Yazidi Genocide — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 8th February 2022.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Chief Whip 10:27 am, 8th February 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to Brendan O'Hara for securing this debate in the time apportioned by the Backbench Business Committee. I pay tribute to his work as a member of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. The Minister for the Middle East, North Africa and North America would have been delighted to take part in this debate as part of his responsibilities, but he is travelling on ministerial duties. It is therefore my pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government. While I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not the Minister with responsibility for this area, I do recognise the decent and honest conviction and the passion that he brought to the debate.

I am also grateful for the contributions from all other hon. Members, and I will try to respond to many of the points they have raised. I would like to acknowledge the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), as well as the two Opposition spokesmen, the hon. Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), for their contributions.

It is without doubt that the Yazidis have suffered immense pain and loss through the abhorrent crimes that Daesh has inflicted on them, some of which have been highlighted in the most harrowing terms today. The UK Government are steadfast in our support for the Yazidis and other religious minorities whose human rights have been so brutally violated by Daesh. We are committed to ensuring that the voices of those murdered, persecuted and silenced are heard, and that justice is secured for the survivors.

Nearly eight years ago, Daesh launched a brutal offensive against Sinjar—a region of northern Iraq. It killed up to 10,000 Yazidi people and forced thousands to flee their homes. It subjected them to torture, sexual violence and enslavement. Thousands of Yazidis, among Christians, Turkmens and other minorities, suffered unimaginable violence. The impact of these crimes resonates to this day.

Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority populations have dwindled as so many people have fled conflict and persecution. Amnesty International reports that 2,000 Yazidi children who were captured by Daesh have faced horrendous physical and mental trauma and now require urgent support from the Iraqi Government. Nearly 3,000 women and girls remain in captivity and 200,000 Yazidis remain displaced, living in camps without basic necessities. A wave of recent suicides among Yazidis grimly illustrates the mental health crisis they are facing. We condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed by Daesh against all civilians, including Yazidis, other minorities and the majority Muslim population in Syria and Iraq.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute described the Government’s policy. It is the long-standing policy of the British Government that the determination of genocide should be made by a competent court. Whether or not that determination is made, we are committed to robust action. In 2017, the UK was instrumental in the adoption of UN resolution 2379, which established the UN investigative team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Daesh. Since then, a huge amount of work has taken place to gather evidence to map the appalling crimes of Daesh. The UK Government have contributed nearly £2 million to the team, and we continue to champion its vital work. Above all, Yazidis and all other Iraqis deserve a safe and secure future, which is why we remain a leading member of the global coalition against Daesh, supporting the Government of Iraq to ensure that Daesh can never recover and repeat its appalling crimes.

Every hon. Member has asked about the UK Government’s position on the recent ruling of genocide in Germany. I will start by saying we condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed by Daesh against all civilians. We note the conviction in the German court on 30 November of a former Daesh fighter for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against a Yazidi woman and her daughter. We are closely following the case and the review. Following the proceedings in the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court, the Federal Court of Justice is reviewing the case. As a Minister who is not within his portfolio, I am hesitant to comment further on ongoing legal proceedings.

To reduce the risk of a Daesh resurgence, it is essential to build a more stable and inclusive Iraq. The UK has designated Iraq as a human rights priority country. Work to promote and defend freedom of religion or belief in Iraq is at the centre of that strategy. We believe passionately that the freedom to choose and practise a religion or to have no religion at all is a universal human right that everyone should enjoy. We are standing up for those who face religious persecution and those denied the right to practise their faith or belief freely. We continue to press the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to promote freedom of religion or belief and to improve the lives of religious minorities.