We now come to the Back-Bench debate on the recognition of genocide by Daesh against Yazidis, Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. Before I ask Fiona Bruce to move the motion, I point out that we will be very strict about opening speeches being no longer than 15 minutes, including interventions, and that there will be an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. I remind hon. Members that when interventions are taken and a minute or two is added to their speech limit, those minutes are taken out of speeches of Members lower down the speakers list. If people can be aware of that, I will be very grateful.
I beg to move,
That this House
believes that Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh;
and calls on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate.
Genocide is a word of such gravity that it should never be used readily. It is rightly known as the “crime above all crimes”. For that reason, it is incumbent on us to prevent the term from being devalued or overused. However, such caution must not stop us naming a genocide when one is taking place. The supporters of the motion are here to insist that there is overwhelming evidence that the atrocities of Daesh in Syria and Iraq should be recognised for the genocide they are and considered as such by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court. It will support similar resolutions of other leading international and legislative bodies.
There are only two possibilities for Members here. If the House is not satisfied that genocidal atrocities are being perpetrated, we must not pass the motion, on which I am minded to test the will of the House, but if colleagues believe that the depravities of Daesh are being undertaken with genocidal intent, we have already waited far too long to recognise it.
Yesterday evening, here in the UK Parliament, we heard the truly harrowing personal testimony of a brave 16-year-old Yazidi girl called Ekhlas. She was seized by Daesh from her home, along with others from her community in Sinjar in northern Iraq. At the age of 15, she saw her father and brother killed in front of her. She told of how every girl in her community over eight, including herself, was imprisoned and raped. She spoke of witnessing her friends being raped and hearing their screams, and of seeing a girl aged nine being raped by so many men that she died. Many young girls had their fragile bodies rendered incapable of pregnancy, and others who were far too young to be so were made pregnant. Horrifically, she spoke of seeing a two-year-old boy being killed and of his body parts being ground down and fed to his own mother. She told of children being brainwashed and forced to kill their own parents. Fortunately, she managed to escape the prison during a bombardment of the area around it. Others are not so fortunate.
We heard from another women, Yvette, who had come directly from Syria for last night’s meeting. She spoke of Christians being killed and tortured, and of children being beheaded in front of their parents. She showed us recent film footage of herself talking with mothers—more than one—who had seen their own children crucified. Another woman had seen 250 children put through a dough kneader and burnt in an oven. The oldest was four years old. She told us of a mother with a two-month-old baby. When Daesh knocked at the front door of her house and ordered the entire family out, she pleaded with them to let her collect her child from another room. They told her, “No. Go. It is ours now.”
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing forward this very important debate. She is making a powerful speech. Every year, Members of this House sign the holocaust book of commitment, making the pledge that that terrible genocide will never be forgotten. I have personally signed a pledge that I will never walk on by. Does she agree that today we have the opportunity to make sure that none of us walks on by as we see this terrible genocide unfold?
I absolutely do. After the horrors of the holocaust, the words, “Never again” resounded through civilisation. We must not let them resound again.
Speaking to MPs at yesterday’s meeting, the young girl Ekhlas implored us:
“Listen to me, help the girls, help those in captivity;
I am pleading with you, let us come together and call this what it is: a genocide. This is about human dignity. You have a responsibility. ISIS are committing a genocide, because they are trying to wipe us out.”
Genocide is an internationally recognised term, defined in the 1948 convention on genocide, to which we are a signatory as a country, as
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…Killing…Causing serious bodily or mental harm…
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions…calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…Imposing measures intended to prevent births…Forcibly transferring children”.
I put it to the House that not just one but every single one of those criteria was satisfied by the two testimonies yesterday.
I will, but after that I will not take any further interventions because of the limitation placed on my speaking time.
I applaud my hon. Friend for bringing this motion to the Floor of the House. She talks about using the term genocide; our international partners, such as the United States, its Secretary of State and House of Representatives, and the European Parliament have already said that the acts committed by Daesh amount to genocide. We should interpret international law in line with our key partners, who we are working with to defeat Daesh.
I absolutely agree. We do not want to be behind but in the lead. Our country has a proud history of leading on human rights and ensuring that aggressors are brought to justice. We must do so in this case, too.
Yazidis and Christians have been targeted explicitly because of their religion and ethnicity. It is not just them, but Alawites, Shi’as, Shabaks and Mandaeans. The suffering of the two women I mentioned has been replicated countless times by other families, as we know from the statistics that we have all heard in this House. I have seen many reports documenting evidence of genocidal atrocities, as I am sure other Members have, from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN assistance mission for Iraq and others—thousands of pages recording executions, mass graves, assassinations of church leaders, crucifixions, systematic rapes, torture of men, women and children, beheadings, and many other acts of violence so unspeakable that their evil seems almost fictional. But it is not.
Daesh is targeting specific groups precisely because of those groups’ characteristics, and it has declared that, and that its acts have genocidal intent. For example, issue 4 of its online magazine “Dabiq” tells its followers that they will be held accountable if the Yazidi people continue to exist. As Lord Alton of Liverpool—I pay tribute to him for his work on this issue—has said, if we do not recognise this as genocide
“we might as well rip up the genocide convention as a worthless piece of paper.”
As a consequence of the evidence meticulously collected by non-governmental organisations, activists and the UN, resolutions condemning the actions of Daesh’s genocide have been passed around the world—as has been mentioned—by the Council of Europe in January 2016, the European Parliament in February and the US House of Representatives in March. Following that, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an announcement confirming the position of the US Government, stating that,
“Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions”.
If that is the position of the US Government, why is it not the position of our own?
In answer to that question, which has been raised many times, UK Government Ministers have repeatedly said that,
“it is a long-standing Government policy that any judgements on whether genocide has occurred should be a matter for the international judicial system rather than legislatures, governments or other non-judicial bodies.”
In other words, whether this is genocide is a matter for the courts to decide; in this case, more specifically, it is a matter for the International Criminal Court. But—this is the crucial point of the motion—under the procedures relating to the ICC, it cannot make that judgment until it is requested to do so, and the only way that can now happen is if such a referral is made by the UN Security Council, of which the UK Government are a permanent member. That is why supporting the motion is so important. There is a circular argument here—a stalemate—which this Parliament needs to break. The motion before the House calls on us, as Members of the UK Parliament, to make a declaration of genocide, and then asks that the UK Government refer that to the UN Security Council so that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court can take action.
That prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has already said, as long as a year ago, that she stands ready to take action, given a referral, saying:
“I remain profoundly concerned by this situation and I want to emphasise our collective duty as a global community to respond to the plight of victims whose rights and dignity have been violated. ISIS continues to spread terror on a massive scale in the territories it occupies. The international community pledged that appalling crimes that deeply shock the conscience of humanity must not go unpunished. As Prosecutor of the ICC, I stand ready to play my part, in an independent and impartial manner.”
When so much suffering continues daily, can we wait any longer before doing all that we can to act against it?
I am aware that the UK Government are already involved in assertively tackling the aggression of Daesh and its poisonous ideology in many ways, not least through air strikes, cutting off finance and providing counter-terrorism expertise, as well as through humanitarian aid and information gathering. I commend the Government for that, but there can surely be no good reason for delaying the additional step of referring this to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction on the ICC to start its own unique procedures to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Some may ask what difference that would really make. It will make a real difference. Recognition of genocide brings with it obligations on the part of the international community to prevent, punish and protect. It initiates the process leading to the prosecution of perpetrators and makes it more likely that guilty individuals will be punished. It is often followed by a stronger international response both against the atrocities and in the provision of greater help for survivors with their urgent needs—something that is much needed in this case. It can facilitate reparations for survivors.
Recognising the actions of Daesh as genocide should therefore help inject further momentum into the international efforts to stop the killings. It would, I hope, lead to more active safeguarding of those members of religious minorities on the ground whose lives and very communities currently hang in the balance. It may also make potential new recruits—including those from the UK—think twice about joining Daesh, given the ramifications of being caught.
Recognition of genocide is not the only or the final action of the international community, but it is a crucial step, and one that we should make today. I recognise that conferring jurisdiction on the ICC requires the support of other members of the Security Council, but that should not stop our country from initiating the process. I add that there is precedent for the Security Council to establish a fact-finding committee of experts, so that all current evidence can be assessed and new evidence can be collected. If the motion is passed, I appeal to the Government to consider that recommendation at the Security Council.
I repeat: some may ask, “What difference will this really make?” I leave the final word to the young girl Ekhlas. To her, it would make all the difference in the world. When I asked her yesterday what her hopes were for the future, she replied,
“to see justice done for my people.”
I ask Members to support the motion. In the final analysis, it is about doing justice and seeing it done.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Between 2005 and 2010, I had the privilege of working for the fantastic Aegis Trust, which works both to commemorate and to prevent genocide.
It is a great pleasure to follow Fiona Bruce, who is a distinguished Member of the House and a member of the International Development Committee, as well as a campaigner on human rights, particularly those of religious and other minorities. I agreed with everything that she said, which I believe has strong cross-party support. Like her, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to happen. I hope that the hon. Lady will press the motion to a Division because we have an opportunity to send a really strong message from all parties that we believe that what is happening is a genocide and that the international system has a duty and responsibility to act.
In both Iraq and Syria, ethnic and other minorities have been in severe danger since the emergence of Daesh, and we have seen this once diverse region witnessing mass killings, rapes, forced conversions, and the destruction of shrines, temples and churches in the region. The hon. Member for Congleton spoke about the meeting she convened and chaired last night. I, too, listened to the powerful speech from Ekhlas, a young woman who has been through hell—something that no young person should ever have to go through. Sadly, this was not the first time that many of us have heard such testimony. Earlier this year, a meeting was convened by Robert Jenrick, who chairs of the all-party group on the prevention of genocide, and Brendan O'Hara at which we heard from another teenage Yazidi woman, Nadia Murad, who had also been captured and imprisoned by Daesh. Nadia told us that she had been beaten, tortured and raped before, thankfully, she managed to escape. Her story shocked us in the same way that Ekhlas’s story shocked us last night. Since her escape, Nadia has spoken here in Parliament, at the UN and with various Governments, including our own, simply to raise awareness of the plight of the Yazidis in general, and Yazidi women in particular.
I join others in highlighting the importance of this debate. Surely to goodness, though, making these poor people go through it all again when they have to provide their testimony to organisations seems harsh when those organisations should not need such persuasion. They should be capable of realising what is happening without needing to put people through the pain of having to repeat themselves over and over again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the evidence is there. I suppose that human testimony provides an important additional dimension, but he is right that the evidence is extremely well documented. It is estimated that more than 3,000 Yazidi women are being held against their will by Daesh.
A glance at the history of this region should surely lead us to learn some lessons today. A century ago, the Armenians and Assyrians suffered a genocide. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Congleton that the policy of Daesh towards the Yazidi, Christians and other minorities amounts to genocide.
I fully intend to support and vote for this important motion. When I was in Syria two weeks ago, I interviewed about 23 or 24 people from various groups who had suffered, including Christians and Alawites. My key point in the debate is that not just Daesh was responsible, but Daesh and its allies. We should remember that when we come to bring these cases before the international court.
The right hon. Gentleman’s makes an extremely important point, which I hope will be elaborated during today’s debate.
