Supporting Crisis and World Homelessness Day – October 10th


In 1979 – just after I was elected to Parliament – I was asked to become a Trustee of the charity Crisis at Christmas, founded by the Cabinet Minister, Iain Macleod, and then presided over by his widow, Lady Borve Macleod. Having been Chairman of the Housing Committee in Liverpool and seen homelessness first hand, I readily agreed.  I spent part of a couple of Christmases volunteering at their  Christmas night shelter.  Within a couple of years we changed the name to simply “Crisis” – the epidemic of homelessness having become a scandalous every day phenomenon.  I later became a Patron of Crisis and have supported it for four decades. In Parliament this week they launched their latest campaign to end this scourge. I would never have believed, in 1979, that it would still be necessary for Crisis to undertake this work.  In one of the world’s richest countries people should not be reduced to sleeping on streets just a stone’s throw from our Parliament.

Crisis picture Lord Alton.jpg

At the launch of World Homeless Day on October 10th in the Houses of Parliament.

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World Homeless Day 2018 Official Logo

On the 10th of October 2018
people around the world will mark World Homeless Day in many varied ways and change the lives of homeless people in their local community.

Banner used by world homeless day activists

World Homeless Day is an annual event on the 10th of October.


The concept of ‘World Homeless Day’ emerged from online discussions between people working to respond to homelessness from various parts of the world.

The Inaugural World Homeless Day was marked on the 10th of October 2010.

Since its founding, World Homeless Day has been observed on every continent except Antarctica, in several dozen countries.

Use of the idea of ‘World Homeless Day’ is open for all to use… anywhere in the world.


The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an ‘international day’ provides.

How To Make a Difference

  • educate people about homeless issues
  • celebrate and support local good works
  • highlight local issues
  • donate to local service providers
  • volunteer and provide hands on help
  • invite a guest speaker
  • host a fundraiser
  • get social #worldhomelessday @homelessday

Collaborate & Double Your Impact

Once you identify the local service provider for homeless people you want to rally support behind…. for example if they suggest clean socks; or food items; or an item they need funds to buy or just general fundraising…. use your local networks to rally even greater support:

  • schools
  • churches
  • service clubs
  • local businesses
  • where you work
  • who else?

World Homeless Day is something you can point to on the calendar each year and use to make a significant difference in your local community.

Suggestions for Politicians

  • Acknowledge World Homeless Day officially
  • Point out the good works of service providers
  • Release new funds each year on the date
  • Form an advisory group on homelessness


Rethink Homelessness Video

Performing Arts in Australia

Comminity Capacity Building

A WHD conference organised by locals in Zambia.

Housing Justice Protest

Activists in the U.S. reclaim an Abandon Building

Street Level Protests

Street Protests on World Homeless Day

School Education

London: School Students Gather for a Dress Up Day to raise money for a Guest Speaker from a local charity.

Parliamentary debate about Addiction – gambling, drugs, sedatives and other forms of addiction – and the toxic society that has created the climate in which addiction takes root. Parliamentary reply reveals that over the past 10 years 52,303,604 sedatives have been issued by the NHS at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion.  But what about the root causes?

Following this week’s Parliamentary debate on Addiction – gambling, drugs, sedatives and other forms of addiction – and the toxic society that has created the climate in which addiction takes root, David Alton said “there is a need for a comprehensive national strategy to look at all forms of addiction and to start tackling the root causes.”

In answwer to questions Lord Alton tabled the replies reveal that over the past 10 years 52,303,604 sedatives have been issued by the NHS at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion.  But what about the root causes?



September 12th 2018



 6.10 pm


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)


My Lords, we are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for the way in which he introduced today’s debate. His remarks were powerful, eloquent and moving. Indeed, all the contributions in this Committee this afternoon have reinforced his introductory remarks.


I want to raise three separate questions. The first is to reinforce what has already been said very powerfully about the issue of gambling. I too saw the remarks last week of Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, this is not just about the financial costs. Simon Stevens said:


“There is an increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems”.


With over 430,000 problem gamblers, including 25,000 children, it is clear that this is not a fringe issue. Earlier today at Question Time I was able to pursue this point in following up on the Question raised by the right reverend Prelate with the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie. I want to come back to that question for a moment because it was specifically focused on young people. 


Although I was grateful to the noble Viscount for answering, in part, to get a full answer, I want to put the point again to the noble Baroness the Minister and, if she is not able to answer today, I hope that we will get a written response to the specific point about the Gambling Commission’s licensing codes and the targeting of children. 


In particular, will the Minister consider a change to provision 3.2.11 of the social responsibility code so that the requirement to,


“not deliberately provide facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children or young people, for example by reflecting or being associated with youth culture”—


those are the words in the social responsibility code—applies to remote gambling as it already applies to non-remote gambling? 


That is a sensible and easy thing that the Government could do and they should get on with it. 


They should also do the things about advertising that the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, the right reverend Prelate and others have alluded to.​


My second concern is something that I would like the Minister to raise with her noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, about representations that I sent him last week from Mr Nicholas Hatton about the popular dieting drug, Dinitrophenol. 


Mr Hatton studied at Liverpool John Moores University, where I held a chair and am an honorary fellow. 


It has a strong track record in research on drug abuse—in a city that sadly has relatively high rates of misuse of many kinds of drugs. 


With others, Mr Hatton produced a paper on Dinitrophenol, a drug that he says is widely available on the high street, despite substantial evidence regarding its toxic effects. 


Last year, a young woman from Worcester died after ingesting an overdose of the drug.


 I hope that the Minister will arrange for the paper that I sent to the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, to be reviewed and will produce a considered written reply in due course, examining in particular any addictive aspects of this drug.


 I reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said earlier about how simply making things more easily available is not necessarily the way to deal with a problem of addiction.Making them more easily available often provides open access for those people who might never have experienced those things in the first place. Simply having people addicted to things is hardly a solution.


My third point touches on the question of dangerous and massive addiction, particularly to antidepressants. 


Just before the House rose for the Summer Recess, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, answered a Written Question from me about how many antidepressants had been dispensed to people under the age of 18 and to primary school-age children in the past 10 years.


 I asked also what the total cost was to the NHS. The reply was that:


“The information is not available in the format requested and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost”.


That simply is not good enough and is, I might say, uncharacteristic of a Minister who is usually marked by his courtesy and helpfulness to the House. 


These are children we are talking about and this information should be readily available and in the public domain.


 I ask the same question again today: how many antidepressants have been dispensed to those under the age of 18 and at what cost to the public purse?


I did, however, receive two rather more helpful replies which I want to put on the record. 


I asked for details of the total number of antidepressant tablets which have been dispensed in the past 10 years. 


The figure is a staggering 552,303,604 at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion. 


