Yazidi Genocide — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:51 am on 8th February 2022.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:51 am, 8th February 2022

I thank Brendan O'Hara for setting the scene so well. He illustrated the issues, which are painful to listen to; I find it incredibly difficult, but as I said to Feryal Clark before the debate, we want to ensure through this debate, our Government and our Minister that the issue of the Yazidis and Christians who were horribly mutilated, abused and kidnapped, and whose lives changed for ever because of the evil intent of Daesh/ISIS and radical Islamicists, is not ignored. Today, in this House, we have a chance to remind the world of what happened and ask our Minister and Government to take forward our pleas on their behalf.

In 2017 or 2018, I had occasion to visit Iraq with Aid to the Church in Need. It was before Mosul fell. I remember being on the plains of Nineveh, which the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute referred to. We became very conscious of where the saints had walked, according to the Bible, and, secondly, where Yazidis and Christians had at one time lived in peace and harmony with their neighbours. The people we spoke to told us the stories that were happening and the change in their lives. That reminded us clearly of the suffering and pain.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, I am, very sadly, all too familiar with the issue of genocide and ethnic cleansing. There is not a day when we are not reminded of where that is taking place across the world. We have had debates in this Chamber about the Uyghurs, and our debate a few weeks ago reminded us of other atrocities across the world. We have a prayer time in the morning when we remember all the places across the world where many have evil intent and the innocence of families—women, girls, boys and men—is abused by evil people.

Today, we need to state that it is critical that Her Majesty’s Government recognise a genocide for what it is. We hope that that might help bring dignity to the victims and aid the prosecution of the perpetrators. I am a great believer—you probably are as well, Mr Hollobone—that when this world ends, the next world will come. There will be a judgment day for the people who carried out these most horrific and horrible of crimes. I would love to see them getting their judgment earlier—in this world, rather than in the next. I would expedite that if it was humanly possible, because those people who wander the world and commit awful crimes seem to think that they are above the law. No, they are not, and this debate aims to hold them accountable in law. Again, we are eternally grateful to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute for securing the debate.

In April 2016, the House voted unanimously to recognise Daesh’s crimes against the Yazidis and other religious minorities as genocide; that followed similar motions in the House of Lords—a combination of the two Houses together. However, the Government’s long held position, that they should wait for a ruling from a court or tribunal before declaring a genocide, prevented recognition of the crimes at that time.

As the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute mentioned, on 30 November, in a court in Frankfurt, Taha al-Jumailly—hell will never be full until he is there, that is for sure—became the first member of ISIS to be convicted of genocide against the Yazidis. The landmark ruling fulfils Her Majesty’s Government’s requirement of a competent court ruling on genocide. Following that, a letter was sent to the Prime Minister, asking whether his Government would now recognise the crimes. So far, there has been no response to the letter. I ask the Minister—I say this respectfully, as he knows—to remind the Prime Minister that it is time to respond to the letter so that this House, through today’s debate, can see what is happening.

The UK would not be alone in recognising the genocide; in fact, it would join some of our country’s closest allies. The USA was the first country to recognise the Daesh genocide, under the Obama Administration. In 2016, both Canada and the Netherlands also recognised the genocide, after a report was published by the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh, entitled “‘They Came to Destroy’: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”.

It is horrible to recount what has happened to a group of gentle people who have a religious belief. We in this House, including all those who have spoken in the debate and all those who are present, speak up for those with Christian beliefs, those with other beliefs and those with no belief. We believe in the freedom to exercise one’s religious belief and that human rights are so important and need to be retained. That is why we are here today to make this plea on behalf of the Yazidis.

There is a strong legal justification for the UK to recognise this horrendous act as genocide, and it is time that it did. The reasons for the urgency can be summarised as follows. First, it is important to acknowledge what has happened. The act of genocide is a deliberate attempt to destroy a targeted group of people, and Daesh/ISIS set out to do that with vengeance and cruelty. In acknowledging what has happened, we have a duty to protect the victims and ensure that there are safeguards to prevent future atrocities.

It is important to remember that this is not a historical event, but a situation in which action is still needed to help the survivors. Tens of thousands of Yazidis are still living in tent camps, unable to access Government funds to rebuild their towns and villages, which were destroyed by Daesh. I know that the issue is not the Minister’s direct responsibility—it is the responsibility of another Minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—but what can be done to help those families get back to their homes and build their houses, villages and towns so that they can try to restart their lives, ever mindful of the horrible atrocities carried out against them? Some 2,700 Yazidi women and children are still missing, having been kidnapped by Daesh. Many are believed to be held in al-Hawl and al-Roj detention camps, trapped with 60,000 former Daesh members and fighters. We need little imagination to recognise and imagine the horrors that women and girls suffer daily in those camps.

