It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by paying tribute to Brendan O'Hara for securing today’s debate, for his advocacy on the issue, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Turks and Kurds, and for setting out clearly the steps our Government can take to correct a wrong.
I am an ethnic Kurd and speak Kurdish—something I share with the Yazidi Kurds in Iraq. In 2014, I watched as thousands of Yazidis were dislocated from their homes and I felt really helpless. I wrote to my MP, and tried to get their voices heard and recognised. I am proud to be here as a voice for the Yazidis and to support colleagues in this debate.
I was pleased when a debate finally took place in the House in 2016; this is not the first time the issue has been brought to the UK Parliament. In April 2016, the voice of the House was expressed clearly when it voted 278 to zero to recognise the atrocities committed by Daesh against the Yazidis and other religious minorities.
Unfortunately, the Government did not listen then, deeming that it was up to a credible court to make such a designation. As we heard from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, the criteria have been met as a result of the conviction in Germany. I am keen to hear from the Minister the steps our Government will take in response. Too often, sadly, it feels as though these discussions are treated as symbolic—merely a gesture to be made. That approach completely fails to acknowledge the duty imposed on states under international law, the role that developed nations such as the UK should play, and the real stories behind the genocide.
By recognising genocide, we are not just making a statement. We are taking practical steps to support those affected by the atrocities committed. In the case of the Yazidi genocide, the stories from victims should compel all of us to act. Daesh did not seek only to eradicate the Yazidi people; they sought the utter destruction of a community, its culture and its dignity.
Article 2 of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide sets out the prohibited acts that constitute genocide. One such condition is:
“Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.
It is on this that I will focus the remainder of my remarks. By subjecting women to organised sexual violence and enslavement on such a massive scale, Daesh undoubtedly sought their physical destruction. Rape, mutilation, forced sterilisation—these are just some of the things Daesh subjected Yazidi women to. This was not just violence and it was not an act of war: it was an attempt to systematically break the spirit of a people and bring about their physical destruction.
We have heard harrowing accounts of Yazidi women and girls from other hon. Members. I will share a testimony from a girl captured by Daesh at just 12 years old. She said:
“We were registered. ISIS took our names…where we came from and whether we were married or not. After that, ISIS fighters would come to select girls to go with them. The youngest girls I saw them take was about 9 years old. One girl told me that ‘if they take you, it is better that you kill yourself.’”
This girl was just 12 years old when she was captured. She was held by Daesh for seven months and was sold in that period four times. She was not thought of as a child, as vulnerable; she was treated as a commodity to be traded for the gratification of ISIS men. Daesh had so low a view of the value of Yazidi life that they stripped away all basic humanity and treated these women as mere goods.
Recognising the Yazidi genocide is not a gesture. It is not symbolic. It is an acknowledgement of how these women suffered and a commitment to help them. We know that thousands of Yazidi remain missing, yet we do nothing. We know the humanitarian crisis is ever growing, yet we do nothing. We can no longer stand by and look the Yazidi people in the eye and do nothing. Recognition is not an end point; it is not the conclusion of our responsibilities. It is the start of properly understanding the events that took place and of playing our part in ensuring that they never happen again.
The Government must act now and take steps to call this what it is: a genocide. I look forward to the Minister’s response and to hearing his views on the criteria that have been met and what our Government will do.