The other question was about side-effects and the length of time for which these antidepressants have been taken by individual users. In the course of that reply, the noble Lord said:


“It is not possible to estimate how long on average patients receive antidepressants”.


I simply ask why not? Why are we not asking this fundamental question?


We fail to ask about the reasons why people become so deeply depressed in the first place. 


We fail to address the reasons why people become obese, addicted to gambling, pornography or drugs. 


All of this is bound up with the kind of society we have created, where, by way of example,half a million elderly people do not see a single person on an average day and where 800,000 children have no contact ​with their fathers. 


What kind of society have we created? 


This is what we should be addressing. 


This is why the noble Lord is right to place these important issues before us today.





Minister ‘s Reply – Baroness Manzoor:



The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other noble Lords, raised issues around Simon Stevens and sponsorship. GambleAware has published donations and pledges that cover the first quarter of the year. These total nearly £3 million, and many more operatives are expected to donate in the months to come. I understood about looking at the Gambling Commission, the licensing code and the responsibility for the code, but I will write to noble Lords on this issue as there is insufficient time for me to cover that.



The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, mentioned the overprescription of drugs. I share his concerns; it is an issue that I personally have been concerned with, as have the Government. I will write to him with more details on the issues that he raises. He also raised his letter on addiction relating to diet pills. We have received that letter and I reassure him that we are working very closely with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on a substantive reply.​


Lord Alton meets survivors of the Holocaust and genocide at Parliamentary Event. Read September 13th House debates on Genocide and Anti-Semitism. Also, Why We Must Do More To Protect Vulnerable Populations from Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity – Article published in The Times by Lord Alton and Ján Figeľ (EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion and Belief outside of the EU). 


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)

 4.18 pm


Asked by


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.



 4.29 pm


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”.



 4.37 pm


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.


 4.44 pm


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

Hear, hear.




Baroness Flather

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.



 4.50 pm


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.



 4.56 pm


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.



 5.01 pm


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.



 5.07 pm


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.


 5.11 pm


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.



 5.18 pm


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.​


 5.27 pm


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.



 5.33 pm


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?



Baroness Goldie

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?


Baroness Goldie

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


Jan Figel 1

Jan Figel

By Lord Alton and Ján Figeľ (EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion and Belief outside of the EU). 

David Alton

David Alton

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.


Eritrea In The News – Important new exhibition open to see in London during September.It is showing  at Resource for London from 5-30 September, and features more than 40 images – a mix of archive material and personal collections, some never publicly exhibited before.


On Tuesday 4 September, Lord Alton of Liverpool opened a photo exhibition on Eritrea on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, of which he is Vice Chairman.

Eritrea 3


Eritrea in the News tells the story of Eritrea through a series of fascinating images captured at pivotal points in the country’s history, from Italian colonial rule through to the struggle for independence and the repression of dictatorship that followed. The exhibition has been organised by Eritrea Focus – a keen supporter of the APPG’s work.

It is showing  at Resource for London from 5-30 September, and features more than 40 images – a mix of archive material and personal collections, some never publicly exhibited before – of the places and people that have shaped Eritrea throughout the years.

Welcome from Habte Hagos, Chairman of Eritrea Focus

Habte Hagos welcomed guests to the exhibition opening and introduced Eritrea Focus as an association of NGOs, human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals working to expose human rights abuses in Eritrea, unite Eritreans from all walks of life, and to bring about positive change in a country that has suffered greatly under dictatorship.
Habte summarised the content of the exhibition, which brings together a series of photographs – some of them never before exhibited – that shed light on Eritrea’s history of subjugation and struggle, where colonial rule was followed by federation with Ethiopia in 1952.

He said that although Eritrea had declared its independence from Ethiopia in 1991, “the promise of freedom was never honoured”, and in 27 years no elections have been held, the constitution of 1997 has never been implemented, and there is no independent legislature, judiciary, civil society or media. Indefinite national service, he said, “has been characterized by a UN Commission of Inquiry as effective enslavement”.

Commenting on current political developments between Eritrea and Ethiopia, he said that there remained few signs of real change.

Habte then welcomed Lord Alton to deliver the keynote address, praising him as a good friend of Eritrea Focus and a dedicated campaigner for human rights and an advocate for international religious freedoms.

Keynote address from Lord Alton of Liverpool, Vice-Chair of the APPG on Eritrea

Eritrea DA

Lord Alton thanked Habte and praised the work of Eritrea Focus and its members for campaigning tirelessly to draw international attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Eritrea. He also thanked Martin Plaut for his involvement and efforts in raising awareness through his book Understanding Eritrea.

In particular, Lord Alton drew upon his recent experiences at a meeting of the APPG on Religious Freedom, at which he heard first-hand testimony from religious leaders in Eritrea of the persecution,detention and torture that they have faced, and praised the inter-faith solidarity that they had demonstrated.

Lord Alton told attendees that the exhibition offer an in-depth insight into the grievous abuses of human rights committed by the government of Eritrea, which he said is engaged in violating almost all 30 human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Making reference to the images displayed in the exhibition, Lord Alton remarked that the photograph of coffins on the Italian island of Lampedusa, containing the bodies of Eritreans who drowned when a boat carrying 336 people sank in the Mediterranean in 2013, affected him deeply and was a desperate reminder of the forces that drive Eritreans to flee their country.
Lord Alton introduced the exhibition by noting that while it is called ‘Eritrea in the News’, the small nation in eastern Africa rarely makes the news, and little is known amongst the wider international community about the repression and abuses suffered by its citizens.
He reiterated the history of Eritrea since the years of Italian colonial rule, which were followed by a disinterested British administration that passed the matter of the country’s future to the United Nations. He noted that the ‘federation’ of Eritrea with Ethiopia was more of an incorporation of the former into the latter, and that “history would have been very different” if Emperor Haile Selassie had “accepted Eritrea’s federal status and respected its individuality”.
Lord Alton pointed to another “iconic” photo – that of Eritreans celebrating in the streets on 24 May 1991 – as being akin to images from the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the jubilation and expectation that it embodied. It was, he said, a poignant reminder of the hope that was shattered by the regime of President Isaias Afwerki, and the policy of “no war, no peace” that dominated Eritrean politics and policy for 20 years. “Many of you will know this from painful, personal experience”, he said.
Of recent political developments, Lord Alton expressed his hope that the rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia is permanent, and that it “brings peace and reconciliation between these two neighbours” and is accompanied by “the real, democratic, internal transformation that Eritrea’s people so richly deserve”. “An international community looking to a new future with an open, just and free Eritrea,” he said, “must not do so at the expense of forgetting its past.”
In closing, Lord Alton encouraged his audience at the Resource of London to spread the word about the exhibition, contact London media and make representations to their local politicians to bring attention to Eritrea in Parliament and in the public eye.

