Letter to The Times Saturday October 12th 2019
How bitterly ironic it is as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office holds a Symposium to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, ratified on October 24th, 1949 that we see the bombing of civilian Kurds by NATO member, Turkey.
The Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide represent two of the emasculated pillars of a rules based international order and both are being compromised by Turkey by its invasion of Syria.
All States have ratified the Geneva Conventions and they are universally applicable. They are supposed to represent the international community’s determination to take a stand against the atrocities of war. At the heart of international humanitarian law they seek to regulate and limit the effects of armed conflict.
The Conventions attempt to protect the most vulnerable – civilians, wounded combatants, humanitarian workers, prisoners of war and people, like journalists, whose jobs take them into such dangerous situations, like journalists. The Geneva Conventions insist that even wars have limits and that where those limits are violated the perpetrator’s actions can constitute a war crime.
Consider then, what has happened in north east Syria – where 450,000 people live within three miles of the border with Turkey.
While President Erdogan used a tweet to announce the invasion, and then the heavy bombardment of the Kurdish-held areas, using NATO-standard army hardware, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that at least 60,000 civilians have been displaced Innocent civilians and their families are at grave risk as they flee for safety. Mortars killed a 12-year-old boy and ripped off a young girl’s leg.
There have been reports of civilian fatalities, including those of minorities who had been protected by the Syrian Democratic Forces – the West’s foremost ally in the fight against Daesh’s genocide.
Turkey should be particularly mindful of its own history in this region, not least in the mass killings of minorities – including Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians.
The Ottoman Empire used the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor as the main killing fields of Armenians.
In our generation we have a duty to contest any offensive which targets people because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion, race, or orientation.
What Turkey has done will result in ethnic cleansing and potentially genocide; it will constitute war crimes; it will lead add to the unprecedented 70.8 million people who are currently displaced worldwide, and to the staggering 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution. But it is also another blow to rules based international order; a blow to NATO, defence and security; a blow to the Assyrian Christian and Yazidi minorities who are now acutely at risk; and a blow to the fight against extremism – as it may breathe oxygen into ISIS. The Christian minority in the north east numbered 130,000 pre-ISIS. It now numbers around 40,000. Some have already been killed.
Our dismal failure to prepare for the defeat of ISIS; our failure to establish judicial arrangements to try those responsible for barbaric crimes and genocide; our failure to deal with the issue of 2000 foreign fighters – such as the UK’s Shamima Begum – and the 90,000 captives affiliated to ISIS and who have been held by Kurdish led forces; and our failure to respond to the long-standing Kurdish desire to a homeland, means that not only Turkey has blood on its hands, although these are sins of omission rather than commission.
I strongly support Norway’s decision to end all arms exports to Turkey. Will the UK Government be doing the same?
But I also support the bipartisan proposals of US Senators to sanction Turkey and to target President Erdogan’s US assets – although the US Administration must accept responsibility for abandoning the Syrian Defence Force in its hour of need.
How does the UK Government intend to honour both the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – which places on us a duty to prevent, protect and punish- and which has been found wanting from Iraq and Syria to Sudan and North Korea..
If these internationally ratified Conventions – promulgated seven decades ago – are to be worth the paper on which they are written surely the UK Government is now obliged to act, in words and deeds, to stop the bombing of the Kurdish populations in Syria?
Questions in Parliament about War Crimes and potential Genocide against minorities in North East Syria
Oral Question October 18
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, a few moments ago the Minister said that a principal reason for our involvement in north-east Syria has been the defeat of Daesh. Vast numbers of people have been released from camps in north-east Syria. Some of those whose names I gave to the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, over the weekend, have been directly associated with Daesh and are now on their way to the streets of Europe. What is the Minister doing to ensure that these people are apprehended as soon as possible, and, more importantly, brought to justice by creating internationally recognised mechanisms under the convention on the crime of genocide?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
The noble Lord expresses a concern, shared by us all, about exacerbating the situation of not just those Daesh fighters but the families who were held. I assure him that I am in receipt of his email, which he referred to, and that we are looking at each case very closely. Where people are identified as due for prosecution—for example, if they arrive back in the UK—it will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to look at each matter individually, and appropriate action will be taken against those who committed these crimes.
Questions for Written Answer October 16th
Tabled on 15 October and due for answer by 29 October.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether the execution of Hevrin Khalaf, the secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, constitutes a war crime. HL18049
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the claim by the Syrian Democratic Forces that nine executions of civilians have been carried out since the invasion of Syria by Turkey. HL18050
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the government of the United States their condemnation of the executions of Syrian civilians by Turkish- allied Syria groups; and what plans they have to seek a referral of Turkey to the International Criminal Court. HL18051
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish the names of combatants fighting alongside Turkish forces in north-east Syria who are known to have affiliations with ISIS or other terrorist organisations. HL18052
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have received about the plight of religious or political minorities at risk from genocidaires in north-east Syria; and what action they are taking in accordance with the requirements of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide to protect them and to bring the perpetrators to justice. HL18053
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring those responsible for genocide in Syria and Iraq to justice.HL18054