I shall also proudly support the motion, and I hope that Fiona Bruce, who made a powerful speech, will press it to a Division. We should follow the US Secretary of State and call this behaviour what it really is. The suffering of the Yazidis at the hands of Daesh is compounded by their suffering at the hands of the Assad regime. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we focus only on Daesh, we do a great disservice to those who are fleeing the horror of the Assad regime, whose suffering should count just as much and should demand as much attention from this Government?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the Assad regime has unleashed appalling terror on its people. It is absolutely right to focus on it, as a number of us have made clear in previous debates. Before the debate on military intervention in Syria, I visited refugees in Jordan and heard at first hand the horror that they had experienced, usually at the hands of the Syrian regime, but sometimes at the hands of Daesh and their allies. Today’s motion is a focused one that we can all unite in supporting, but it does not detract in any way from the importance of continuing to highlight the abuses of the Assad regime.
On the question of whether this is a genocide, let us be clear that Daesh gives the Yazidis a choice—of forced conversion, death or exile. I think that that amounts to the destruction of the foundations of the life of a group of people. United Nations international criminal tribunals have recognised sexual violence and sexual slavery, both of which we know are prevalent in Daesh’s actions towards the Yazidis, as part of a genocidal process.
I want to raise a specific point about the importance of documentation. An estimated 25 mass graves containing the mortal remains of Yazidis murdered by Daesh in August 2014 have now been discovered in Sinjar in northern Iraq. These graves are not adequately protected and are being disturbed by a variety of people, including—perfectly understandably—the relatives of the victims, as well as local people and sometimes journalists. However, there is a risk that the evidence, and therefore our ability to identify the victims of Daesh, will be compromised. Yazidi campaign groups have called for the protection of the graves and an analysis of the mortal remains that they contain. An international response on this matter is needed, but has not yet materialised.
The US Holocaust Museum has recommended a genocide designation partly to raise public awareness because, as its says,
“historical memory is a tool of prevention”.
The International Commission on Missing Persons is the leading organisation dedicated to addressing the issue of persons missing in the aftermath of armed conflict. In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, its Government set up a human rights ministry with a remit to consider the policy towards mass graves. Unfortunately, that ministry has been dissolved. It is clear to me that it is the ICMP that should respond to the challenge in Sinjar of identifying the victims and examining the mass graves forensically in order to preserve evidence, and I would be grateful if the Minister would address that issue. The UK has a good track record of working with the ICMP, for example in Bosnia. Will the Government undertake to work with the ICMP and the Iraqi Government to help to protect these mass graves? It is crucial that these crimes are properly documented, especially if the motion succeeds and a referral for genocide is made to the United Nations. It is important to the families of the victims that those victims are identified as accurately as possible.
For years, I collected evidence of Iraqi war crimes for an organisation called INDICT. I was therefore involved with some of the mass graves in Iraq, many thousands of which still remain unexcavated because of security threats. I fully support my hon. Friend’s points. It is important to protect the mass graves because of the evidence contained therein.
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her decades of work on this crucial issue.
As part of our duty to recognise the genocide, we should prioritise protecting the evidence that will help us to bring those who are guilty of genocide to justice and to dignify the victims of these awful crimes. I support the motion and believe that the hon. Member for Congleton made a powerful case for why the House should urge the Government to refer the matter to the UN. I understand the Government’s position—I raised the matter with the Prime Minister a few weeks ago—but the way in which we recognise genocide is different from that of the Americans. The hon. Lady has come up with an intelligent and, if I may say so, ingenious way of ensuring that we get a positive response from the Government. Today’s debate also provides an opportunity for the House to send out a very powerful message on a cross-party basis.
My hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell reminded us that every year in January we commemorate the Nazi holocaust. We have Holocaust Memorial Day because the message after the holocaust, at the end of the second world war, was “never again”. Tragically, since the end of the second world war and since the holocaust, we have had Cambodia, we have had Rwanda, and now we have what is happening as a result of Daesh’s actions against the Yazidis and others. We have an opportunity to heed that warning from the holocaust—“never again”—and to send the message to our own Government, and also to Daesh and the wider international community, that we recognise this as genocide and want action to be taken against the perpetrators of that genocide.
I support the motion and pay tribute to my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce for securing this welcome debate.
It is profoundly disturbing that people in Iraq and Syria are being attacked for belonging to different religious and ethnic groups. Daesh has assassinated church leaders, committed torture, kidnapping, mass murders, sexual abuse and systematic rape, and brought about the sexual enslavement of women and girls. Daesh’s official propaganda videos and newspapers document its specific intent to destroy Christian and Yazidi groups in Syria and Iraq. Yesterday evening I attended a meeting at which I heard about the many cases that have been mentioned today by my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, as well as about the use of former public buildings to imprison girls as young as nine, as well as women, for the purpose of systematic rape and to satisfy sexual lust.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the women and girls who are abducted and then escape face stigma and discrimination when they return? Does he agree that those women and girls are victims, and that they should be given all the help and support that they need and deserve so that they can move on in life? We should also bring the perpetrators to justice.
I was left with that very thought after yesterday evening’s meeting—how can these girls and young women rebuild their lives and somehow find a place in society in which they can lead full and enriched lives? Considerable work is needed to support them.
The United Kingdom has a rich tradition of helping and advocating on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. Whenever a crisis or disaster occurs, the UK Government and the British people are quick to respond and lead the charge, providing humanitarian aid and financial assistance. Why is it, then, that despite being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and having the responsibility of our unique role in the international community, we have been slow, and appear reluctant, to trigger the legal mechanisms in the international judicial system? The legal designation of genocide on the part of Daesh relies first on action by the UN Security Council and therefore requires the UK Government to show some leadership.
Since being elected, I have heard on several occasions that the Government consider the UK to be a world leader on human rights. That status risks being undermined by the apparent lack of willingness to recognise what is going on in Iraq and Syria as genocide, and to create an environment in which these acts can be prevented and the perpetrators punished. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States House of Representatives, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have already described ISIS atrocities as “genocide”. It is time that the UK joined those countries in politically recognising the atrocities as such.
The hon. Gentleman is making good points. Does he agree that the principle of universal jurisdiction should apply to crimes against humanity that are so heinous that all states should take some responsibility?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
Last November, I supported military action in Syria because our armed forces are able to reduce the capability and advance of Daesh, and the evil that it espouses. The debate on the day was about not just military action in Syria, but achieving a political solution in that area of the middle east. Surely recognising the behaviour of Daesh against minority groups—it is well documented and not disputed—as genocide is an important part of such a political solution.
People talk about reconstruction, but should not part of that reconstruction involve the rehabilitation of these women, and some form of compensation for them and their families? As we heard earlier, in some communities, the stigma is there for a lifetime and cannot be got rid of. That applies particularly to Christians, who have been persecuted not only by Daesh, but in North Korea and other parts of the world.
The great challenge facing the international community is the question of how, once we have achieved peace in Syria and Iraq, we can secure it so that people can rebuild their own countries. I suspect that many people will never be able to move back to their countries simply because of their memories of the horrors that they have experienced. We as an international community must do all that we can to support those people, wherever they may end up rebuilding their lives.
The British people are horrified by what they hear and see regarding the treatment of these minority groups in Syria and Iraq, and they rightly expect the House of Commons to use whatever tools are available to work to bring that to an end and to achieve peace in this troubled part of the world. A tool that is available to us is a recognition of these evil acts as genocide, and our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to enable the situation to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. People are being brutalised, raped and murdered, and we have a moral responsibility to seek justice for them.
I join others in congratulating Fiona Bruce on securing the debate, on her indefatigable work in this area, and on the way in which she opened the debate. I apologise for having missed the first few minutes of her speech. I am grateful to her for organising yesterday’s evidence session, to which every speaker so far has referred, and which included harrowing personal testimony about the horrors that Daesh is inflicting on people in Iraq and Syria whose religious outlook and faith are different from Daesh’s.
It is difficult to deny that what is going on meets the tests for genocide. Of course the bar is set high, and rightly so, but large numbers of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims have been killed. It is clear—this point was made by my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg—that that meets the test set out in the convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide, as it is action committed
“with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
It is clear that that is what Daesh is seeking to do.
I think that Pope Francis was right when, last year, he described the killing of Christians in the middle east as genocide. As we have heard, the United States Secretary of State and the US Congress have recognised what is happening as genocide—last month, I think—and we should do so as well. We understand that the Government are likely to argue that it is for the judiciary, not Parliament, to make such a determination, but it is not clear to me—perhaps the Minister will be able to explain—what trigger for judicial action could lead to the view, which I think we all share, that genocide is under way. I hope very much that the House will agree to the motion, so that the Government can make the reference for which the hon. Member for Congleton has argued.
My right hon. Friend has asked a very interesting question. We should bear in mind that it was the allies who set up the Nuremberg courts. Governments can, in fact, get together and do something.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not clear to me how this can happen in the United Kingdom if the Government do not act. Last night we heard from a young woman, who has been referred to already, who had seen her father and brothers killed simply for being Yazidis. She herself had been raped and enslaved. She made very clear in her evidence that what was going on was genocide, of Yazidis and also of Christians—she made it clear that Christians were included in the genocide—and as US Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, it is certainly the case that Shi’a Muslims have been victims of genocide as well.
The right hon. Gentleman says that Shi’a Muslims have also been killed by Daesh. Does he agree that Daesh itself has no religion, in that it kills Muslims who stand in the way of its warped ideology? Whatever a person’s faith, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, if they stand against Daesh, they will be killed.
I think the hon. Gentleman is right, but it is clear that Shi’a Muslims have been singled out. For example, in a prison just north of Mosul, nearly 600 were picked out from the rest of the inmates because they were Turkmen Shi’a Muslims, and were machine-gunned one by one. I hope that we can make a clear statement today that this is genocide, both to express solidarity with Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims who are the victims of this horrifying brutality, and to make clear our determination to ensure that those responsible face prosecution and a just punishment for what they have done.
I want to make some observations on how we can deal with the commitment to religious freedom that we all espouse. I recognise and pay tribute to the work of past and present Ministers on this, but we should be doing more. Others are doing more, and we should as well. I commend to the Minister an idea that was in the last Labour party election manifesto: the Government should appoint a global envoy for religious freedom, who would report directly to the Prime Minister, and establish within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom. That would be an important way for us to acknowledge and publicly commit to the importance of British influence being wielded on this front, through the work of Ministers and the Foreign Office around the world.
The Canadian Government deserve credit for establishing an Office of Religious Freedom. It has had a positive impact, but I am sorry to hear that it is now being wound down. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was established a long time ago, in 1998, and it is an attractive model, with commissioners appointed by the President and by the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Last December, the commission called for the US Government to designate the Christian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak communities in Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide by ISIL.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very good case. I entirely support the motion, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on securing the debate. It is clear that ISIS is using rape as a strategic weapon of war. It is being used not only as a form of ethnic cleansing but as an unthinkable form of forced conversion. One victim recounted being shown an officially headed ISIS letter stating that any captured woman would become a Muslim if 10 ISIS fighters raped her. Will the right hon. Gentleman support my call to the Government today to assemble a specific preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative team to support local health and criminal justice teams in gathering evidence, so that these appalling crimes do not go unpunished?