Closing remarks from Habte Hagos
Habte Hagos thanked guests for attending the opening, and thanked Andy Gregg, CEO of Race on the Agenda (ROTA) and a campaigner with Eritrea Focus, for his help with the exhibition and unwavering support for the Eritrean people. He also thanked exhibition curator Chris Hudson for his excellent work.
He informed guests of two upcoming Eritrea Focus events at the Resource for London, on 15 and 22 September, about the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace deal, and the ‘push factors’ that drive Eritreans to flee their homes.
Habte ended with a personal wish that such exhibitions might one day be held in Asmara and other towns and cities across Eritrea, without intimidation.



These were David Alton’s full remarks at the launch event:

Eritrea in the news: Photo Exhibition Launch, September 4, at 17:00 hours RfL

Ladies and gentlemen, friends,

Thank you for joining us this evening to open what is a timely and, I hope you’ll agree, fascinating exhibition at the Resource for London.

I would like in particular to thank Eritrea Focus, which has organised this exhibition.

For many years now, Eritrea Focus has campaigned tirelessly to raise the profile of Eritrea on the international stage.

The exhibition is called ‘Eritrea in the News’ – but we are keenly aware of the fact that this small state in Eastern Africa very rarely makes the news.

 I would vouch that precious little is known about it by those who are not closely involved in advocating for Eritreans’ basic rights and freedoms.

As Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, I have heard all too often of the widespread and systematic abuses of human rights and civic freedoms that have taken place in the country under the rule of President Isaias Afwerki.

I have heard first-hand testimony from religious leaders of believers being jailed, tortured, and abused in the most heinous ways.

These images and text are designed to take the visitor from the earliest days of Eritrea’s colonial experience, through the Italian period and then into the Second World War, which ended with Britain ruling the country. Britain – unwilling to rule Eritrea – attempted to find an appropriate fate for the territory it had taken from the Italians. Eventually this task was taken by the United Nations, which sent a team to consult Eritreans on what future they wished to have. Sadly, there was no consensus. The UN decided to hand it to Ethiopia, but as part of a federation, with Eritrea retaining important rights. You will see images of this and of the Emperor Haile Selassie incorporating it into his Empire. If he had accepted Eritrea’s federal status and respected its individuality, perhaps history would be very different.

Tragically, it was not. In the 1960’s resistance turned to armed struggle, which continued for thirty long years. The blood spilled to achieve independence was immense. The celebration of liberation in 1991 is captured in an image which – for once – can rightly be described as iconic. The rest you all probably know: how the precious independence did not lead to a free and democratic state; how a minor border skirmish led to a terrible war with Ethiopia and how twenty years of no-war, no-peace squandered the lives of so many Eritreans. The flight into foreign lands; the drownings in the Mediterranean; the sadness of exile – all this followed. Many of you will know this from painful, personal experience. They are captured in the photographs around you – many of which have never been shown before.

The recent, rapid rapprochement between Eritrea and its neighbour Ethiopia, following years of war and tension, and been spearheaded by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali. It has been hailed – perhaps prematurely – as a landmark breakthrough that could win its architects a Nobel Peace Prize. Let us hope that it is permanent, that it brings peace and reconciliation between these two neighbours and that it is accompanied by the real, democratic, internal transformation that Eritrea’s people so richly deserve.

While we remain hopeful for the future, it is at such moments that the exposition of Eritrea’s past and present become all the more important.

The photos here are a reminder of the human stories interwoven in political upheaval and armed conflict. They are a reminder of the desperate conditions that continue to drive many Eritreans to risk their lives fleeing repression, persecution, and enslavement.

A peace that is just and meaningful will not overlook this suffering, and an international community looking to a new future with an open, just and free Eritrea must not do so at the expense of forgetting its past.

Thank you

Frank Field – the right honourable and brave Member of Parliament for Birkenhead

Frank Field – the right honourable and brave Member of Parliament for Birkenhead


1983 - with Bishop David Shepard, Archbishop Derek Worlock, Frank Field MP, Lynda Chalker MP - Hungry For Change Protest-9001

1987: Bishop David Sheppard, Frank Field MP (Birkenhead), David Alton MP (Liverpool Mossley Hill), Lynda Chalker MP (Wallasey) and Archbishop Derek Worlock – at a rally against world poverty held at Liverpool Pier Head.  

Frank Field sought the Labour nomination for the 1979 Liverpool Edge Hill by election. He didn’t get it. Another of my potential opponents was Ann Widdecombe, who expressed interest in the Conservative nomination. 

Frank Field 3

In retrospect, I am very glad that neither secured their parties’ nominations – bruising by-election campaigns don’t always endear you to your opponents. 


In any event, both went on to become formidable and respected parliamentarians – MPs who rapidly established reputations as principled and diligent.


Five weeks after that Liverpool by-election,  Frank became, in the General Election which folowed, the MP for Birkenhead – sometimes called the one-eyed city by Liverpudlians (reputedly because only one face of its clock tower was visible from the Liverpool  side of the Mersey).

Frank stood in the tradition of his immediate predecessor, Edmund Dell, who had been MP since 1964 but who resigned his seat in 1979, increasingly disillusioned by Labour’s drift to the Left; and its hostility to free markets and competition. He later joined the SDP.


Another of Frank’s predecessors was the Liberal MP, Graham White, first elected to Parliament in the 1920s, and who, in 1945, was one of the MPs who visited Buchenwald concentration camp. He worked closely with the Independent MP, Eleanor Rathbone, in opposing antisemiism and in championing Jewish refugees.

In words that might have been written about Frank Field, Graham White’s parliamentary colleague Sir Percy Harris described him as “disinterested, with a fine sense of duty and a varied knowledge of every kind of social problem, he was a mine of information and always ready to step into the breach.”


For Frank Field, too, public duty,  conscience, constituents, and country, are the red meat of politics. But he also understands the importance of being loyal to a Party – at least until it attempts to subvert your conscience or requires you to act in ways that are inimical to your beliefs. Loyalty and blind allegiance are two entirely different things.


I always listen to Frank Field’s point of view – even when I disagree – because I know that his case will have been carefully and intelligently shaped. I especially admire Frank’s work on poverty, social justice and the strengthening of families and communities. 

Throughout the 198Os Liverpool and Birkenhead became redouts of Labour’s Militant Tendency. Michael Foot described Militant as termites gnawing away at the foundations of the Labour Party. 

Throughout that period Frank’s voice was one of sanity – and was overwhelmingly supported by his constituents.

Frank Field 4

Yet, during those years his constituency Labour Party endlessly tried to deselect him as an MP – forcing him to spend a hige amount of time and energy fighting them – time which could have been better used on so many other causes.

