist principles, and in China, a war has been declared on religious, faith and dissenting groups.
Noble Lords may have read this week’s reports that at least 45 burial grounds of Uighurs have been destroyed. A million Uighurs are in detention centres in Xinjiang, and with tombs now being opened and human remains scattered, it is part of a campaign to destroy their identity. There is no escape from persecution, even in death.
How can we be indifferent to the immolation of Tibetan Buddhist monks, the bulldozing of Protestant churches and allegations of the forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and others, referred to earlier by my noble friend Lady Finlay?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDLtMYazlmc
In China, a social credit system has been established that buys favours in return for blind allegiance, with reports of the Supreme People’s Court having a blacklist of 13 million people who can be punished if they fail to comply. The state intrudes into every aspect of life, including the taking of DNA, face recognition technology and vast surveillance.
Simultaneously, aggressive propaganda campaigns are promoted overseas, and poor countries are forced into compliance as the price for economic aid through the belt and road initiative.
This has been accompanied by the takeover of United Nations departments and agencies, and the rights of non-compliant Chinese citizens are trampled underfoot.I have tabled parliamentary questions this week and written to the Foreign Secretary about the cases of two people—Lam Wing-kee and Lee Ming-che—that I recently heard about first-hand in Taiwan.
I met one of them, and the wife of the other.
I hope that when the Minister responds, he will give me an assurance that his noble friends at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take these cases seriously and give us a full explanation of what we can say and do to help them.
Cases like theirs help to explain why Hong Kong has seen up to 2 million of its people on its streets demanding that the international treaty lodged at the United Nations guaranteeing “two systems, one country” is honoured.
In reality, few people believe it will be honoured, which is why over 170 parliamentarians—including 119 from your Lordships’ House—have signed a letter urging the Foreign Secretary to lead an international campaign, especially through the Commonwealth, to provide second citizenship and a second place of abode to all Hong Kong people who wish it, if the Communist Party of China disrespects the promises and commitments it has made.
I pay great tribute to Luke de Pulford of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Ben Rogers of Hong Kong Watch for the role they have played in leading that initiative.
I am, however, disappointed by the Foreign Office response, from anonymous officials, which barely referred to the proposals in the original letter. Although the Foreign Secretary has said that this was “an administrative error”, I hope that his department will now seriously engage with an idea which might offer hope to the people of Hong Kong, quell the ferocity of the protests and challenge China’s increasing hostility to the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I hope that we will use Magnitsky powers, including sanctions against officials in China and Hong Kong who undermine the city’s autonomy.
I hope the Minister will tell us that we will be doing so.I have mentioned the anniversaries of great international declarations and the anniversary of one-party rule and Tiananmen Square.
Let me end on a more hopeful note, with the anniversary, on 9 November, of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For 28 years, families were torn apart and a city cruelly divided, with young people shot dead when they attempted to scale the wall or to escape to freedom.
Is it too much to hope, as we commemorate the breaking of that wall, that human rights, democracy and the rule of law will come to the beleaguered people of the Middle East and the Far East?