I gladly support the hon. Lady’s call.
The legislation in the US that created the Commission on International Religious Freedom also mandated the State Department to prepare an annual report on international religious freedom. The last one was published just a year ago, and I imagine that we are about to see the next one in two or three weeks’ time. This means that the US Congress and Government have a serious and consistent deployment of effort to wield influence in favour of religious freedom around the world. We do that in a much more ad-hoc way; we should do it in the much more consistent way that the US example demonstrates.
I hope that the House will be united this afternoon in supporting the call by the hon. Member for Congleton for the Government to recognise what is happening to Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria as genocide. I hope that we will be able to build on this, and that the Government will make a consistent commitment to religious freedom around the world.
I to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce for her great courage and compassion, and for taking such a strong lead in this debate. I rise to support the motion calling on the Government to recognise the appalling acts by Daesh against the Yazidis, Christians and others as genocide. It bears repeating that genocide is defined as
“acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
Have we seen evidence of such intent? Yes, indisputably, in the kidnapping of women and girls; in torture, rape and sexual enslavement; in beheadings, crucifixions and mass graves; in the assassination of Church leaders and the desecration and destruction of churches, cemeteries and artefacts; and in the enforced conversions and the driving of people from their lands. We should remember the plight of the 40,000 Yazidis trapped on a mountainside in 2014, and the airdrops made to save them from certain death.
Yesterday, I heard first-hand testimony in this place from a very brave, scarred young woman who had escaped her captors. However, testimony comes not just from victims but through the self-proclamation of the perpetrators in thought, word and deed. How do they plead to the charge of the murder and subjugation of Yazidis and Christians? They claim credit.
This Government are committed to upholding human rights, supporting projects the world over and dedicating millions in funding to that end. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. I understand that what stands in the way of us formally calling Daesh’s atrocities genocide is the question of legal standing. The term “genocide” is a legal definition and can seemingly be determined only by the International Criminal Court. So what can we do? We can call for evidence to be formally collected. We can call this in by referring the matter to the United Nations, so that it can give jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court. Daesh is indiscriminate in who it hurts, but it reserves particular cruelties for Yazidis, Christians and other minority ethnic groups. How best can we support those groups of persecuted people at this moment? We can call their suffering what it is: genocide.
I was particularly struck by the contribution from my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms. If we do appoint a global envoy, may I suggest that my right hon. Friend’s name be put forward? He held a similar position under Tony Blair, and I can think of no one better qualified. Much praise has already been given to Fiona Bruce, and we should place on record the fact that in the short time she has been in the House, she has won for herself a reputation for great courage and determination as a defender of the weak, the poor and the defenceless. She has earned a great reputation, and she has done an enormous amount of good on these matters. She is ably followed by Jim Shannon in that regard. It is an honour to be speaking in a debate instigated by the hon. Lady. I am also glad to see two of the more humane Government Ministers on the Treasury Bench today. I am confident that they will respond in a way that reflects the emotion that is being felt right across the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Congleton listed the litany of horrors that we have heard, both last night and on so many other occasions. It seems almost otiose to repeat them, but I shall recount one chilling and almost unbelievably brutal incident. A group of captured young men were lined up and made to strip to the waist and hold their arms up. Those who had no hair under their arms were considered young enough to be taken away, indoctrinated and turned into bombers or jihadists; those who showed signs of puberty or maturity were shot. The fact that anyone can act with such callous, utter brutality in this day and age is almost beyond belief. The fact that they do it in the name of a religion, the name of which means peace, is absolutely unforgivable, impossible to contemplate and utterly inexcusable.
To anyone out there who thinks that this ghastly, nihilist death cult can in any way triumph, may I say what a pleasure it is to see the Palmyra arch being erected in Trafalgar Square as a physical demonstration of our commitment? Daesh can crush, destroy, kill, rape or maim, but it will never, ever win. It will not be allowed to win, because if it does, darkness will descend on the earth and we will be in a terrifying place.
The motion is extremely well crafted and beautifully phrased—I do not want to heap overmuch praise on the hon. Member for Congleton, because she is already embarrassed—and using the definition within it is incredibly important. We are quite rightly concentrating on the horrific circumstances of the Yazidis, but let us not forget that Daesh has probably killed more Muslims than people from any other religious or ethnic group. It does not in any way defend or protect its co-religionists; it slaughters indiscriminately.
I gently take my hon. Friend to task for saying “indiscriminately”. Daesh does kill indiscriminately when it comes to some groups, but it absolutely discriminates when it comes to Christians and Yazidis, because it wants to exterminate them and completely eradicate them from the world.
My hon. Friend quite correctly takes me to task. I meant that Daesh’s slaughter was universal, but it does of course target some groups specifically.
At least one hon. Member present has been with me to northern Iraq, actually broken bread with members of the Assyrian Christian community, and seen the lives that they lived. Their lives were always difficult, but they were able to live and practise their faith in something approaching peace, even under the dark days of Saddam Hussein. To see those people now being hunted down, specifically discriminated against and slaughtered on the grounds of their faith is utterly chilling and terrifying. Is it not extraordinary how many of them refuse to recant or recuse, and how many say, “This is our faith”? In some cases, they die for that faith. That is extraordinary and testament to the courage that still exists. As for a specific genocide, the Jewish people are also being destroyed. The magnificent, huge Jewish community in Iraq that did so much for the country is being specifically hunted down and destroyed. We must never forget that whole groups of people are suffering.
This comes down to the word “genocide”. I have had so many debates on the Floor of the House about the Armenian genocide of 1915. I call it genocide, but I appreciate that the House chooses not to call the massacre of nearly 2 million Armenians a genocide because the word was not promulgated until 1948. In reality, however, we know it was genocide. To deny that recognition through the use of the word to a group of people who suffered that way is a double discrimination. It is a double death, in many ways. Let us call this what it is: this is genocide, and Daesh must not be allowed to triumph and win.
What can we do in this House? We must of course make the reference to the United Nations, but I want to speak beyond this House for a moment. We are not in a hermetically sealed bubble here; we are the sounding board of the nation. People are watching us and listening to us, and it is possible that somewhere in the dark places of our cities and towns there are people who are tempted by this death cult. There may be people who, as an excuse for their own inadequacies or some compensation for their failures, like the idea that they can go and die gloriously for this twisted philosophy. I want to speak to those outside this Chamber for a second. If anyone watching thinks that the great religion of Islam is calling them to go and slaughter children or unborn babies, to rape, to loot or to murder, read the holy Koran, the hadiths and the surahs. They will not find those words in the holy book. If anyone out there huddled away in darkness actually feels tempted for a moment to leave this country, their city, or our community to go and kill before they die, please think. They have the gift of life at the present time. Hold that gift of life. It is too precious to throw away, as are the lives of others; their lives matter just as much.
Why are Christians, Muslims, Assyrian Christians, the Shabak, and Jews being persecuted in this way? What have they done to bring this Armageddon down on their heads? They have not in any way threatened forced conversions on people who subscribe to the ISIS-Daesh philosophy. This is a war of aggression that must be described by the one word—the only word—that describes it today: genocide. This House must speak to not just fellow legislators or the United Nations, but all those out there who are thinking about the issue, and who may be even remotely tempted to move into an area so dark, deep and desperate that only the worst and most serious word, one which describes the ultimate crime, accurately describes the full horror of what is happening to communities in Syria and Iraq. We all know what that word is. Let us be united in this House, and hopefully outside, and say that what is happening is genocide, and has to be recognised as such.
I appreciate the contributions made by hon. Members so far, especially that of Stephen Pound, who made a powerful case. I thank the Backbench Business Committee and my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce for allowing us to recognise in this debate that what we are seeing in parts of Syria and Iraq is the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and other religious minorities.
As we debate the nature of what is going on in Iraq and Syria, we must understand the nature of the organisation perpetrating the crimes. Daesh and its followers have a particular interpretation of Islam, which they use to attack those who do not subscribe to the same religion or interpretation of their religion, meaning that, in addition to the targeted persecution of Christians and Yazidis, Shi’ite Muslims are also killed and persecuted, as are many Sunni Muslims.
When the Sinjar disaster happened, 200,000 Yazidis were driven from their homes, with 40,000 trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they faced either slaughter by Daesh if they came down or dehydration and death if they remained. The number of Christians in Syria has dropped from 2 million to 1 million, and their number in Iraq has dropped from 1.4 million to fewer than 260,000.
Like other Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce for securing the debate. The figures that my hon. Friend Chris Green cites are very much an example of the fact that Christianity is dying in its cradle, which is why so many of our constituents who are fellow Christians have contacted us about this genocide. Does he agree?
Absolutely. This is why many people in Britain are leading the debate, because they recognise this to be a genocide, and I appreciate that many, if not all, Members in this Chamber agree with so many of the British people.
Daesh is creating what it would deem to be the caliphate, targeting those who do not fit into that vision. We have seen the systematic persecution, torture, enslavement, rape, kidnap and murder of a number of groups solely because of their religious identity. Daesh’s desire to establish a caliphate in the territory it holds is only a starting point; it is intending to draw many more Muslims from across the region, Europe and beyond. Clearly, Daesh is an expansionist organisation that has far greater territorial ambitions than to hold on to the land it currently has, and so, given the opportunity, it will take more land and subject more people to the systematic persecution and killing with which we have become familiar.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that this issue has many of the hallmarks of what we faced 75 years ago, in that Daesh is like National Socialism: it is not just a movement trying to take over one country; it is a movement trying to make a race and a belief dominant, and in doing so eliminate its opponents?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to speak of Daesh in this ideological way. People are getting caught up in this and are divorced from their humanity—the humanity they would have been raised with and that see around them. More must be done to ensure that we tackle that extremism, be it online or from other sources.
The continued existence of Daesh means it will continue to be a draw and an inspiration if this caliphate does take hold and persist. To see that, we need only look at Libya, where Daesh-inspired terrorists kidnapped and beheaded 21 Coptic Christians—the anniversary of that was recently marked by a service in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.
Genocide is fundamentally about committing acts with the intent to destroy, in part or in whole, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Although the classification of “genocide” is a matter of legal rather than political interpretation, for the international courts and the United Nations Security Council, this is not simply a debate about semantics. Furthermore, it is important for the British people, through their Government and the media, to understand what is going on in the middle east. Does the term “human rights violation” really fit what we see happening to Christians in the region? Can the systematic and targeted attacks on the Yazidis really be understood by referring to them as one of a number of middle eastern “humanitarian crises”?
The UK is playing a leading role in a global coalition of 66 countries and international organisations responding to Daesh’s inhumanity, but I join the voices of many in this House by asking the Government to make a referral to the UN Security Council. A referral from the Security Council is the only means by which the International Criminal Court can investigate and prosecute these acts of genocide. Genocide is understood by most to be the gravest crime against humanity, and this is what is being perpetrated by Daesh. We have a responsibility as a democratic nation to apply pressure to the international judicial bodies.