Meanwhile,  in Liverpool, Militant Labour turned the city into a seething cauldron of resentment and chaos; organising crippling protests and demonstrations, sending dismissal notices to thousands of local government employees: impeding the city’s regeneration and entrenching poverty and unemployment. 

Happily, Liverpool and Birkenhead both came through that era of riots, bankruptcy, and antediluvian class warfare – but they might as well turn Birkenhead’s clock back thirty years, if Frank Field is unsupported in his courageous stand.


Frank Field’s battles against motions of no confidence; attempts to undermine him as MP; and the outrageous antisemitism and racism which he has fought against all his life, all have much wider significance than one man’s undoubted bravery.

 Just watch this – with both eyes open- and you will get a glimpse of what awaits our country if such intolerance and hate mongering is permitted to succeed.


1987 With Bishop David Shepard, Archbishop Derek Worlock, Lynda Chalker MP, Frank Field MP - Oxfam Hungry for Change Protest -96

1987:  Frank Field MP (Birkenhead), David Alton MP (Liverpool Mossley Hill), Lynda Chalker MP (Wallasey),Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock – at a rally against world poverty held at Liverpool Pier Head.  







Can the North Korean leopard change its spots? Opinion piece for GIS Reports Online


“Can the North Korean leopard change its spots?” See opinion piece for GIS Reports Online:,defense,2625.html


For background see:



Opinion: Can the North Korean leopard change its spots?

Kim Jong-un inspects the honor guard after returning home from his meeting with Donald Trump
Pyongyang, June 14, 2018: North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un returns home from his summit meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore (source: dpa)
Fifteen years ago, with my colleague, Baroness Caroline Cox, I made my first visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea. On return to Westminster, we founded the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and resolved to work for change in that benighted country.

U.S. President Trump meets South Korean envoy Cheong Wa Dae

GIS Dossier: The North Korean opening

Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

Trump-Kim meeting marginalizes China


This, after all, was a country which was still technically at war with its South Korean neighbor and the United States – an unfinished armed conflict that between 1950 and 1953 had claimed around 3 million lives.

It was a country developing a nuclear capability. And a country with a horrendous humanitarian and human rights record. In the 1990s, while millions of dollars were being poured into its weapons program, two million people had died during a devastating famine.

Meanwhile, four years ago, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) described North Korea as having committed crimes against humanity and its violations of human rights as being “without parallel.”

The regime is well aware of how easy it is for democracies to become what Lenin called ‘useful idiots’

This is a country that in 2017 alone conducted six nuclear tests and has repeatedly acted in defiance of the UN Security Council resolutions. It is said to possess 5,000 tons of chemical and biological agents and 1,000 artillery pieces trained on the capital of South Korea, Seoul. It has carried out abductions and assassinations, cyberattacks, the hacking of cryptocurrencies and cyber robberies.

Mounting pressure

The North’s calibrated strategy revolves solely around the regime’s determination to survive. Toward this goal, its leaders have become masters of offering concessions that are never honored.

Recall that, in the hope of encouraging change, between 2005 and 2009 the U.S. unfroze $25 million of a North Korean fund at Banco Delta Asia – which the regime then used as a slush fund. Its members are well aware of how easy it is for democracies to become what Lenin called “useful idiots” in the hands of a well-practiced snake oil salesman.

In an attempt to break this vicious circle, U.S. President Donald Trump issued denunciations of the continuation of provocative missile tests and the ramping up of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. The denunciations have been accompanied by displays of Western military strength and the imposition of the U.N. Security Council-backed sanctions – the harshest measures imposed on a country this century.

A picture of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier being tugged to port
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arriving at the port of Busan in South Korea. President Trump’s show of force in the seas near North Korea apparently alarmed the North Korean and Chinese leaders (source: dpa)

Beijing’s compliance – it cut Chinese exports to North Korea by anything between 70 percent and 90 percent – has made a crucial difference. By comparison, Russia is reported to have broken UN sanctions. However, these steps, and what is described as “disruptive diplomacy” led to President Trump’s face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un at a summit in Singapore: the first time a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean dictator have had a personal encounter.

The White House policy has undoubtedly been in marked contrast to Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” – which was certainly patient but emboldened North Korea even more. The question is, how strategic is the Trump approach?

Devil in the detail

The Singapore summit was clearly better than the alternative – and the potentially catastrophic outcome of belligerent rhetoric between two nuclear-armed states. The greatest danger has always been the law of unintended consequences – and, with a stray shot fired or a missile hitting the wrong target, the danger of escalation. But if the two sides are to move forward, the devil, as always, will be in the detail.

Without the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea and the removal of its ballistic capability, the threat to its neighbors will remain.

Without verification, dependent on the opening up of North Korea, this may prove to be yet another example of Pyongyang’s lack of good faith. We recall the North Korean regime’s broken promises of 1994 and 2007, and know that its record for trustworthiness is not a good one.

A great deal will depend on what has been agreed in that other, less reported, North Korean summit – the one between China’s President Xi Jinping and Mr. Kim – and whether Mr. Xi has told the North Korean leader that China will resume tough sanctions if progress is not made on verification.

It certainly suits Kim Jong-un to have his reputation inflated on the world stage

China will be crucial if hopes are to be turned into substance – and its agenda, and China’s vision of what the future might look like, is very different from the West’s.

Parallels have been drawn with U.S. President Richard Nixon’s 1972 summit with the Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong and U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Reykjavík summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

It certainly suits Kim Jong-un to have his reputation inflated on the world stage. It is good for domestic consumption too. But the real question is, can a leopard change its spots?

Inseparable issues

This, after all, is the same man who is alleged to have given orders for his half-brother to be murdered in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport and had his uncle executed after he came to power.

It is also a leopard that does vicious and unthinkable things to its people – with every one of the 30 articles in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights denied or egregiously violated – and with between 100,000 and 200,000 people in its gulags, which the 2014 Commission of Inquiry (COI) compared to Nazi death camps.

Indeed, Thomas Buergenthal, a renowned International Court of Justice judge and Auschwitz survivor, after hearing from former North Korean prisoners and guards, also as part of an inquiry initiated by the International Bar Association, concluded that the country’s political prisons are just as bad as, and perhaps even worse, than the Nazi concentration camps. Like the COI, the judge says that Kim Jong-un should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Judge Thomas Buergenthal speaking at the United Nations
Thomas Buergenthal, a judge of the International Court of Justice, after hearing testimonies from refugees from North Korea likened that country’s gulag system to the Nazi concentration camps (source: dpa)

It has been pointed out that the Trump-Kim summit took place on 12 June – an auspicious day as it was the 31st anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s famous Berlin Wall speech, in which he linked the security of the world with the fundamental human rights and freedoms of an oppressed people.

