27 February 2019 Volume 796
Lord Selkirk of Douglas
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United States’ Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, signed into law by the President of the United States on 14 January 2019; and what steps they are taking to help ensure the timely prevention of the genocide of religious minorities.
Baroness Goldie (Con)
My Lords, the UK does not normally comment on the policy of close allies—however, we welcome all efforts to help prevent mass atrocities. As a majority of mass atrocities occur in and around conflict, the Government believe that a focus on conflict prevention is the best means to prevent most mass atrocities. Through our diplomatic development, defence and law enforcement engagement, the UK participates in a range of international initiatives aimed at preventing atrocities.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con)
I thank the Minister for her reply. She will recall that it is 70 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Should the Government not consider the introduction of new legislation which would ensure that their response to genocide is as immediate and effective as possible, and which would also protect religious minority groups, including Christians?
I thank my noble friend for a pertinent question. The UK’s work in this area is long-standing, both in preventing atrocities and in securing accountability and justice for atrocities committed. My noble friend will be aware that UK activity has in-built flexibility, both in identifying situations and in swiftness of response—for example, we work across early warning mechanisms and diplomacy, and from development to programmatic support to help with prevention work, and defence tools. That offers an effective and a swift response, where necessary, to any unfolding situation.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, given what we have seen unfold against the Yazidis and the Christians in northern Iraq and northern Syria, and against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the Kachin, is it not clear that the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, is absolutely right that we need to look again at the ways in which we conform to our duties under the 1948 Genocide Convention—to prevent, protect and then to punish? Does the Minister not think it would be prudent to do as the noble Lord suggested, and to look at the American Elie Wiesel legislation which has just passed—especially the complex emergency fund and the mass atrocities taskforce that have been established—and to consider doing something similar in the United Kingdom?
I respect the noble Lord’s immense experience in relation to these matters. As I indicated to my noble friend, the UK has, over many years, developed a long-standing modus operandi to deal with mass atrocities. The benefit is obvious in terms of preventing situations unfolding where we deploy or in the humanitarian aid we offer where those situations have unfolded, particularly in relation to Christians who have found themselves persecuted. The noble Lord will be aware of the current review commissioned by the Foreign Secretary—that is a very important step forward. We are aware of the scale of the problem—for example, we are aware that about 215 million Christians experience extreme persecution. However, the UK, as I indicated, works closely across a range of areas and sectors, and it works well.
Baroness Northover (LD)
My Lords, I was pleased that in the coalition Government we managed to put in place measures in Syria and Iraq to gather evidence in these conflicts—an extremely difficult and novel approach—so that those who committed crimes against humanity, war crimes of genocide could be held to account. Will the noble Baroness fill us in on what progress has been made and say whether people will indeed be held to account?
I thank the noble Baroness for raising an important issue. It is fundamental that where such atrocities have been committed, people are investigated and held to account. The noble Baroness will be aware that the United Kingdom has been working closely in endeavouring to facilitate the gathering of evidence to ensure that if matters are appropriate for reference to the International Criminal Court, there is a proper evidence base on which they can proceed. I do not have detailed information on the specific point the noble Baroness raises, but I shall undertake to look into that and respond to her.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
My Lords, does the Minister agree that many countries turn a blind eye to genocide carried out by important trading partners or strategic allies? Will she further agree to ensure even-handedness with regard to those responsible for the mass killing of minorities? Responsibility for the pursuit of punitive action should be taken out of the hands of government and placed with an independent arbiter such as the High Court, as suggested in a debate in this House last September.
The noble Lord will be aware that the United Kingdom Government work closely with global partners in the consideration of such situations and in determining how best to address them. The system has demonstrated that trying to gather evidence is at the root of this, as evidence matters for whatever legal process we then choose to deploy. The United Kingdom Government take the view that the International Criminal Court is an important forum, and, as I indicated to the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Government have been working to try to facilitate getting hold of evidence and making sure that it is preserved; that will then facilitate prosecution.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about conflict prevention and the excellent work the FCO has been doing on that. However, is the FCO training its staff, particularly its overseas representatives, to spot the early signs of atrocities and genocide? Often they are not simply about people being murdered—they start in a much more pernicious way.
The noble Lord makes an important point, with which I am sure the entire Chamber is in sympathy. Again, I do not have specific information about training, but I will undertake to get hold of that. The noble Lord will be aware that the FCO is proactive with regard to activity in other countries where we detect problems, and we try to facilitate training in these other countries where that is possible within the framework of the country.
Lord Pickles (Con)
My Lords, the training point is an important one; Section 4 of that Act specifically makes it routine to spot the early signs and not just to deal with the after-effects. I urge the Government to look seriously at co-operating with the United States and our other allies on this trend, because it is a very important point. Can the Minister also thank our noble friend the Leader of the House for her robust letter in support of the Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, immediately outside this House? I am most grateful for that positive act from the Government rather than just pious words.
I have noted my noble friend’s letter to the Leader of the House; I am sure she will welcome it. On his point about training, he is absolutely right. A lot of cross-government work is currently being done to tackle insecurity and instability, whether through the National Security Council, the Cabinet Office, the FCO, DfID, the Ministry of Defence or the Stabilisation Unit. They are all supported by the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. So there is a lot of very positive work going on.
Ten years ago, in 2008, I wrote a column about the dangers facing Iraq’s Christian minority on the Nineveh Plains. I have reprinted it below this powerful article by Christina Lamb of The Sunday Times which appeared just before Christmas.