In an impressive speech, the hon. Gentleman has, like other Members, used the word “genocide” to describe the treatment of Christians and Yazidis. Does he think it would be helpful and possibly powerful if there were a vote on this motion, so that this House confirmed its definition of the treatment of the Christians and Yazidis as genocide?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak on a motion that is of supreme importance to me personally. I congratulate Fiona Bruce on securing the debate and echo her thanks for the work done in the House of Lords in the past few years to bring this issue to the attention of the UK population and us in this place. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place.
I wanted to write a speech that would provide evidence that this was a genocide, but that has been covered by other Members, including the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) and for Congleton. Therefore, I will focus my remarks on my experience and why this subject is so important to me, and why it is so important to us as a humanitarian country—a country that believes in human rights.
As a Member of Parliament, I have, over the past eight or nine months, travelled to Rojava, in Syria, to the Kurdistan Regional Government region of Iraq and to Turkey. I have been to the refugee camps of the Yazidi people: I have been to the Nowruz camp in Rojava and to refugee camps outside Batman and Diyarbakir in Turkey. I have spoken to many men, women and children—Yazidis and Alevis—who have been affected by the actions of Daesh. Their lives have been inexorably and demonstrably changed by what has happened to them in their communities and in their countries. It is that experience that brings me here to the Chamber today to speak and to show how what is happening is genocide.
I was in Rojava for eight days. I met members of the organisation Yekitiya Star, to which other Members have referred, in which Kurdish women—Muslims, not Yazidi women—work with Yazidi women to try to bring back those women who have been abducted, raped and brutalised. They have experienced barbarism. Those women who have had these terrible experiences—the worst experiences—are ashamed to return to their communities because of what has happened to them. Children of nine and 10 have been raped and impregnated. They are victims of a brutal system that demeans religions and demeans people. The system is about bringing them to account. Those women spoke powerfully to all of us who were there in Rojava. They told us that people from the Kurdish movement in Rojava were buying back women at auctions, using the resources of Rojava to bring women back from slavery. Sometimes they were found out. Sometimes Daesh worked out that they were trying to stop the enslavement by buying back the women. In such cases, those women disappeared. These are powerful stories of what is happening to women and men in that area.
I had a perfectly crafted speech to read out, but I have decided to speak freely. Yesterday, I listened to the testimony of Ekhlas, a 15-year-old who was abducted from her house. I will not paraphrase what she said, as I took down her words directly. I will read out her testimony, as her voice and the voice of the Yazidi and Alevi women deserve to be heard in this place. If anyone wants to intervene on me, could they do so now, as I will read out Ekhlas’s words.
“There was a knock at our door. We were targeted because our religion and belief is different from theirs, and our humanity is different from theirs, because we believe in the Angel Taus. In our religion, we do not believe in rape. We do not believe that innocents should be killed, or that a child should be cut up and his mother forced to eat him. My father and my two brothers were killed in front of me. They took me away from my mother. He grabbed my arm and my leg and then he raped me. He was 32 years old;
I was 15. After they raped me, they took my friend and they raped her. I could hear her shouting, ‘Where is the mercy? Where is the mercy? There must be some mercy in their hearts.’
They killed the men and they took the girls. Any girls over the age of nine were raped—like me. What does a nine year understand about sex or rape? What did she do to deserve this? I saw this nine-year-old girl raped with my own eyes, by not one man but several. I saw her die” because her body could not handle the brutality.
“We saw a two-year-old boy killed, then ground in to meat and fed to his mother who did not know what she was eating.”
Some younger girls were taken. She said:
“Some young girls were impregnated, and were only children. What are they going to do as pregnant children? There is so much brainwashing. Daesh tell you your religion and brainwash children”.
They arm them, and they
“put them in front of their own parents and demand that they kill them. Listen to me, I am begging you. Listen to me, listen to what I am telling. Help us. I beg of you. Listen to me. Help the girls who are still in captivity. Let us all stand hand-in-hand and take a stand. This is a genocide against Christians and Yazidis”— and others—
“This is about dignity, this is about humanity in dignity. If you are a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a human, do not close your ears. I plead with you, please listen.”
This is a genocide.
That was a very moving speech by Natalie McGarry.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on securing the debate.
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
That is Daesh. For the members of this death cult, the destruction of a way of life, an ideology and a set of beliefs that is not theirs is both their ultimate and sole aim. Daesh are self-defining as committers of genocide. To achieve that, they rape, they enslave, they decapitate. Their victims are Muslims, Kurds, Yazidis and Christians.
The Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimates that in Syria, approximately 470,000 people have been killed either directly or indirectly as a result of the five years of civil war. What is most shocking is that the United Nations has given up estimating the number, because the numbers are so vast that it cannot provide verifiable statistics. Whatever the number of those killed, millions more have been displaced and lost. Each cowardly act of death and destruction is just that—a cowardly act—but put together, these acts make up a reign of terror, targeted at a specific group of people. This is the systematic murder—genocide—of the people who form these communities, the cultural heritage that has tied them together for generations and the values and beliefs that define them.
I heard first hand what Daesh do. I was lucky—or unlucky—enough to meet a young, brave Yazidi woman called Nadia Murad, in a meeting co-ordinated by my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, for which I give him credit. She had been taken by Daesh as a sex slave. Her race was justification enough for the horrific way in which she, her family and her community were mistreated and destroyed.
We failed to prevent genocide in Bosnia. In Germany, the Nazis were appeased while they targeted Jews. The death cult of misfits that we face now cannot be allowed to get away with this any longer. In Iraq and Syria, Daesh’s statements have taken credit for the mass murder and persecution of Christians and have shown its clear intent to purge Christian communities from the area it claims as its own. As a country, we show a weakness by failing to acknowledge the extent of the persecution against Yazidis, Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. We are failing the victims of deliberate and targeted persecution, where race, faith and gender are all the excuse that Daesh needs to find new and innocent targets for mass murder. If we do not recognise these acts as genocide, we effectively declare that we are not willing to take all action necessary to bring it to an end and to bring the perpetrators to justice, as they deserve.
A week after Ian Blackford brought Nadia Murad to the House of Commons, I was fortunate enough to bring her to the Public Gallery here. In fact, she went up there with my wife who, incidentally, is the daughter of holocaust survivors. Afterwards, as I am sure the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber will agree, Nadia was so grateful. I could not understand why she was so grateful to us, but I think it was because she had faith in this House. She genuinely believed that we would act to help her and her people. She was not one of our jaded constituents. She thought that this House meant something, and that we would do something to help her and her people.
My hon. Friend is right. As the oldest democracy in the world, we have a responsibility to Nadia Murad also.
We would be complicit in overlooking the scale of criminality that is ongoing and largely unpunished. That is not a position that a country steadfast in its commitment to fairness, freedom and justice should be relaxed about. The UN Security Council’s declaring these acts to be genocide is key to preventing the spread of terrorism and radicalisation, and it allows an international criminal tribunal to be set up to try the terrorists who are committing these heinous acts and to bring them to true justice. That is why I support the motion.
“I too believe that acts of genocide have taken place”.—[Official Report, 12 April 2016;
Vol. 608, c. 165.]
I hope we can move on from that statement today.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. I was present when the Minister gave that response. Does my hon. Friend hope, as I do, that this afternoon the whole House will be given the opportunity to send a powerful message by voting and being united in that vote, and inviting Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries—those on the payroll—to vote as well, to send a strong message that what is happening is genocide?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful statement. I, too, hope that is the case. Sending cross-party support today will also be a very strong message.
Previous generations have already struggled to explain Bosnia, Rwanda and the Nazi persecutions. Now it is our turn to decide whether we will have to explain to future generations what we did or did not do against the death cult Daesh. Historical memory can be a tool of prevention, but it is rare that society uses it in that way. Let us be the generation that does use it as a tool of prevention. The Nazis wrote history, the Bosnian Serbs wrote history, and Daesh is currently destroying and rewriting history all at once. Not satisfied with destroying the past and present of races, faiths and genders, it is destroying the future of those communities too. It is our collective job, as a member of the UN family of nations, to make sure that those communities are not just a blot of ink in the story of Daesh.
It is a pleasure to follow Nusrat Ghani. I agree with every word she said. We have had a fantastic debate today and, like her, I hope the Government will support the motion so that we can move forward and ensure that action is taken as a consequence of the debate.
Many hon. Members have already congratulated Fiona Bruce on tabling the motion. She is to be congratulated. We should be proud that we are debating a matter of such importance in the House today.
We have a moral responsibility to speak out against the crimes of genocide that have taken place against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. We should be exercising that responsibility today by passing the motion, which calls upon the UK Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council to grant the International Criminal Court the mandate to bring the perpetrators to justice.
As Kevin Foster recently reminded the House, the allied Governments made a joint statement on
Genocide is understood as the deliberate, systematic extermination of national, racial, political or cultural groups, and that is exactly what has been taking place. The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria have seen the deliberate targeting of Yazidis, Christians and other minority groups. The Yazidi town of Sinjar was captured by Daesh in August 2014, and the seizure of the town and the surrounding districts unleased the ethnic cleansing of the Yazidi people. A UN report tells us that 200,000 Yazidis were driven from their homes after the fall of Sinjar. At least 40,000 were trapped on Mount Sinjar; cut off by Daesh, these people were without food, water or shelter. As has been said, the choice for many was slaughter by Daesh if they fled or dehydration if they stayed.
The UN has estimated that 5,000 men were massacred and 7,000 women were enslaved in that action. The women captured by Daesh were sold into sexual slavery, and many were displaced throughout Daesh-controlled territory. As we have heard, the testimony of survivors—Yazidis and Christians—tells of the horrific and daily violence carried out against them, and that has been a deliberate policy on the part of Daesh.
Last night, as we have heard, a young Yazidi woman, Ekhlas, came to Parliament to tell her story. It was a most harrowing account of what had happened to her and her family—a graphic description of what has happened not only to her, but to thousands of other people in Syria and Iraq. Before Ekhlas spoke, she was introduced by a human rights lawyer, Jacqueline Isaac. Jacqueline spoke of the fear of the knock on the door by fighters from Daesh, which would lead to people being categorised into different groups, with murder, rape and hostage-taking commonplace. That is exactly what took place with the Nazis in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. That resulted in the UK Government signalling their intent in 1942 to bring the perpetrators to justice. If that was right in 1942, it is right in this House today, in 2016.
When we close this debate, I hope that the House and the Government will unite in supporting the motion, and that we can do the right thing for the Yazidis, Christians and other minorities who have suffered the wholesale removal of their communities from the region.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does he agree that although these minorities are being persecuted because of their religion, the debate should not be about advocating one religion or another? This is about the basic human right for all of us to pursue any faith we choose or none. Does he recognise that there are many people of different faiths in the House, but that there are also people of no faith, who will defend to the bitter end the right of others to exercise their faith and to do so without persecution?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which has not been made so far. As a practising Christian, I am happy to accept everyone’s right to express their religion, whatever it is, or none at all. It is important that in this Chamber today we stand up for everybody.
When Ekhlas closed her submission last night, she implored us to help—she said, “I’m asking for help.” Our responsibility to Ekhlas and everybody else means that we must heed that plea. What will we do for Ekhlas? We must stand up and support the call for the UN Security Council to confer jurisdiction on the International Criminal Court so that we can take action.