Ronald Reagan, with the strong backing from Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, trenchantly argued that “Freedom and security go together: the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.”

In urging then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” President Reagan knew that behind every SS-20 and SS-22 and RSD-10 Pioneer missile, ready to be fired westward, were the gulags of Siberia, mass murders, and unspeakable violations of human rights.

In honoring men like the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the physicist Andrei Sakharov, and the countless victims of religious and political persecution, Mr. Reagan was arguing for the whole edifice to be torn down. Human rights were central to his approach.

Key objectives

In 2010, following another visit to North Korea, I published a report: “Building Bridges, not walls.” As I have long argued for “Helsinki with a Korean face,” that report called for constructive but critical engagement, with human rights to the fore, as they were in the Helsinki process with the USSR.

Without all the elements of a free and open society, it is hard to conceive of genuine progress being made in North Korea on verifiable disarmament. Breaking the information blockade, opening the eyes of the people of North Korea, promoting human rights and encouraging economic reform should remain key objectives – and they must be given a higher profile.

This is a regime that rapes, tortures, indoctrinates and lets millions of its people starve to death

The Singapore summit has led to commitments on the repatriation of the remains of U.S. servicemen who lost their lives in the Korean War and to the resumption of contact between separated South and North Korean families. We should welcome this. But will it lead to more?

At the press conference following the summit, President Trump confirmed that he had raised the question of human rights in North Korea: “I want significant improvement. I want to start that process. Although you cannot finish that process for a while, you cannot go back.” The penultimate paragraph of the Singapore communique states:

The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date.

That date cannot come too soon.

The Australian Judge Michael Kirby who chaired the COI on North Korea gave the summit a cautious welcome. However, he has also written:

I am glad that President Trump and Chairman Kim met in Singapore. … But I cannot put out of my mind the people who came to the public hearings of the United Nations inquiry. I will begin to respect Kim’s word when he opens up his isolated country to allow United Nations inspectors to visit the mass detention camps. Let him do this immediately, and then I can join in the rejoicing for the self-proclaimed triumph of the Singapore Summit of June 2018.

Mr. Kirby said that he continued to be haunted by the testimonies he had heard from some of the 30,000 who have escaped from North Korea. And so am I.

This is a regime that rapes, tortures, indoctrinates and lets millions of its people starve to death. Like Stalin, Kim Jong-un uses mock trials, purges and public executions. The commission of inquiry concluded that, “[t]he gravity, scale and nature,” of the human rights violations in North Korea “… reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” In a country where an estimated 300,000 have been killed, Judge Kirby concluded, we have a “duty to address the scourge of human rights violations and crimes against humanity.”

And what of those who try to escape? A few months ago, 10 North Koreans, including women and a four-year-old child, were repatriated to North Korea from China, despite South Korea’s willingness to give them refuge and citizenship. The father of one of the children, who had reached South Korea, issued an appeal broadcast by the BBC. He said that his wife and son would, “either face execution or wither away in a political prison camp,” if sent back to North Korea. He said that he was haunted by images of his young son in detention: “I can almost hear my baby calling my name.”

On behalf of families like these, we should speak and act whenever we can.

Solemn obligation

In the Cold War, once destruction was mutually assured, and we realized that weapons used by either side would lead to obliteration, other weapons proved more effective. We should deploy them all again. The Helsinki process opened eyes and minds to systematic injustices. As walls fell, this ushered in an era of extraordinary change.

U.S. President Gerald Ford signs the Helsinki Accords
August 1, 1975: U.S. President Gerald Ford signs the Helsinki Accords. The pact improved East-West relations and its human rights clauses encouraged liberalism in the Soviet Bloc (source: dpa)

It remains the historical role of the U.S. and the western democracies to help change even the most nightmarish and oppressive of regimes. Throughout the process that will now begin, human rights should not become an afterthought.

Winston Churchill is often said to have remarked that “jaw-jaw” is to be preferred to “war-war” – and so it is – but he also warned that “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” In our exchanges with Kim Jong-un, we should not remain silent about the nature of his regime. Striking the right balance between engagement and appeasement will require a different kind of cautious and realistic diplomacy.

Only the future will reveal whether anything has fundamentally changed.

Lord Alton of Liverpool is an Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and Joint Chairman of the Westminster All Party Group on North Korea. He coauthored the book: “Building Bridges: Is there Hope for North Korea?”

VIN GARBUTT-TEESSIDE TROUBADOUR: Four Songs That Challenge Our Prejudices, Demand Justice, and Affirm Life Itself. Listen here to songs that you will never be allowed to hear on mainstream media.



Four Songs That Challenge Our Prejudices, Demand Justice, and Affirm Life Itself. Listen here to songs that will never be heard on mainstream media.

Vin Garbutt


It’s just over a year since Vin Garbutt died. If anything, since his death, his brilliant protest songs, never to be heard on mainstream media, have acquired a new generation of followers. See:

His passionate belief in justice, including the right to life of “lost innocents” is reflected in the powerful lyrics of prophetic songs that run counter to a society that ends the life of a child in the womb every three minutes. Why did he risk being “no-platformed” by the music industry and media? Because, as he sings:  

 “I have to do my bit, I cannot bear those fascist views,
And I’ll defend the baby boy or baby girl whose death they’d choose”

InDish of Glasshe also challenges laws that have allowed destructive experiments on millions of British human embryos


“There’s a doctor hovering over me, educated
but morally blind, can’t he see,
that my size and shape he himself used to be?
I’m dying.


My humanity’s questioned but only by those
who seek to impose their will and dispose
of my unique genetic code. There’s no-one like me.”


In Lyndahe upholds the value of every life and tells the story of a woman who refused to let her disabled son be one of the babies whose lives are ended because of disability – including 90% of all babies with Down’s Syndrome. 


Here are four songs – now available on You Tube –  which should be shared with others. Clikc on the links: Lynda Dish of Glass – Not For the First Time When The Tide Turns




Today is a fateful anniversary that should be remembered throughout the world – and what now needs to be done.


Today is a fateful anniversary that should be remembered throughout the world.

As Nina Shea, one of the world’s leading campaigners against genocide  reminds us, in the summer of 2014, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants attacked the city of Mosul and then continued an assault across the Nineveh Plains. They devastated the historic homelands of the Christian and Yezidis, displacing more than 100,000 people in a matter of days.

In the first week of August, ISIS began a brutal assault on the Yezidi community in the Shingal (Sinjar) region. In a few short days, the group had killed over 10,000 Yezidis. Another 6,417 were kidnapped, and many of them were sold into sexual slavery. In ensuing weeks, hundreds of Christians in towns across the Nineveh Plain who did not flee faced beheadings, crucifixion, sexual enslavement and forcible conversion.