Since 2008, the Christian, Yazidi, and other minorities, have been subjected to genocide and crimes against humanity – something that some of us was going to happen and which the signatories to the Genocide Convention failed to prevent . Even now, the UK Foreign Office refuses to acknowledge these appalling crimes as a genocide. See:
The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, now says that there will be a Review of how the Foreign Office responds to persecution of Christians. This is welcome and long overdue but it will have no credibility if it simply seeks to justify the indifference that led to the mass graves of Nineveh,
David Alton Column
December 21st 2008.
As our minds travel to the ancient town of Bethlehem, and to the marvellous wonders that occurred there, listen carefully enough and you can still hear the cadences of the Aramaic tongue, the language spoken by the young Jesus and his parents.
This is the language of the Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic Christians of Iraq; churches that have their roots in the first Christian communities at Antioch; churches, language, and a people now in great peril.
I recently took Archbishop Toma Dawod, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop resident in London, to meet Ministers and officials in the Foreign Office.
He graphically described the suffering and plight of Iraq’s Christians and appealed for our help. He estimates that there are about 350,000 Christians in Iraq. There are also around 150,000 Iraqi Christians living in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and the Gulf.
Their lives have become a living hell.
During the months of September and October insurgents instigated a wave of attacks against the peaceful Christian population of Mosul, killing a large number of innocent people.
Many were threatened through loud speakers and as the doors and windows of their homes were smashed down they were told to vacate their homes immediately or else they would be killed. Many were murdered; homes were blown up; contents stolen. Others escaped to the comparative safety of nearby Christian villages.
In one particularly vicious attack in mid-November gunmen killed two Christian sisters after breaking into their Mosul home. They left behind a booby-trap bomb for security forces.
The sisters’ mother was hurt in the initial attack and two policemen were wounded when the bomb left by the intruders went off as they entered the house.
Aid To the Church In Need (ACN) say that more than 2,000 Christian families fled Mosul in October alone
In an interview with ACN, Fr Bashar Warda, who has overseen the charity’s emergency relief programmes for people fleeing Mosul, said the campaign of killing is having a “dramatic” effect on the faithful, who now fear another wave of attacks against them.
Fr Warda said: “It is clear that many would think of leaving Mosul again. The Government is trying to say that the city is now safe and then suddenly you have incidents like this.”
Iraqi Christian leaders say that the deaths of the sisters graphically underlines how the government is failing to deliver on its promises to deliver peace and security for vulnerable Church communities lacking militia and other means of self protection and whose only option in times of crisis is to flee.
Archbishop Dawod believes that during the autumn a total of 15,000 escaped from the city – among whom are some who are very old, sick, and women and children. Many have fled to the Nineveh Plains.
The story of Nineveh is familiar to every Christian and Jewish believer.
It will always be connected to Jonah’s stubborn disobedience and refusal to go to Nineveh when God told him to. Our reluctant traveller finally found himself unceremoniously deposited at Nineveh, spewed out from the belly of a great fish. The people of Nineveh needed Jonah – and, as it turned out, he needed them.
Nothing much has changed – and we are a generation of Jonahs once again turning our backs on Nineveh and its people.
Nineveh Plains are northeast of Mosul in the Iraqi province of Ninawa. Mosul, itself, is increasingly controlled by Sunni radicals who have been determined to cleanse the city of its Christian population. If it were not for the more welcoming authorities in the neighbouring Iraqi Province of Kurdistan – controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government – no-one would stand between these unarmed, unprotected people and those who would slay them.
The ancient city of Nineveh is on the bank of the River Tigris and the nearby villages are inhabited by a number of minority religious groups that are non-Muslim. Most of these inhabitants are Aramaic speaking Christians from the Syriac Christian tradition.
Some years ago I visited one of their ancient monasteries, Mar Gabriel, in the Turabdin region of Kurdish Turkey.
I was stunned by the beauty of their liturgies, the intensity of their faith, and the fragile threads by which their small communities were hanging on.
There are four patriarchal churches in this part of Iraq. They are the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East (both Assyrian and ancient).
These are the people now abandoned – in atrocious weather, exposed, without protection, to all the elements – on Nineveh Plains. The Archbishop says: “It seems as if the Government has been merely watching over this as a spectator.” The motive he says is to “force these Christians to emigrate.”
Archbishop Dawod believes that the first priority should be to provide protection from the killers and murderers so that they can live safely. The Iraqi Government seems incapable and indifferent. Without protection there is no way they may return to their homes.
Outside of Nineveh, elsewhere in Iraq, the terrorists and insurgents seem equally determined to target Christians. Despite the Iraqi Government appearing to be comparatively more in control in Baghdad, Christians living in the city have been forced out and have seen their homes occupied by the insurgents. They are now scattered as refugees in northern Iraq, Syria and Jordan.
Financially, many are in perilous circumstances, having lost their homes and livelihoods and the Iraqi Government provides no social security and benefits. It is very difficult for to survive.
Politically, too, Christians are also being increasingly marginalised. Last month the Iraqi Parliament offered them just three seats in the provincial elections scheduled for 31st January 2009, 10 fewer than proposed in Article 50, which was dropped from a draft electoral bill last September.
Unsurprisingly, faced with all this, Christians across the region have appealed during this Christmas season for prayer and a return to peace and stability.
It was Longfellow, who in the midst of the ravages of America’s Civil War, who penned the bitter words
‘There is not peace on earth,’ I said
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men”
But who also concluded
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'”
May the bells once again peal for the Aramaic speaking Christians of Nineveh.