The peshmerga attacked the place where Ekhlas was being held, and she managed to escape, before being rescued by Yazidis. This brave young woman, who has faced so much and witnessed such utter horrors, wants to become a lawyer and to fight for women’s rights. Maybe, just maybe, if she fulfils that ambition, she can play her part in the legal team that brings her persecutors to justice. We must help her and those like her who have suffered from the genocide.
The situation in Syria and Iraq is catastrophic and has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises we have ever witnessed. ADF International says that the number of Christians in Syria has fallen from 2 million in 2011 to 1 million in 2015. The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.4 million to 260,000.
Daesh has documented in its official propaganda its specific intention to destroy Christian groups in Syria and Iraq. In February 2015, Daesh seized 35 Assyrian Christian villages and kidnapped more than 300 Christians, with more than 1,200 fleeing to safety. Thirty-five villages were cleared and deserted in that one act alone.
The atrocities satisfy the criteria established in the convention on genocide. Recognising that genocide has taken place and signalling that those responsible will face justice is an important tool in the fight to defeat Daesh. We need to send a clear message to all the minorities that are being attacked that we are not going to abandon them. We and other nations must stand shoulder to shoulder at the United Nations and show our resolve.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the perpetrators of this genocide should be brought to justice in the International Criminal Court. Does he agree that there also needs to be an international effort to find the Yazidi women captured by Daesh?
I fully agree. The young woman we met last night is a perfect example of that: the actions of the peshmerga managed to free her and she got into the safe hands of the Yazidis. We need to support the peshmerga and other like-minded people to make sure that we can get to safety the women and men captured by Daesh.
I hope that when the Minister sums up the debate, he makes it clear that the Government support the motion. Others have already taken a similar step. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognised genocide in a resolution passed on
Why have the UK Government been silent and why has no action been taken? The Foreign Secretary has said that the Government support the efforts of the International Criminal Court to end impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern by holding perpetrators to account, but the Court has to be enabled to do that, and the UN Security Council has to provide that enablement. We keep hearing about the importance of the UK’s membership of the Security Council, so today is the United Kingdom’s chance to show leadership and to take action—to stand up for Ekhlas and to respond to her plea for help for all those who have suffered. Are we going to do the right thing in 2016, just as we did in 1942, or are we just going to stand back, wring our hands and watch as Daesh reaps its bitter harvest?
The UK is a signatory to the convention on genocide. We have an obligation to recognise what has taken place. I hope and pray that this afternoon the House, collectively and united, does the right thing.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on her tremendous efforts in securing the debate.
Words matter, and saying that Daesh is committing acts of genocide against Christians and Yazidis is not just a statement of fact, because it also forces us to realise that genocide is, unfortunately, an inherent part of Daesh’s depraved operations. The acts that have been mentioned today, including the assassination of church leaders, systematic torture and mass murder, mock crucifixions, sexual enslavement and systematic rape, which Natalie McGarry spoke about in shocking, appalling and powerful detail, are genocidal not just by consequence, but by design. That distinction is clear in Daesh’s propaganda sheet “Dabiq”, the latest edition of which attacks any form of pluralism or tolerance as being in direct contradiction to its twisted view of Islam, stating:
“the death of a single Muslim, no matter his role in society, is more grave…than the massacre of every kafir on earth.”
The same article explicitly clarifies:
“Any disbeliever standing in the way of the Islamic State will be killed, without pity or remorse, until…governance is entirely for Allah.”
Such sentiments are incompatible with the presence of minority groups in Daesh territory, and we are seeing a concentrated effort by Daesh not only to obliterate any minority presence, but to deny the cultural history of the territory that it seeks to occupy.
The number of Christians in Syria has halved, and in Iraq it has dropped from 1.4 million to just 240,000. Perhaps even more striking is that the historical settlement of 60,000 Christians in Mosul has entirely disappeared. Along with that, there has been a targeted destruction of sites, including St Elijah’s monastery, historic libraries and any representational art. Edicts have instructed Daesh troops to engage in the wholesale destruction of any non-Islamic sites of worship.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and Daesh’s ignorance and denial of the historical and cultural nature of the area is crucial. I studied the early caliphate, and in that period many leaders of the Muslim world described the classical world that they took over as a garden protected by their spears. Is it not tragic that Daesh’s perversion of Islam is so different from the vision set out by those early caliphs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not only tragic but bizarre and unimaginable that Daesh has taken its own religion and turned it into something so distinctly different from what was intended.
Last year I and several other Members persuaded the Government to create a £30 million cultural protection fund, and they are in the process of deciding the criteria for how that will be spent. Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the money should go to the heritage and sites of persecuted religious minorities, such as Christian and Yazidi groups in Syria and Iraq, to protect historic sites, churches and manuscripts for future generations?
I could not agree more. The cultural demolition is explicitly linked to the genocidal aims that we are discussing.
To say that Christians and Yazidis are victims of genocide is not to minimise the terrible suffering of others in the region. In a debate held on a similar motion in another place, Lord Bates was entirely right to point out that it is often Muslims who suffer the greatest brutality at the hands of Daesh. Over the past six months, the United States Congress, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the US Secretary of State have all declared that Daesh is committing genocide.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the bodies that have declared that genocide is being committed. Having heard from Daesh itself, and having been witness to so many young Yazidi women who come here to tell us their story, what more could it take for this House to form the view that this is genocide, and to have the courage to stand up and say so?
I agree with the hon. Lady, and the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow East gave us an immensely powerful first-person perspective.
I completely understand the Government’s approach, which is that a decision on whether the word “genocide” is applicable is for international judicial bodies, rather than Governments or other non-judicial bodies. However, as the open letter from a group of peers to the Prime Minister on
“there is nothing to prevent Her Majesty’s Government from forming and acting upon its own view”.
A vote for the motion would begin the process of a possible referral to the International Criminal Court from the UN Security Council. It would send a signal to the perpetrators that they will be brought to justice and it would, perhaps most crucially of all, act as a spur to the other 127 signatories to the 1948 convention to add their support. An émigré writer of a previous generation who fled persecution said:
“Words without experience are meaningless.”
The reverse is also true. When hundreds of thousands of people are suffering in such a way, we must apply the only word that is adequate for the job, and support this important motion.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on Pakistan minorities, and of the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief—for those with Christian beliefs, those with other beliefs and those with no beliefs, who Tommy Sheppard mentioned in his intervention.
The organisation that we are talking about has many names—IS, Islamic State, ISIL, ISIS and Daesh—and many guises but, above all, it is made up of systematic, psychopathic serial killers. The subject of the debate is clear: it is about ethnic and religious minorities such as the Yazidis and the Christians. I am pleased to see the Minister in the Chamber and look forward to hearing his response. We have talked about the matter this year on a personal basis. I hope that today Members will express ourselves clearly about what we wish to do regarding the word “genocide”. We have heard many powerful, passionate and focused speeches, and I particularly want to highlight the speech made by Fiona Bruce, who set the scene very well. I am pleased to have her not only as a colleague, but as a friend.
The Daesh atrocities rival any atrocity in modern history. Too many people turn a blind eye or offer only weak words, and some even attempt to rationalise Daesh’s actions. Strong words have been spoken in the House today, and what this self-declared state is doing is absolutely disgraceful. Will it care if its actions are called genocide or not? No, it will not, but we in this House and in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should set the bar for the rest of the international community by saying that this cannot go on without it being condemned to the utmost and labelled appropriately as what it is—genocide. I correspond with some 90 churches in my constituency, and they feel very strongly about this brutality, violence, depravity and evil. We must be ever mindful of the fact that those who survive physically are traumatised forever.
Islamic State militants are selling abducted Iraqi children at markets as sex slaves and killing other youth by means including crucifixion or burial alive. They are given a “convert or die” ultimatum—that is genocide. Twenty-one Egyptian Christians were kidnapped in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte in two separate incidents in December 2014 and January 2015. In February 2015, they were beheaded on a Libyan beach in a chilling propaganda video produced by the self-declared Islamic State—that is genocide. After capturing the key strategic town of al-Baghdadi, which is just five miles from the al-Asad air base, Daesh rounded up 45 civilians from the town, some of whom were thought to be Iraqi security forces and their families, and burned them all alive—that is genocide.
“The Sunnis must stand on one side. The Shi’a, Kurds and Yazidis must stand on the other. If I find out that a Shi’a is among the Sunnis, I am going to cut off his head with a sheet of metal.”
Such words are spoken by those in Daesh who have a hatred for everyone who is not of their kind.
The men were interrogated about their beliefs, names, home towns and other details. Witnesses said that about 100 Shi’a prisoners were successful at pretending to be Sunni to escape further violence. The remaining Shi’a, Kurdish, Christian and Yazidi prisoners were then searched. Everything was taken from them: their money, their watches, their rings, their jewellery and their identity cards. One survivor said:
“The moment they made us give up all of our possessions, I knew they were going to kill us.”
The prisoners had been given no food or water for 24 hours, but Daesh militants promised them supplies as they drove deeper into the desert. When they arrived, the militants told them,
“you’ll have water in paradise.”
The militants then made the men kneel in a single line along the rim of a curved ravine six to 12 feet deep. They were asked to number themselves off, with each person forced to
“raise his hand and say his number.”
Survivors said that many of the gunmen were young. Some appeared nervous, while others were excited, including some who joked at the end of the count, when they shot the prisoners, that they had “a nice-size head”, and some who said that they were going to “eat well tonight”. That is genocide.
Further documented incidents include the 1,700 captives executed in Tikrit in Iraq, the 650 people executed in Mosul in Iraq, the 1,000 Turks who were massacred, including some 100 children, and the more than 2,000 women and children who have been kidnapped. In the UN’s words, this is
“systematic hunting of members of ethnic and religious groups”— that is genocide. Women have been raped and sold, and young boys have been executed. Girls have been enslaved for sexual abuse, and children have been recruited as suicide bombers. There are more than 1 million refugees, half of them children.
I am conscious of the time, but it might help the Minister—I hope it does—if I mention what has happened in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly asked the Attorney General for Northern Ireland for direction on
“whether the violence currently being perpetrated against Christians and other minority religious groups (notably Yazidis and members of certain Islamic communities) by Daesh…in territory controlled by them in Syria and Iraq constitutes genocide within the meaning of the December 9 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ‘the Genocide Convention’.”
“If behaviour can be properly classified as genocide then a range of international law consequences ensue. The first of these consequences is the activation of the twofold undertaking by contracting parties contained in Article 1 of the Genocide Convention to prevent and to punish genocide. Article 1 reads as follows:
‘The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.’”
The day of reckoning for Daesh is here. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland has said:
“it seems to me that actual or potential victims of genocide have a right to truthful acknowledgement of their circumstances and that governments are under a corresponding duty to make such acknowledgements...I have no hesitation in saying that the violence perpetrated against these protected groups does constitute genocide.”
I hope that the Minister will keep in mind the words of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and what he has decreed in Northern Ireland because, legally, it might help the Minister to make a decision on this matter.
Amnesty International’s publication “Ethnic Cleansing on a Historic Scale: Islamic State’s Systematic Targeting of Minorities in Northern Iraq” details, with eyewitness testimony, several more Daesh atrocities in Iraq. At least 100 men and boys have been herded together and shot to death in Kocho. Scores of men and boys have been summarily executed in Qiniyeh. More than 50 men have been rounded up and shot dead near Jdali. The dead boys, the raped girls and the captive villagers gunned down for refusing to renounce their faith are the people who die every day at the hands of ISIS or Daesh.