Four years later, hundreds of thousands of Yezidis, Christians, and others are still displaced, unable to return securely to their homes. 3,000 Yezidi women and children and dozens of Christians remain missing. Iraq’s Christian community has been devastated, with 90 percent having fled the country since 2003. Those who have been rescued from ISIS are deeply traumatized from the experience, as are their families and communities.


What now needs to be done….

Why I Oppose HS2 – speech in the House of Lords and how the money could be better spent on improving the north’s local railways and East-West Cross Pennine rail links – July 2018 Why I have made a Freedom of Information Request to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority About The Spiralling Costs of HS2

In 2015 I warned that HS2 would overspend and was a misuse of public money.

Last week The Sunday Times revealed that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority had found that that HS2 is “highly likely” to go as much as 60% over budget at a cost of “more than £8O million”; that the project is “fundamentally flawed” and in a “precarious position”.

I 2015 I argied that these funds should be used to improve existing infrastructure, including railway lines in the north of England, and commuter services.

This week I asked the Government whether they agree with the findings of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority that HS2 will have “a very high opportunity-cost impact across other government departments “ and that HS2 management has “lack of cohesion and common vision” 

This week I received this reply from the Government: 

Baroness Sugg, the Department for Transport, has provided the following answer…

View original post 1,921 more words

Skinless Cadavers Exhibited in Birmingham Pose Questions about Ethics, Human Rights and Human Dignity. August 2nd letter to The Times. Unlike the French, the UK Government Fails To Intervene: see replies. Australians Protest against Exhibition. October 17th Speech To Hearing In Parliament.

Organ Harvesting In China And The Many Questions To Be Answered

Swiss City bans exhibition


Skinless Cadavers Exhibited in Birmingham Pose Questions about Ethics, Human Rights and Human Dignity


Article 16-1-1, alinéa 2, of the French Civil code asks for the remains of deceased persons to be treated with respect, dignity and decency: an exhibition of cadavers aiming at making money doesn’t respect this requirement. French Appeal Judges noted that using these dead bodies to make money was one of the objectives. 

So why is Britain not taking the same action?

Why is Britain allowing the bodies of unknown Chinese citizens – who may have been victims of torure, human rights violations, persecution or organ theft – to be tunred into a travelling circus?  


August 2nd 2018 – Letter to The Times

2018 August 2nd Body Harvesting letter to The Times


Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool for Organ Harvesting meeting Tuesday October 16th, 2018: House of Commons, Room 14, 2.00pm


“Why is Britain allowing the bodies of unknown Chinese citizens – who may have been victims of torture, human rights violations, persecution or organ theft – to be turned into a travelling circus? “



On August 2nd, The Times newspaper published a letter from me and Professor Jo Martin, President of the Royal College of Pathologists, along with 53 other signatories, in which we said that the Real Bodies exhibition “denigrates both science and society.”  We pointed out that in other jurisdictions such as France and Israel the commercial exploitation of human remain would be prohibited by law.


I was appalled by the complacency of parliamentary replies when I raised this issue in the House.

The Foreign Office Minister and new envoy for religious minorities,Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, said that no other Government Department had asked the Foreign office“to make formal representations to the Chinese authorities” –  and they had “no evidence”that the exhibition “contained the cadavers of Chinese political or religious prisoners.”  

Why were the FCO waiting for other Departments? Meanwhile, the Government Law Officer, Lord Keen, complacently told me it wasn’t his concern and that it was a matter for the Coroner.


The Exhibition’s organisers say they do not know who these poor people are – whose platinated remains are now part of a grotesque carnival of horrors. Simply saying you have “no evidence” is hardly worthy of Ministers of the Crown.


I will come back to the question of evidence and identity in a moment.


As a former Liverpool Member of the House of Commons, in our letter to The Times, I also drew attention to the Alder Hey scandal in which organs of children had been retained without the consent of their families and said that the bodies being used in this exhibition provide the potential for an even bigger scandal.


I was involved in the debates which led to the Human Tissue Act of 2004 – and which came out of the Alder Hey scandal – and I am currently working with Marie Rimmer MP, Member of Parliament for St. Helens, to develop an amendment to that Act prohibiting such commercial exploitation of human cadavers to happen again.


But I have other reasons for raising this issue – and they concern questions involving, human dignity, and human rights.  They take us into the territory of abductions, disappearances, torture, ethnic cleansing, genocide and executions.


These bodies have their origins in China where we are well aware of the plight of dissenters and believers. Read the most recent edition of The Sunday Times if you doubt me.

Last week I tabled a Question in the House about the plight of the 1 million Uighurs that the BBC say have been taken to re-education camps. I have previously tabled questions about Protestant churches that have been bulldozed and Catholic bishops who have been imprisoned and about the arrest and disappearance of lawyers who have challenged everything from the one child policy to abuse of power. Think about Falun Gong or about the treatment of Tibetan Buddhists.


So, when considering the concerns that surround the Real Bodies exhibition, we need to address many disturbing and unanswered questions.


Real Bodies the exhibition, which was recently on display at the NEC, is run by American company Imagine Exhibitions.


However, all the corpses which have been on display are owned by Chinese company the Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co (DHB for short), which is located in Dalian, China. And it is the connection with Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co which has led to growing concern about sourcing of the corpses which are trafficked around the world for a commercial exhibition.


The connection with Dalian is particularly troubling because the Dalian district of North West China, and specially Dalian’s PSB (Public Security Bureau – which is the local police and prison system), known for human rights violations; organ transplant activity; and the persecution of Falun Gong.


During the Real Bodies exhibition, the NEC stated that all bodies on display were ‘unclaimed bodies’ which had been donated legally. The connection with the PSB and unclaimed bodies used in the exhibitions had long been suspected, and in 2012, the Chairman of the Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co,Sui Hongjin, admitted that “Dozens of corpses came from Public Security. They were procured by the Public Security Bureau.”This statement caused alarm, and calls for the circumstances surrounding the sourcing of the bodies to be further investigated.


When researching the Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co, you see very quickly that they have connections with multiple organisations and companies around the world. One such company is Premier Exhibitions, another American exhibition company who, based on their connection with the Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co, was investigated by US Congress in 2008. The investigation concluded that Premier Exhibitions were unable to provide evidence of where the bodies had come from. And forced an international disclaimer on all current and future Premier Exhibitions stating,Premier relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons”


During the investigation, Premier admitted “that it could not prove that the bodies were not those of prisoners who might have been tortured or executed”.The ruling also stated thatthe exhibit cannot obtain new bodies without documentation proving the individual’s identity, cause of death and consent for the body to be displayed


Shortly after the conclusion of this investigation in 2008, in 2009, Imagine Exhibitions was formed by Tom Zeller, CEO of Imagine Exhibitions. Tom Zellar’s involvement and connection with the Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co, also poses unanswered questions – after all, he worked for Premier Exhibitions between 1999 – 2009. The most significant issue for me is that that Imagine Exhibitions, as a newly formed company, was exempt from the 2008 ruling that a public disclaimer must be displayed raising the question on the sourcing of the corpses on display.


