To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking, in collaboration with the International Criminal Court, or through the creation of appropriate tribunals, to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
My Lords, international criminal justice and accountability is a fundamental element of our foreign policy. The United Kingdom firmly believes that there must be no impunity for the most serious international crimes. We provide financial and political support to the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals. With our international partners, we also fund efforts to gather and preserve evidence that could be used by courts to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that helpful reply. Will she confirm that it is now 14 months since the House of Commons designated the atrocities in Iraq and Syria—committed against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities—to be a genocide, this crime above all crimes? What progress has been made in collecting court-ready evidence and in referring those responsible to the International Criminal Court, to which she referred, or to a regional tribunal? If accountability and justice in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Sudan and North Korea are to be credible, should we not be giving this matter greater priority and urgency to ensure that we see no compromising of the gold standard of the ICC?
I thank the noble Lord. He raises an important point and I reiterate that the United Kingdom’s support for international criminal justice is based on the principle that there must be no impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court has been making good progress, as the noble Lord is probably aware, in the prosecution of persons alleged to have committed crimes. Indeed, 2016 was the court’s most productive year for judicial output, with seven convictions in three cases.
In relation to the gathering of evidence from Iraq and Syria, the UK provides financial support to a specialist organisation to conduct investigations in Syria and build prosecution-ready criminal case files against the high-level perpetrators, in accordance with international standards. The noble Lord may be aware that last year the United Kingdom funded a project through our Magna Carta fund to improve the documentation of sexual violence and other gender-based cases in a victim-sensitive way in several areas of Iraq. That has assisted in the development of cases in which so many women from, for example, Christian and Yazidi communities have suffered.
My Lords, in 2014 the United Nations commission on human rights abuses in North Korea declared that these were without parallel in the modern world, citing numerous cases of murder, rape and disappearances. Yet nothing has been brought to the international court or to any other regional tribunal. Why is nobody being held accountable?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. North Korea is a secretive regime that is difficult to access in terms of information. In principle, the International Criminal Court could be an appropriate forum to hold North Korea to account for its behaviour, but the International Criminal Court can take action only when a war crime or crime against humanity is suspected to have been committed in or by a country which is party to the Rome statute or when the situation is referred to it by the United Nations Security Council. North Korea is not a party to the Rome statute and, as we have seen with Syria, it can be difficult to achieve such a referral when a country is not a signatory to the ICC. The right reverend Prelate may rest assured that the United Kingdom Government, in conjunction with international partners, remains concerned about activities in North Korea and we shall use all endeavours available to us to continue to register these concerns.
The matter being raised by my noble friend Lord Alton relates to the torture of women and others—Christians and Yazidis. Rather alarmingly, President Trump, in campaigning, said that he was in favour of torture, that there was nothing wrong with torture and that, as far as he was concerned, it worked. Have we in any way addressed his publicly expressed opinion on torture?
The noble Baroness will be aware of the United Kingdom Government’s attitude to torture. We are very robust about that. What other sovereign states choose to do is largely their affair. I am not aware of any specific exchange to which the noble Baroness alludes. I shall do some research, and if I discover any information I shall be in touch with her.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. My noble friend referred to a process which it is necessary for any incident to go through before it can be recognised as within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Has the case of the Yazidis and Christians in Syria been through that process—and, if so, can the pursuit of that case be accelerated?
At the end of the day, it is for the International Criminal Court, as an independent institution, with its prosecutor, to make all decisions relative to the prosecution of crimes within its jurisdiction. On the basis of information being provided, I am absolutely certain that the court and the prosecutor will want to do everything within their power to pursue allegations where there are serious concerns such as those referred to by my noble friend.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the funding of the ongoing gathering of evidence, which is extremely welcome. Will she tell the House whether there are ongoing discussions with the Iraqi Government regarding the establishment of regional ad hoc tribunals to prosecute the crimes of Daesh?
The noble Lord will be aware that the United Kingdom Government launched an initiative to address the atrocities being committed by Daesh. That initiative has enjoyed international support. In so far as Iraq and the activities of Daesh are concerned, there is a dual process of gathering evidence, investigating and then referring the information to the International Criminal Court. As I said in response to an earlier question, what the International Criminal Court then does and the decision it takes in relation to prosecution rest with it.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the International Criminal Court is constituted by the Rome statute? Is she also aware that there are reports that a number of countries that are members of the Commonwealth—South Africa, Kenya and Uganda—are considering withdrawing from that statute? In those circumstances, would it be appropriate to put the issue of support for the International Criminal Court on the agenda for the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government?
It was the case that some rather alarming headlines appeared about the threat of member states withdrawing from the ICC. In fact, that distilled into withdrawals by South Africa, Burundi and Gambia. Interestingly, Gambia rescinded its decision and remains a member state, and I understand that the situation is under consideration in South Africa at the moment. So the threat of withdrawal did not prove to be as alarming as initially contemplated. I think that I am correct in saying that there are 124 member states of the International Criminal Court—so it is a very significant body and universally supported.