This is not a horror movie—I wish it was. This is taking place just a plane flight away. It is time we called this what it is: it is systematic, it is calculated, and it is genocide.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this extremely important debate. The Government must be in no doubt that if the motion passes on a vote, it cannot be ignored. Other Back-Bench motions come before the House, but this one is of the very highest seriousness and importance, and we will not let it be ignored. We will return to it again and again in this House until the Government properly make a justified referral to the Security Council.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce—she has already received enormous tributes, and she should receive more. She is very much the voice of the voiceless and a champion of human dignity. It must be said that the same is true of the noble Lord Alton, who is watching in the Gallery. He has done sterling work in trying to encourage, cajole and entice the Government to do what is right in every sense. This is about being a voice. Indeed, Natalie McGarry made a passionate speech, not least by bringing to bear the voice of those with the harrowing experience of being the victim of the appalling actions of ISIS.
Stephen Pound mentioned the replica of the Palmyra arch, which hon. Members can see when they go up to Trafalgar Square. I had the privilege of seeing it unveiled. The head of antiquities from Syria made it clear that he was proud that we were able to stand in solidarity with the Syrians who have been the victims of appalling crimes. The replica of the Palmyra arch provides a declaration of that solidarity. Today, we are standing in solidarity by declaring that this is a genocide. However, he and the victims would want us to do more, and the motion will do more, because it has teeth and aims to ensure that there are legal obligations.
The hon. Gentleman said that the message of the Palmyra arch is that ISIS cannot win. The motion is about saying that it cannot win, that it needs to be held to account and that there must be justice. The head of UNESCO said that the destruction not only of the arch, but of churches, monasteries and shrines, which has affected many religious groups, is cultural genocide. These are war crimes and ISIS needs to be held to account. The Government have recognised that there needs to be an accountability mechanism for cultural destruction, which is why I look forward to the Queen’s Speech including the belated ratification of The Hague convention and its second protocol, the purpose of which is to show that there will be accountability for cultural destruction.
It would be extraordinary if we ratified The Hague convention and provided for accountability for cultural destruction, but did not ensure that there was accountability for acts of genocide. We need to ensure that the declaration that ISIS cannot win, which is being made in Trafalgar Square, is made again today by our passing the motion unanimously. We must also take action.
I will not repeat the examples that have been mentioned, but they make the clear case that there is a deliberate and ruthless targeting not only of culture, but of history and people, whether they be Yazidis, Christians or other religious groups. There is kidnapping and enslavement. A recent UN report stated that at least 3,500 people have been enslaved. Many people have been executed—this is on jihadist websites—with that chilling demand, “Convert or die.”
We are not simply acting in solidarity or making a position statement. It is important that we hold the Government to account, as is our duty as parliamentarians. What have the Government done over the many months in which this demand has been made? There was a concern that the Government’s response would have to be categorised as “walk on by”. I say that with sadness, but if one goes back to
“We are not submitting any evidence of possible genocide against Yezidis and Christians to international courts, nor have we been asked to.”
It would be extraordinary if our Government simply sat on their hands and did not make any referrals. There are obligations on the Government under the genocide convention to take a view and act upon it.
I welcome the fact that the Government have moved on since then. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, who will respond to the debate, said this month:
“we are helping to gather evidence that could be used to hold Daesh to account appropriately.”
I ask him to confirm that the Government are doing that, and that they are referring evidence that comes forward to the Security Council.
How else could we categorise the Government’s response? In some ways, they are going around in circles. As we have heard, the Minister has stated:
“We as the Government are not the prosecutor, the judge or the jury. Such matters are determined first in the international courts and in the United Nations Security Council”.—[Official Report, 12 April 2016;
Vol. 608, c. 165.]
However, such matters are not determined by the courts first and then in the Security Council; the Security Council has a key role to play. The Minister gave himself a way through this. The Security Council can make a referral, and that is what the motion is about. The Government cannot simply defer to the international courts and go around in circles.
Many noble Lords and eminent Queen’s counsel wrote a letter to the Prime Minister making that very point, saying:
“there is nothing to prevent Her Majesty’s Government forming and acting upon its own view.”
The Government have decided not to take a view for policy reasons—I do not understand exactly why—unlike other Governments and authorities. They could ensure that there was a referral through the Security Council mechanism, as a permanent member. I therefore repeat the question of those eminent Lords and QCs: why will the Government not
“reconsider its position and…clarify why it operates a policy of refusing to recognize acts of genocide, when so many other nations do not?”
That is the first question, but we cannot leave it at that. The Government have to ask themselves—the Minister has to explain—why they are not making proper plans and using their means to go to the Security Council to ensure that there is a referral to the International Criminal Court. Is the concern not necessarily about the evidence of genocide, but the legal consequences? Is it the concern, which was mentioned earlier, that this will, quite properly, have implications for victims, who at long last would have the assurance that there will be justice and that, if it can be achieved, they will see the perpetrators held to account before a court? Those people would also, importantly, have the opportunity to be recognised as victims so that there could be reparation and restoration—not in a digital form, as with the Palmyra arch, but in a real form for their lives that have been seriously damaged. There are also implications of settlement and safety for refugees, particularly from religious minorities, who are struggling to find proper routes of safe passage. Is that the Government’s concern? Please assuage my fears and say that it is not.
Today we are making a declaration of solidarity. We are all saying to the Government that they must hold ISIS to account for the gravest of grave crimes, namely genocide. Be assured that we will not let the Government ignore the motion. They must take action for the good of all the groups we have mentioned, and the good of the whole civilised world.
Order. I would rather not restrain this important and sombre debate, but I now have to reduce the time limit for speeches to five minutes.
Like others, I pay tribute to Fiona Bruce for giving the House the opportunity to respond to the pleas that we have heard from a number of Yazidi young women who have come here to tell us not just of their experience, but of the plight of those like them who remain in captivity.
Natalie McGarry gave a passionate speech, in which she quoted Ekhlas’s words yesterday. I too had written down those words. As other Members have said, we have heard from Nadia Murad, who, in a meeting hosted by Brendan O'Hara and sponsored by the all-party parliamentary group on human rights, told us of her experiences. We also heard from Salwa Khalaf Rasho, in March. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have hosted women witnesses who have come to give us their testimony: Mrs Spelman, and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), for Newark (Robert Jenrick), and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). I also pay tribute to Ann Clwyd, who has such experience in the region.
This is what we heard from Nadia:
“Islamic State had one intention, to destroy the Yazidi identity by force, rape, recruitment of children and the destruction of holy sites they captured, especially against Yazidi women where they used rape as a means of destruction for Yazidi women and girls, ensuring these women will never return to a normal life. But it was not only me who suffered, it was a collective suffering. The Islamic State gave us two choices, convert or die. For those who accepted to convert, fearing for their lives, their men were killed, women were enslaved and children were recruited.”
She went on to speak of the desperate journeys that many people tried to make. She not only appealed to us to recognise the genocide happening to her people—and other minorities, including Christians in Iraq and Syria—for what it is, but asked:
“Open your borders for my community, we are victims of a genocide and we have the right to seek a safe place where our dignity will be preserved. We request that to give Yazidis and other threatened minorities the choice to resettle, especially the victims of human trafficking, as Germany did.”
Nadia wrote to us only this week, again not just asking us to recognise what the Yazidis are suffering as genocide, but asking the UK to undertake a programme similar to that in Germany, where 1,000 Yazidi women and girls were admitted for treatment and counselling on special two-year visas.
As I said, we also heard from Salwa Khalaf Rasho, who told us how she and other people contemplated suicide as they were being separated into different groups at 3 o’clock in the morning in a sports hall in Mosul, after a day of humiliating and molested travel by bus. They knew what was happening. She told us how, some days later after even more treatment like this, a 17-year-old girl, Gilan from Tal Afar, committed suicide. After she learned that Daesh had killed her family, she cut her wrists. In revenge, the Daesh terrorists took her dead body and threw it to the dogs.
We know from all that we have heard that this is indeed genocide. We should not be cavilling, quibbling or hesitating about this. We know that the depraved crimes of Daesh are unspeakable, but that should not mean that we should fail to call this the genocide that it truly is. According to the UN, genocide is killing members of a specific group, causing grievous harm, deliberately inflicting conditions designed to bring about the group’s destruction, preventing births within the community, or forcibly transferring its children.
We know that those who are perpetrating these crimes are doing so to exterminate and extinguish a people. We know that they mean what they are doing to be genocide, with all its bloody and awful consequences. We know that those who are suffering from these terrible crimes know that it is genocide and know that it is meant as genocide. Why should we as a Chamber hesitate to say, “We know what the word genocide means, and we know it is being committed against the Yazidi people”?
I agree with all of that, and I want to follow on directly from the speech given by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes. This is a vital motion and an important moment for the Minister. We want no more weasel words; we want him to accept this motion; we want him to accept what this motion calls for in clear and explicit terms, which is for the Government
The Government’s attitude up to now has, I agree, been based on precedent, but I do not believe that precedent is enough in this case, given the horrors that are going on in the world. I would be delighted if the Minister—he can intervene now if he wants—accepted the motion on behalf of the Government. If he does, we have already won this debate, but there is absolutely no point in the Minister using his time to condemn Daesh, and mention all its appalling acts, only to say at the end of his speech, “I am very sorry, but because of legal precedent”—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, referred to the circularity of the argument—“the Government think it is for the court to take the initiative and that it is inappropriate for the British Government to take action.”
There is one person who is waiting, and who says that he is there, ready to play his full part according to the proper statute: the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. He is waiting for a referral from the Security Council so that he can investigate properly and independently and hold these people to account.
Absolutely. I see in his place the Minister, who is listening to what we are all saying. I know that he is about to deliver a strong and powerful speech. I know that he will not just condemn Daesh, but say “Yes, we have listened to the debate in the House of Commons, and we will act by making a referral to the Security Council.”
Let us look at the facts and the pure legal argument, which has nothing to do with the motion. The criteria set forth in the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide are absolutely clear. The crime is defined as acts
“committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The convention then lists five qualifying conditions:
“(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
It is clear—it is blatantly obvious—that conditions (a), (b) and (c) are in effect, and that those things are going on in the areas under Daesh’s control. It is vital to recall that even if just one of those conditions is met, the declaring of acts as genocidal is allowed. On the basis of the clear legal criteria, there is absolutely no doubt that genocide is being committed. It is therefore the duty of Her Majesty’s Government, in terms of humanity and not just in terms of legal arguments, to do their duty now, to stop prevaricating, to accept the motion, and to refer this to the Security Council.
It would be intolerable for the Government to whip against the motion and force members of the payroll to vote against their own consciences, or abstain. It would also be intolerable if the Government, by some sleight of hand, allowed the motion to be agreed to, and then said that it was not binding on them. If the motion is agreed to—I sincerely hope that the Minister will not speak against it, and that it will not be whipped against—the House of Commons will have spoken, and the Government should act.
So many powerful speeches have been made, but the most powerful of all was by Natalie McGarry. Why was it so moving? Why was it so powerful? Because it consisted of the explicit personal experience of someone who talked about girls of nine being raped and killed by this murderous cult.