Right up until the 2008 hearing, Premier Exhibitions had always maintained, as Imagine Exhibitions does now, that all bodies had been sourced legally. However, as recently as April 2018, Tom Zellar went on the record to state that “the bodies were “absolutely from China”but added that there was “no documentation” “to prove their identities or to show they had agreed in life to donate their corpses in death.”


It is the lack of consent and documentation, which is deeply troubling – and should have troubled the UK Government, who, in answer to parliamentary questions from me, said that they would not intervene.


The 2004 Human Tissue Act governs licences connected to the display and use of human corpses and remains. Prior consent for bodies to be used for research, display or education is one of the founding principles of the 2004 Human Tissue Act. However, current regulations mean there is a huge disparity between regulations for bodies coming from with the UK and outside the UK. This makes absolutely no sense and it is dilatory, on the part of Government, to decline to rectify this. 


Current legislation means the HTA currently have no means to ensure prior consent is a condition for bodies brought in from countries. It is this lack of a condition of consent which has allowed for unclaimed bodies to be trafficked into and out of the UK for a commercial exhibition. That brings shame on our country and action must be taken to remedy this.


In China, the term “unclaimed bodies” can be interpreted in multiple ways.


Firstly, this can be a term for people who have died in hospitals with no known next of kin – but equally it can be a term for prisoners of conscience who have, while suffering detention and imprisonment, refused to provide their real identities through fear of repercussions for their family and friends.


The climate in China and the well documented cases of human rights violations is why we are here today: once again discussing organ harvesting and transplant practices in China. Multiple investigations, from different sources, have concluded that large scale unexplained organ transplant activity has taken place and continues to do so. In these investigations the PSB, has been documented as being a key element between the prison and labour camps and hospitals performing organ transplants.


The fact the PSB has been directly linked to the Dalian Hoffen Biotechnology Co and the ongoing persecution of House Christians, Uighurs Muslims, Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners leads to some of the unanswered questions – with potentially grave implications – that I have laid before you today.


Let me conclude and summarise.


The exhibition presenters, Imagine Exhibitions, have confirmed that the display, consisting of 20 whole human cadavers and over 200 human organs, human foetuses and body parts, are sourced from China and are presented without any consent documents and identification papers to confirm the origins of the deceased.  Such exhibitions should be banned from being brought into this country without written proof of consent from the deceased.


Using human organs and tissues without consent for financial profit is the antithesis of ethical and legal practice as set out in the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplantation and the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.


And the public display of the deceased, including unborn babies of varying gestation times, without confirmed consent is a gross violation of human rights, dignity and ethics, which should not be permitted on the grounds of ‘art’ or ‘education.’


This trade in human bodies is not only facilitated by the Chinese Communist regime’s extensive use of the death penalty but also by the incarceration of other ‘unwanted’ prisoners in Chinese detention facilities.


The French Civil Code asks for the remains of deceased persons to be treated with respect, dignity and decency: an exhibition of cadavers aiming at making money doesn’t respect this requirement. French Appeal Judges noted that using these dead bodies to make money was one of the objectives.  Why does the United Kingdom have a lower test?

And why is Britain allowing the bodies of unknown Chinese citizens – who may have been victims of torture, human rights violations, persecution or organ theft – to be turned into a travelling circus?  This has echoes of necromancy and body snatching. Our bodies are sacred vessels and even in death should be treated with respect and human dignity. Not to speak out and turn the spotlight on this issue would be a further betrayal of those whose bodies were so badly served in life and are now being denigrated in death.









20 JULY 2018


Dear Prime Minister, Mr Corbyn, Foreign Secretary Hunt and Secretary of State Hancock,

We, the undersigned believe the Real Bodies: The Exhibition showing at Birmingham’s NEC should be shut down immediately and thoroughly investigated for the following reasons: 1. The exhibition presenters, Imagine Exhibitions have confirmed that the display, consisting of 20 whole human cadavers and over 200 human organs, human foetuses and body parts, are sourced from China and are presented without any consent documents and identification papers to confirm the origins of the deceased. The CEO of Imagine admitted there is ‘no documentation’ to prove their identities or that they agreed to donate their bodies after death1.


  1. The non-consensual display of human remains is in violation of the Human Tissue Act (2004), as well as the spirit in which it was created. The Human Tissue Authority’s Guidance for Professionals states that ‘Removing, storing or using human tissue for Scheduled Purposes without appropriate consent’ is an offence under the Human Tissue Act (2004)2. Schedule 1 of the Act also clearly states that the ‘Purposes Requiring Consent‘ includes both ‘displays‘ (Sch. 1 para. 5), and ‘Education or training relating to human health‘ (Sch. 1 para. 9)3

Commercial operations that Import human remains should also be required to abide by these standards to ensure that trafficked human bodies are not permitted to enter, and be displayed, in the UK.


  1. Using human organs and tissues without consent for financial profit is the antithesis of ethical and legal practice as set out in the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplantation and the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.


  1. The public display of the deceased, including foetuses of varying gestation times, without confirmed consent is a gross violation of human rights, dignity and ethics, which should not be permitted on the grounds of ‘art’ or ‘education.’


  1. The bodies and organs reportedly come from Dalian, China and were sourced from the Dalian Public Security Bureau/Police, according to the CEO of Imagine Exhibitions4.


  1. This trade in human bodies is not only facilitated by the Chinese Communist regime’s extensive use of the death penalty but also by the incarceration of other ‘unwanted’ prisoners in Chinese detention facilities.


  1. Investigative reports5 have concluded that bodies sourced from Dalian and used in plastination exhibits include prisoners of conscience detained in the vast prison/ labour camp compounds within close proximity to the Dalian plastination facility. The prisoners of conscience are primarily, but not only, practitioners of the spiritually based set of exercises Falun Gong. Dalian is an epicentre of organ transplant activity, plastination and repression of Falun Gong6. Page 2 of 3


  1. Plastinated body exhibitions from China have been banned in a growing number of places around the world, including in Israel7, France8, Hawaii9and various cities in the US. The Czech Republic10 changed its laws on 7th July 2017, meaning such an exhibition would no longer be allowed to enter its country without written proof consent from the deceased.


  1. 9. Commercial profit should not outweigh the gross violation of basic human dignity present in this exhibition.

