Yazidi Genocide — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 8th February 2022.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 9:30 am, 8th February 2022

I thank the hon. Lady for that contribution, which I am sure the Minister heard. I will come on to exactly what the Government have to do, and what they have so far failed to do.

It is beyond question that under international law, the Yazidi people—and other religious minorities in Iraq—were victims of genocide. One would hope that the Government would call these crimes exactly what they are, particularly given that back in 2016, Parliament voted by 278 votes to zero that this was a genocide. By any measure, and on any interpretation of the UN genocide convention, these atrocities clearly meet the legal definition of genocide.

For more than 50 years, successive UK Governments have said that genocide can be declared only by a “competent court”. Many of us have long argued that this was an absurd position for the UK to adopt, because there was absolutely no legal basis for it. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Wealden said, that position is contrary to the UK’s obligation as a signatory to the UN genocide convention, under which the UK has promised to act to prevent genocide the instant it

“learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk” of genocide.

It is a remarkable feat of political, moral and linguistic gymnastics to reach a position that says that a genocide can be declared only after the event, and only after a court has decreed it a genocide. I have always viewed that as both a legally and morally flawed position that is rooted more in an unwillingness to make hard choices, and a fear of economic consequences or the international strategic implications of upsetting a powerful ally, than in legal principle. It is also a position that our greatest and most powerful ally has diverted from in regard to the Yazidi and other minority communities. In 2016, the United States, under Secretary of State John Kerry, declared:

“Daesh is responsible for genocide”.

That was confirmed in 2017 by his successor, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said that Daesh was “clearly responsible for genocide” by self-proclamation and deed. Having spoken to former State Department advisers, I know that those words were not said lightly, but came after serious, prolonged analysis and consideration.

The UK Government have had every chance to review and revise their flawed long-standing policy on genocide determination, but they have refused to do so, despite the fact that other states with a similar approach to genocide determination, most notably Canada and the Netherlands, have changed their approach in the light of the evidence. As recently as 27 May last year, the UK Government’s position was reiterated by Lord Ahmad. He could not have been clearer:

The UK policy remains…that the determination of genocide should be made by competent courts, not non-judicial bodies. This includes international courts, such as the ICC, and, indeed, national criminal courts that meet international standards.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 May 2021; Vol. 812, c. 178.]

In November 2021, a competent court that meets international standards recognised that Daesh atrocities against the Yazidi people were genocide. When Iraqi national Taha al-Jumailly went on trial accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, he was not tried as a German national. His victims were not German, and his crimes were not committed on German territory; but under the principle of universal jurisdiction, German courts have the authority to preside over cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. Al-Jumailly was found guilty of purchasing and enslaving a five-year-old Yazidi girl and her mother. They were subjected to forced conversion and suffered great physical abuse, including battery and starvation. One day, to punish the child, al-Jumailly chained that little girl outside in the baking sunshine, and left her to die of thirst while her mother was forced to watch.

Following al-Jumailly’s arrest, the court in Frankfurt put the evidence of the Daesh atrocities under detailed legal scrutiny, and applied all relevant international and domestic law before finding him guilty of genocide. The UK Government therefore now have the competent court ruling that they have long desired. I can see so no reason whatsoever why the Government should delay any longer before recognising what Daesh did to the Yazidi people and other religious minorities as genocide. Will the Minister confirm what we all want to hear, and call this barbarism exactly what it is—a genocide?

Other hon. Members are eager to speak; I am extremely grateful to them for coming along this morning. I am sure that they will make the appeal that justice for victims and survivors should be first and foremost in our mind, and will call for the thousands of missing women and girls to be found and returned. I also hope to hear about plans to stabilise the region; an absence of genocide does not mean that Daesh and its hideous ideology have been banished from the region—far from it. There is a genuine fear that they could return at any time.

Finally, later this year the UK is hosting a ministerial summit on freedom of religion or belief. Today, we have an opportunity to show international leadership on that issue by declaring to the world that what happened to the Yazidi community and others was indeed genocide, and by standing in solidarity with the victims and survivors in saying—and meaning—“Never, ever, again.”