I myself have visited the area. Of all the Christian villages that I visited, 19 have been taken over by Daesh, and only one remains. We visited the tomb of the Prophet Nahum, and we saw what he had written:
“Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them”,
“The gates of your land are wide open to your foes.”
Enough is enough. I call on the Government to act.
I had not intended to speak in the debate, because, as we have just heard from Sir Edward Leigh, the speeches have been so powerful, so poignant and so compelling that I felt that I could not add very much. For many years, however, I gathered evidence of Iraqi war crimes, and in the Chamber, week after week, I argued for the prosecution of those who had committed human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, and genocide. I am happy to support the motion today, because the case has been made over and over again.
In September 2014, I raised the case of Yazidis in the Chamber, and in the same month, I tabled an early-day motion calling for action, which stated
“That this House
is extremely concerned about the genocidal campaign being waged against minorities in Iraq” by ISIS,
“and notes with alarm the evidence recently collected by Amnesty International about” its
“brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims that has turned the area into blood-soaked killing fields;
is shocked by the barbaric treatment of Yazidi”— and so on.
I met many Yazidis in northern Iraq after some of the peshmerga and campaigners for human rights there had rescued some of those women by buying them on the open market. They then called for additional assistance from us. We have given humanitarian assistance, but I think that we could have done much more. Many tears have been shed about the Yazidis, but I should have liked to have seen much more practical help given to the peshmerga to assist in the liberation of those thousands of women. Thousands of Yazidi women are still being held captive; we should be aware of that, and we should be ready to give whatever assistance we can.
I want to stress again the importance of collecting evidence. The Minister has said that questions of genocide
“are determined first in the international courts and in the United Nations Security Council, but we are helping to gather evidence that could be used to hold Daesh to account.”—[Official Report, 12 April 2016;
Vol. 608, c. 165WH.]
I hope that he will tell us exactly how we are collecting that evidence. When I was chair of Indict, that organisation collected evidence over a seven-year period, and we were not assisted by the Government of the time. We had money from the Americans and from the Kuwaitis, but we had to do the work ourselves. When Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid were eventually brought to justice, that was done using some of the evidence that we had collected.
I would be grateful if the Minister would be very precise about the way in which we are assisting in collecting evidence today, because that will be extremely important. It was important in the case of the Iraqis that culminated in Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid being convicted of the crime of genocide. I hope that the House will support the motion today, and I hope that it will be put to a vote, because it is essential that we make it clear that this is the view of the House of Commons, and that there is no more delay.
I am proud to be a signatory to the motion, which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, to whom tributes have rightly been paid. I would also like to pay tribute to those Members of the other place who have made an enormous contribution to this battle. They include the noble Lord Alton, my noble Friend Lord Forsyth, Baroness Cox, Baroness Nicholson and many others. This is a big campaign across both Houses of Parliament on behalf of the British people, as Stephen Pound said.
The question that we have to decide today is whether Daesh could, as it were, be convicted by us of committing genocide. The United States thinks that it could be so convicted; that is the verdict of Congress and of Secretary of State Kerry. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, also takes that view, although his view has been tempered by his reference to the need for us to present evidence to the United Nations in order for prosecutions to take place. My view is that this debate, following the one that took place in the other place on
We have heard some powerful testimonies today. Natalie McGarry captivated the House with her speech. The hon. Member for Ealing North also provided the house with evidence. I nearly called him my hon. Friend; we are in fact very good friends. My hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh set out the legal conditions that apply under the 1948 convention, and it cannot be the case that none of those five conditions has been met. It seems to me that they have been met in full.
That is a very good question. I have not had the privilege of meeting the people that so many hon. Members across the Floor of the House have met, but I have been extremely moved by the testimonies that have been recounted today. I do not see how any normal person listening to our debate could possibly come to any conclusion other than that this was genocide and is genocide to this day, and that Christians, Yazidis and others are being wiped out. As many hon. Members have said, those actions are intentional. They are not a by-product of some other policy. The intention is to wipe them out.
I want to be brief, so I will conclude by saying that there are three powerful reasons for taking action and why the Government should listen. First, we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, so let us refer this matter to ourselves. That should not be too difficult. We have an important role in the UN that we should fulfil. Secondly, to the great tragedy of this nation, our fellow citizens are unfortunately involved and are steeped in blood. They are complicit in this genocide. We therefore have a locus. Thirdly, we are a Christian country. Fellow Christians are being persecuted. We cannot, as my noble Friend Lord Forsyth said in the other place,
“pass by on the other side.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 March 2016;
Vol. 769, c. 2157.]
We owe it to them to take action. As we will be reminding ourselves tomorrow, our sovereign is also the supreme governor of the Church of England. This is a part of our country.
I want to finish by referring to the words of my constituent Major General Tim Cross, who said when giving evidence in the other place recently:
“There can be no doubt that genocide is being carried out on Yazidi and Christian communities—and the West/international community’s failure to recognise what is happening will be to our collective shame in years to come”.
I hope that the Government will listen to the collective words of this House and the other place and act on the behalf of the British people against the appalling genocide of our fellow Christians and so many others.
In 1994, I was living a few hundred miles away from where nearly a million people were killed over the course of three months in a genocide in Rwanda. Both before the genocide and during it, the international community was too slow to act and too slow to recognise that crime against humanity. As a result, more people died than was necessary. This is another such occasion on which we have heard the evidence and need to say quite categorically that it is genocide. We should recognise that now. If not now, when?
I congratulate Fiona Bruce on bringing this important debate to the Floor of the House. Judging by the contributions that we have heard this afternoon, no one can be in any doubt whatsoever that this House believes that what has happened to the Christian and Yazidi communities of northern Iraq and Syria is genocide. What Daesh has been involved in is genocide, and we should not shy away from describing it as exactly that.
There have been some excellent contributions. I do not have time to highlight every one of them, but I want to point out one or two. It was welcome that Stephen Twigg, Chair of the International Development Committee, brought his considerable intellectual weight to the debate. Caroline Ansell gave a compelling case for the situation to be called a genocide. Mr Burrowes told the Government that under no circumstances will the matter be allowed to be brushed under the carpet, forgotten or ignored. I was also extremely moved by the contribution of my hon. Friend Natalie McGarry, who presented a personal and moving testimony. I heard that testimony for the first time last night, but it was equally moving to hear it again this afternoon. My hon. Friend Ian Blackford drew a parallel between what happened in Germany and Europe in the 1940s and what we are currently witnessing in Syria and Iraq.
Much of the debate has been harrowing and, at times, difficult to listen to, but it is important that the voices are heard. If we do nothing else, we owe it to the victims of Daesh’s barbarism and to those who have been subject to a level of depravity that sometimes defies comprehension that we hear what they have to say and listen when they call for help.
What are these people asking of us? It is simply that the Government of the United Kingdom recognise that what has happened to them is genocide and refer their case to the UN Security Council, so that the International Criminal Court can bring those who perpetrated these awful crimes to justice. That is not too much to ask. All the evidence is there to show that what is happening in the areas of Iraq and Syria that are under Daesh control is indeed genocide. Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity often tend to be put into one basket, and sometimes there is a reluctance on the part of government to recognise that genocide is taking place, but I argue that we have not only a legal obligation, but a moral obligation to say that this is genocide. When we recognise in this way that these atrocities are being committed, we will be in esteemed company; the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the United States Congress, US Secretary of State John Kerry and His Holiness Pope Francis have all recognised that this is genocide, and it is time we added our voice to that list—it is the very least we can do.
Genocide is a crime directed against a specific group of people because of what they are as an entity. The murders that inevitably follow are directed against people not because of who they are as individuals but simply because they are members of a group or a community. Genocide is not spontaneous—it is calculated, organised and planned. Genocide requires an intent to bring about the destruction of a group of people because of who they are or what they believe. That intent to destroy distinguishes genocide from other crimes. There can be no doubt that Daesh’s treatment of Christian and Yazidi minorities, and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, meets that criteria, as Daesh set out with the intent to destroy any culture or religion that differed from theirs.
In the summer of 2014, Daesh seized the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Almost the entire Christian community fled for their lives, meaning that for the first time in 1,800 years no Sunday mass was said in the city. As they fled, the Patriarch of Baghdad told the world:
“Christians have fled their villages. They are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat. They are facing catastrophe and a real genocide”.
As we heard, the overall fall in the number of Christians living in Iraq is alarming. In 2003, there were a reported 1.5 million there but today there are barely 250,000, and the situation is similar in Syria. All of this is part of a deliberate, strategic campaign of fear designed to completely annihilate minority religious groups from the middle east.
Like my friend the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, I had the fortune and privilege earlier this year of meeting a remarkable young Yazidi woman, Nadia Murad. We met because a constituent of mine, Fiona Bennett from Oban, had been up late one night with her child who would not sleep. She turned her radio on and was moved by the story she heard. It was a story of a teenage girl from northern Iraq who had been kidnapped by Daesh. Fiona was so moved by what she heard that she decided to do something about it. She raised awareness of the plight of the Yazidis, raised funds locally and contacted me, as her Member of Parliament. Together with others in this House, we organised for Nadia to come to the United Kingdom in February. I know that Members of both Houses attended that meeting and were all incredibly moved by her first-hand testimony. It was a harrowing listen and, if I may, I would like to share a few sentences from what she told us.
“We, the women and children, were taken by bus from the school…They humiliated us along the way and touched us in a shameful way. They took me to Mosul with more than 150 other Yazidi families. There were thousands of families in a building there, including children who were given away as gifts. One of the men came up to me. He wanted to take me. I looked down at the floor. I was absolutely terrified. When I looked up, I saw a huge man. He was like a monster. I cried out that I was too young…He kicked and beat me. A few minutes later, another man came up to me. I was still looking at the floor. I saw that he was a little smaller. I begged for him to take me. I was terribly afraid of the first man. The man who took me asked me to change my religion. I refused. One day, he came and asked me for my hand in what they called ‘marriage’. A few days later, this man forced me to get dressed and put on my makeup. Then, on that terrible night, he did it. He forced me to serve in his military company. He humiliated me daily. He forced me to wear clothes that barely covered my body…That night he beat me. He asked me to take my clothes off. He put me in a room with guards, who proceeded to commit their crime until I fainted.”
Tragically, as we have heard in this place, Nadia’s story is far from unique. I, too, was there when Ekhlas gave her awful testimony last night.
Genocide is a deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political or cultural group. By any measure, what Daesh has been doing to the Christian and Yazidi minorities in Iraq and Syria is genocide. I urge the Minister to listen to the voice of the people, to listen to the voice of this House, to remember the barbarity suffered by the Christians and the Yazidis, and to declare that this is a genocide. Then we can start the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Let me start by congratulating the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms on securing today’s debate, and on all they have done to raise this issue inside and outside the House.
I also personally thank the hon. Member for Congleton for arranging last night’s evidence session. Listening to the very harrowing testimony of Ekhlas touched all Members who were present. I also pay tribute to those Members in the other place who have been raising this issue for some time, including my noble Friend the Baroness Kennedy, who has led on the matter. There have been many excellent contributions in today’s debate from both sides of the House. It appears that the House is united in its view about what the Government should do next.