We believe that this exhibition encroaches on our UK values and law and should be stopped. DNA tests should also be carried out so the family identifications can be made in the future.11 We also urge the Government to ensure that appropriate legislations are in place so that such exhibits cannot be freely imported into the UK.




4 Premier Exhibitions – Disclaimer

5 Bodies at an Exhibition by Ethan Gutmann, An Investigative Report on the Source of Human Cadavers Used

in the Plastination Industry in China by WOIPFG, and Der Spiegel: “Händler des Todes”






A Prague Leader Tries to Bury a Bodies Exhibition, Once and for All




Written Questions: July 24th 2018

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked:


Question text

whether they have caused inquiries to be made about the origins of the 20 unidentified skinless human bodies in an exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre and the circumstances in which these people died; what assurance they have that they are not cadavers of disappeared Chinese political and religious prisoners; and whether they are arranging for the bodies to be examined to see whether there is any remaining evidence of the removal of organs.


Date tabled

Monday 23 July 2018

Date due for answer

Monday 6 August 2018



Question text

what contact they have had, if any, with the Birmingham Coroner to establish what is known about the origins of the 20 skinless human bodies being exhibited at the National Exhibition Centre; and whether inquests will be opened to establish the facts involved in their deaths.


Date tabled

Monday 23 July 2018

Date due for answer

Monday 6 August 2018


 This exhibition raises some very serious ethical questions, particularly given the persistent reports of forced organ harvesting and other unethical treatment of prisoners of conscience in China today. It would be macabre in the extreme if it was found that the bodies displayed in an exhibition in Birmingham were in fact those of Chinese prisoners. I hope this will be fully investigated and that the very highest ethical standards are applied.


Our bodies are sacred vessels and even in death should be treated with respect and human dignity.  


I think back to the outrage rightly caused by the Alder Hey body parts scandal and by the use of aborted human remains being used to promote fashion and jewellery and the backlash this created.


 We are made Imago Dei – in God’s image – and at the lowest level human remains should be treated with decency and respect and never used for the purposes of entertainment.


But this goes even further than previous unacceptable practices and historic necromancy and body snatching.


I recently attended a hearing in Parliament where we heard accounts of forced and fatal removal of organs of Chinese political and religious dissidents. 


The doctors who have called for the Coroner to investigate the origins and cause of death of these twenty skinless bodies are right to do so.


In their open letter to Birmingham’s coroner, Dr. Louise Hunt asks the Coroner to investigate the bodies placed on show at the NEC and I too have today tabled Questions to the Government asking what they are doing to establish how these poor people died.



In this article, Dr David Nicholl, Consultant Neurologist & Honorary Senior Lecturer
City Hospital, Birmingham, poses the central argument that “The basis of consent is fundamental as to whether these exhibitions are ethical or not”. Undoubtedly, that remains the central question:

The Body Exhibition NEC says that the bodies are of Chinese origin.


And a further article in the Daily Mail reports the chief executive of Imagine Exhibitions admitting that there is no documentation to verify identities or consent to donate their bodies after death.


Due to the unethical nature of this type of exhibition, both France and Israel have banned these exhibitions;



Many believe that  

1) No direct consent, either by themselves nor their immediate families, has ever been given;

2) The bodies being used may well be from people of conscience in China who have been persecuted for their beliefs – including House Christians, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, and the Uyghur Muslim group in Xinjiang; and

3) The use of these bodies in such a manner is wholly unethical, immoral and frankly disturbing.


 Further background:

Government Replies

Lord Keen of Elie, the Ministry of Justice, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL9758):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contact they have had, if any, with the Birmingham Coroner to establish what is known about the origins of the 20 skinless human bodies being exhibited at the National Exhibition Centre; and whether inquests will be opened to establish the facts involved in their deaths. (HL9758)

Tabled on: 23 July 2018

Lord Keen of Elie:

Coroners are independent judicial office holders and as such it would be inappropriate for Ministers to intervene in or comment upon the decisions of the Birmingham and Solihull Senior Coroner.

The exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre has been licenced by the Human Tissue Authority in line with the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 2004. Responsibility for hosting the exhibition and maintaining ethical standards lies with the National Exhibition Centre.

Date and time of answer: 03 Aug 2018 at 13:07.


Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL9756):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have caused inquiries to be made about the origins of the 20 unidentified skinless human bodies in an exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre and the circumstances in which these people died; what assurance they have that they are not cadavers of disappeared Chinese political and religious prisoners; and whether they are arranging for the bodies to be examined to see whether there is any remaining evidence of the removal of organs. (HL9756)

Tabled on: 23 July 2018

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

We have no evidence to suggest that the ‘Real Bodies’ exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre contains cadavers of Chinese political or religious prisoners. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not been approached by any UK government department to make formal representations to the Chinese authorities.

Date and time of answer: 03 Aug 2018 at 13:01.


Letter To the Coroner: August 4th 2018

Dear Louise Hunt,

Dr.David Nicholl has kindly drawn your email to him to my attention.

I would be grateful if you would clarify whether it is your intention to seek to establish the identity of these anonymous people and how you have been able to establish that they were not dissidents, political prisoners, Tibetans, unregistered Christians, Uighhurs, Falun Gong, disappeared lawyers etc ? and whether you have made any formal request for DNA so that their identification might one day be established by relatives; and whether you looked for any evidence of the cause of death?

Could you also confirm whether you have been in touch with your French counterparts to establish on what grounds the French Courts refused to allow this exhibition of cadavers to be staged there?


I am copying this to the two Government Ministers who answered parliamentary questions about this earlier this week.


Yours sincerely,



David Alton


——– Original Message ——–
From: Lynne Boyle
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2018, 09:50
To: “NICHOLL, David
Subject: Your email of 15 July 2018

The Senior Coroner has responded to your email as follows:


Further to your request for me to open inquests into the deaths of the bodies currently exhibited at the NEC, I confirm I have carried preliminary enquiries pursuant to S1(7) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to enable me to determine if there is any need for me to carry out an investigation under S1. I can confirm that following my preliminary investigation, which included an external examination of each body at the NEC by a forensic pathologist, I am satisfied that my duty to investigate does not arise and accordingly I will be taking no further action in respect of this matter.


Yours sincerely,


Louise Hunt

HM Senior Coroner

Birmingham & Solihull Districts


The Coroner’s Court

50 Newton Street


B4 6NE

Interview with the the anatomist Roy Glover  (behind Bodies Revealed) the audio file is here

ABCs 20/20 did this very good piece

See the BMJ

And the Mail on Sunday

The UK clearly need legislative change to prohibit exhibitions that dont have consent for  bodies who have died less than 100 years.

France and Czech republic have managed to block these exhibitions. Why is the UK so disgracefully indifferent?