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Today we rightly remember the victims of the holocaust. As many colleagues have said in several moving speeches, mourning is not enough to honour their memory. Holocaust Memorial Day should serve to re-energise our efforts to address mass atrocities whenever and wherever they occur, and to challenge us to do all we can to prevent future genocides from occurring.
Has the international community done enough in this regard in the last 70 years? Sadly, it has done nothing like enough. The UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide had its 70th anniversary on
“acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
But, tragically, the last 70 years have been an era of genocidal crimes: Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and more recently Burma—and even today there are fears of this in Nigeria.
We should ask ourselves what has gone wrong when after each fresh atrocity we say, “Never again.” Why have we not, both here in the UK and in the international community, worked harder to implement an effective atrocity prevention strategy, rather than simply hoping that genocides will not cyclically reoccur?
Over recent years we have missed too many early signs of mass atrocities—too many red flags. These red flags are of the type that my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb talked about with regard to Rwanda—the encouraging of children in Rwanda to call those of another group “cockroaches.” There were also red flags in Syria. In 2014 Daesh was committing mass atrocities in Syria and Iraq, but that was not the beginning; it is now clear that the persecution of Christians in Iraq probably began a decade earlier, and it was recorded in UNHCR documents. Similarly, the genocidal campaign in Burma against the Rohingya Muslims was the culmination of clear and consistent ethnic and religious persecution over many years before it began to be recognised in 2016.
The failure to recognise these red flags has meant we have consistently failed to call genocides by their name. Following the self-declared genocidal actions of Daesh in 2014 to 2017, UN convention signatories have failed still to declare it a genocide, have failed to collect court-worthy evidence of atrocities, and have failed to prosecute perpetrators. That is despite many Parliaments, including this House of Commons, recognising those events as a clear and obvious genocide. We voted by 278 votes to nil about two years ago to recognise that. Unfortunately, our Government have consistently relied on their long-standing policy of leaving the question of genocide determination for international judicial systems, but that is not good enough, because there is not an effective international judicial system to consider these situations.
I suggest that, in order to address that, we look again at the Genocide Determination Bill, which Lord Alton introduced in the Lords and which I have introduced in the Commons during this Session. It aims to give the power to the High Court to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide, and to enable the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special United Nations tribunal. Without such a mechanism, and in the continuing absence of Government referrals, I fear that we will continue to see no prosecutions for UK nationals committing genocide.
There are some signs of hope, however. The Foreign Secretary’s recently announced independent review of the global persecution of Christians has been warmly welcomed, and Lord Alton’s call for an ad hoc inquiry in the House of Lords into the fulfilment of the UK’s obligations flowing from the UN convention is encouraging. Lastly, the UK-Iraqi UN Security Council resolution 2379 has provided a welcome, if overdue, beginning for evidence collection and the potential prosecution of Daesh crimes.