I want to start by saying something about the nature of the crimes against the Yazidis and others. As we have heard from many Members across the House, Daesh have perpetrated the most heinous of crimes against the Yazidis as well as against other ethnic and religious minorities, including Syrian Christians and various non-Sunni people in the area of northern Iraq that they currently control.
The crimes include mass murder, torture, enslavement and unimaginable sexual violence including systematic rape, often of children. Just returning to what Ekhlas said in her testimony yesterday, the thing that will stay with me is hearing about that nine-year-old girl who was repeatedly gang-raped. When her body could not take the brutality of the assaults any more, she was murdered in the most horrific of circumstances. These are crimes that most of us will struggle to comprehend. As we have heard today, these are not crimes that are being randomly perpetrated; they are organised crimes, deliberately targeted at particular ethnic and religious groups. Amnesty International has described these acts as ethnic cleansing on an historic scale.
Many Members have referred to the first-hand testimonies that they have heard from survivors and from those who have worked directly with survivors. I pay tribute to the unbelievable bravery of all the survivors who have spoken out to alert the world to the plight of the Yazidi population. Meeting survivors has really brought it home to me that this is not some historic event; it is an ongoing atrocity affecting thousands of people. The plight of those affected is highlighted by this quote from Mirze Ezdin, who had 45 relatives—all women and children—abducted by Daesh fighters. He described to Amnesty International the daily hell that this situation has wrought. He said:
“Can you imagine these little ones in the hands of those criminals? Alina is barely three;
she was abducted with her mother and her nine-month-old sister;
and Rosalinda, five, was abducted with her mother and her three brothers aged eight to 12. We get news from some of them, but others are missing and we don’t know if they are alive or dead or what has happened to them.”
Mirze’s case is far from unique, which is why today’s debate is so important.
I now want to comment on the specific definition of genocide. Although there is no doubt that the crimes that Daesh have committed are horrendous, the motion asks us to consider whether they reach the threshold of genocide. Genocide is not a term we use often; it is one that we reserve for the most heinous crimes and it has a specific meaning. For a set of crimes to constitute a genocide, they must include the killing or serious harm, including sexual harm, of a group of people who have a specific ethnic, religious or racial characteristic. Labour has consistently argued that the crimes committed by Daesh appear to reach that threshold, so it is right for the UK to refer the matter to the UN Security Council for final determination by the ICC.
I am therefore pleased to say that we will be supporting the motion this evening. If this House passes the motion, as I hope we will, it will be an historic moment. I have not been able to find another instance of the House of Commons formally recognising an ongoing conflict as genocide. As we have heard, similar motions have been already passed in the US House of Representatives and the European Parliament. In March, a UN panel concluded that Daesh might have reached the threshold, and the US Government announced that they considered the actions of Daesh to constitute a genocide—this is only the second time that they have recognised an ongoing conflict as a genocide.
Now I want to turn to the question of protection for the Yazidis. The designation of genocide is important, not just because we do it rarely but because it shows intent to end the atrocities and ensure that the perpetrators face justice. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on both of these points when he responds.
First, the Opposition seek an assurance that the Government will recognise the wishes of the House if this motion is passed this afternoon and will refer the matter to the Security Council for referral to the International Criminal Court. The Minister told the House last week that the UK was assisting in the collection of evidence, and of course we welcome that, but I should be grateful if he would lay out in more detail the nature of that technical support. My right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd raised this point. I would also be grateful for information on the issue of forensic investigative support and how that will be provided, which was also mentioned by the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg.
Secondly, I want to ask the Minister about the action the UK is taking to protect the Yazidis and other ethnic minority communities in Iraq. It is clear that all states have a duty to prevent genocide. Primarily, this responsibility sits with the state where the genocide is committed. Tragically, Iraq has failed to protect the Yazidis and other ethnic minority citizens, so it is right that the UK and other states should offer support to Iraq in the fight against Daesh. Will the Minister explain what specific action the UK is taking to assist in the protection of the Yazidis and to offer them security?
I also want to press the Minister on the humanitarian assistance given by the UK to the survivors of the Daesh attacks. Many Yazidis are now in refugee camps run by the Kurdistan Government in northern Iraq. These people are not classed as refugees by the UN as they are internally displaced, but we must recognise that they have been displaced from their homes and feel incredibly vulnerable. Will the Minister explain what steps the Government are taking to support these people? It is important to note that none of the people we are discussing today are eligible for relocation to the UK under the Government’s scheme, and I am extremely disappointed that the Government have consistently refused to offer sanctuary to any of these groups. There are compelling arguments for recognising the special needs of these survivors and their need for a safe space and specialist psychiatric support. This is particularly true for the women and children affected.
Already Germany has done so. A few weeks ago I met a Yazidi woman who had been enslaved, had escaped and was offered two years’ protection in Germany and—this is key—specialist psychiatric support. At Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions last week the Minister wrongly said that the German scheme required women to travel to Europe before they could access the scheme. That is not true. The German scheme takes women from the region. I hope the Minister will go away, reflect on what Germany is doing and offer the same protection to victims of what we all agree is genocide.
In conclusion, the people of this country do not walk on by when they see evil being perpetrated against fellow human beings. What is happening to the Yazidis and others is evil. We want our country to stand up and declare solidarity with those people, and refer what is happening to the Security Council. We believe genocide is being committed, and I hope the whole House can come together this evening in support of the motion.
This has been an excellent debate. Time prevents me from answering all the questions, so I shall do as I have done on previous occasions and write to hon. Members in detail. Some excellent ideas and thoughts have emerged, such as the protection of mass graves and the appointment of a global envoy for religious freedom. I will be in touch on those matters.
I begin, as others have done, by congratulating my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on securing this important debate. I have listened, No. 10 has listened and the nation has listened to the will of the Chamber today. That is important. I commend the efforts of Members in all parts of the House who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the voices of those who have been murdered, persecuted or silenced by Daesh are heard.
The harrowing accounts that we have heard today of the brutal persecution of Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities are heartbreaking. Some of those communities lived peacefully side by side for generations before that barbaric organisation forced them to flee their homes. Daesh’s crimes go beyond the horrors of rape and murder; it has destroyed a generations-old culture. The Government have repeatedly made clear our utter condemnation of the unspeakable crimes that Daesh commits against Christians, Yazidis and other communities, including Muslims, who still account for the majority of victims. We are working tirelessly to defeat Daesh and put an end to that violence.
This is not the first time that I have commented on this matter; it is the third time. I repeat what I said in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions last week. I believe that genocide has taken place, but 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. Such matters are for the UN Security Council. However, we have a place—
I will not give way.
We have a place on the UN Security Council. That is important. Any referral to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council will be possible only with a united Council and ideally with the co-operation of countries in which alleged crimes have been committed. However, I remind the House that when efforts were made to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC in 2014, that was vetoed by Russia and China. We expect that any Security Council resolution seeking to refer the situation in Iraq or Syria to the ICC against those countries could very well be blocked again, but further discussions are taking place. We are now in a different place from where we were in 2014.
I will not give way.
Although a UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court is one option, there are other potential options for bringing Daesh to justice. In the meantime, we are supporting the gathering and preservation of evidence that could in future be used in a court to hold Daesh to account. I believe there is a very strong case to be answered, but we must clarify what we mean by genocide. As other hon. Members have mentioned, this refers to acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, religious or racial group. However, we must also consider crimes against humanity, which refer to acts committed as part of a widespread, systematic attack directed against any civilian population. That includes murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. Furthermore, war crimes refer to grave breaches of the Geneva conventions. It may transpire that all three cases apply in this instance.
That is why we will do everything we can to help gather evidence that could be used by the judicial bodies, who are the appropriate people to judge these matters, to make a judgment. It is vital that that is done now, before evidence is lost or destroyed. Ultimately, this is a question for the courts to decide; it is not for Governments to be the prosecutor, judge or jury. The Prime Minister also said:
“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.”
It is essential that these decisions are based on credible judicial process, but that does not mean that we wash our hands of this issue. Right now, our priority is to prevent atrocities from taking place, and that is why we are playing a leading role in the global coalition against Daesh. I make it clear that, in the long term, we must hold Daesh to account for the atrocities it commits. The evidence that we are helping to gather now will ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes always know that the threat of prosecution is hanging over them.
We should make no mistake: British and international justice have a long reach and a long memory. We will track down those who commit these acts and hold them to account, no matter how long it takes. It took over a decade to track down Radovan Karadzic, but last month he was finally convicted and held to account for his crimes.
The UK is taking a lead on the international response to this issue. In September 2014, we co-sponsored the UN Human Rights Council resolution mandating investigation of Daesh abuses in Iraq. Working with international partners, we are seeking ways to support the gathering of crucial evidence that can be used by the courts to hold Daesh to account.
We must ensure that Daesh is held to account for its barbaric crimes against the majorities and minorities involved—Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other groups. Ultimately, the only way to put an end to these crimes and to liberate the people of Iraq and Syria is to defeat Daesh. We must continue to expose it for what it is: a failing organisation that is losing territory, struggling to pay its fighters and betraying Islam in all it stands for.
On that note, as I said last week, if we look at the profile of any suicide bomber, from Bali to Sousse, we see that they are sold martyrdom by extremists as a fast track to paradise. People who have scant knowledge of the Koran are promised a ticket to heaven with little, if any, understanding of or service to God. If we are to defeat extremism and stem the churn of vulnerable recruits, we must all emphasise the importance of the duty to God in this life as well as the next. Indeed, the Koran forbids suicide.
As has been said or implied in the House today, the UK has the aspiration and means to play a significant role in world affairs. Our historical links, now forged into bilateral and regional interests, mean that we are expected not just to take an interest, but to show leadership on the world stage. We are seen as fair, knowledgeable and trustworthy. We are playing a leading role in defeating Daesh on the battlefield and in defeating its ideology. We will hold Daesh to account in the courts for its terrible crimes, no matter how long it takes.
At least 18 Back-Bench Members have spoken in this debate, and all of them, without exception, have not only supported the motion but made deeply moving and powerful speeches. We have today heard irrefutable evidence of genocide by Daesh in Iraq and Syria. The case has been made.
We have heard no good grounds for this issue not to be referred to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court. The fact that other members of the UN Security Council may veto a referral is no reason for our country not to show a lead. The fact that Russia and China vetoed a 2014 referral—which related to general action in Syria, not to the specific point of genocide by Daesh—should not prevent this country from making a referral.
Several Members have called for a vote. We should have one. We have heard many reasons why this matter should be referred to the UN Security Council. We owe it to the victims to seek justice for those who suffer, to show an international lead, to be a voice for the voiceless and to hold the perpetrators to account.
This motion is simple: it asks the Members of this Parliament to recognise the genocide that is taking place for what it is. Can anyone who has listened to this debate deny that? If there ever was a vote on a matter of conscience, surely this is one. It is a matter of life and death. If there ever was a vote that should be a wholly free vote for Members of this place, surely this is one. Payroll Members should not be asked to abstain. In spite of the fact that the number of Members voting will not be as it should be, I trust that the Government will accept the will of this House and take the action stipulated by the motion, which I hope will receive overwhelming support from Members across this House.
That this House believes that Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh; and calls on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.