It is important to recognise this as a genocide because it is important to prosecute the perpetrators and put them in jail—if the death penalty were still available, we should give them that for what they have carried out. It is very clear in my mind what they have done, and I recognise their brutality and murderous intent. It is time for them to take responsibility for their actions. The prosecution of those who carry out such crimes provides justice for the victims and sends a strong message to the perpetrators of other genocides that the international community, including here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, are watching and will hold actors accountable for their actions. Prosecutions will also allow for the seizing of assets—yes, hit them where it hurts, in their pockets—used for the conduct of genocide. The removal of assets prevents ongoing atrocities and aids reparations for surviving victims. Ultimately, victims need money and finance when they go back to rebuild their lives.

Unfortunately, prosecution has been slow. So far, only one member of Daesh has been prosecuted with charges relating to genocide, in a criminal trial in Germany. The UK has prosecuted nationals who have returned from Iraq and Syria after joining Daesh. I welcome that, by the way, as a clear statement and clear action, but all 40 of those individuals have been prosecuted under anti-terror legislation, with no reference to crimes related to genocide or the sexual exploitation of women and children. Will the Minister respond on that?

Recommendation 21.b of the Bishop of Truro’s review of Christian persecution recommends that those at the FCDO

“champion the prosecution of ISIS perpetrators of sex crimes against Yazidi and Christian women, not only as terrorists.”

I am ever mindful that some parts of the Bishop of Truro’s report have not yet been acted on, but I thank the Government and the Minister for the conference that will take place in July this year to highlight all the issues. The Government have been a driver in this, and I give credit to those who have tried hard to make things happen. On the issue of recommendation 21.b, I ask the Minister to give us some thoughts. Her Majesty’s Government have pledged to adopt all recommendations of the Truro review by the summer of 2022. That is coming soon, so in the next three or four months we want to see that happening. To meet that recommendation, the UK needs to expand prosecutions against former Daesh members to include those crimes.

Finally, it is important to recognise genocide, as part of our international obligation to prevent future genocides. Ms Ghani was here earlier; for the record, I should say that I greatly admire her fortitude and courage in speaking out for the Uyghurs and doing the same again here today on behalf of others. That illustrates our frustration as elected representatives: we recognise evil and the evil intent of people, but we expect—I say this with respect—our Government and Minister to do something about it, after the pleas we make on behalf of those who have suffered.

The UK is a signatory to the 1948 convention on genocide, which governs the steps that states must take to prevent genocide from occurring and to punish perpetrators after the crime has been committed. Today, in the debate, we need assurances so that we are confident that our Government and our Minister are taking every step possible to ensure that the perpetrators of those evil crimes will go to court and be subject to whatever the judgment of the court will be.

Her Majesty’s Government’s approach of waiting until a court or tribunal has ruled on genocide prevents the UK from doing more to stop genocides from occurring before they happen. With real grief in my heart, I look to the Government and the Minister to recognise the words that we are saying, although words in no way encapsulate what we are trying to say—words barely describe the issues. I know that the Minister understands, because he is of the same mind as me and as others present who find what has happened grievous to listen to, and more so when considering what we need to do.

In recommendation 7 of the Bishop of Truro’s report, he asks the Government to

“Ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide…and…be willing to make public statements condemning such atrocities.”

I have mentioned the report a couple of times—the earlier recommendation and this one. We look to the Government’s commitment that the adoption of all the recommendations will be finalised and concluded by the summer of this year. We need to have that assurance.

This is my last paragraph. The international obligations are important, as they help prevent future crimes. Sadly, the genocide against the Yazidis by Daesh is not unique. It is terrible to recall what happened, but we also recognise that genocide has been carried out in other parts of the world. Religious or ethnic minorities are at risk, including of genocide, in many situations.

In conclusion, I thank the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and other speakers, and I look forward to the contribution from Bambos Charalambous, who would contribute to a debate such as this even if he were not shadow Minister. I also look forward to hearing from Martyn Day, my friend and colleague from the APPG, who understands these issues well.

We have a duty to speak up for the Yazidis and Christians and that is what we have done, in a compassionate way that matters to us. We look to the Minister and our Government to ensure that there is accountability for what has happened to the Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq and elsewhere. There must be accountability, recognition of genocide and completion of the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s report.