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Iraq: Isis

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the public burning to death, in Mosul, by ISIS, of 19 women from Iraqi religious minorities.

My Lords, we are aware of reports of the burning to death of up to 19 Yazidi women in Mosul. We are not able to verify these reports, but it is clear that Daesh has carried out appalling atrocities against Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other communities in Iraq and Syria. Ultimately the only way to stop Daesh carrying out such abuses is to liberate all the people currently under its control.

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, may I tell her that yesterday, speaking here, a young Yazidi woman, Pari Ibrahim, who has seen 21 men and 19 women from her family murdered, described the mourning which has gripped her community in the aftermath of last week’s primeval burnings—which were driven, of course, by ISIS’s ideological hatred of difference? That young woman asked—and I would like to ask the Minister the same question—what we were doing to free the more than 3,000 other Yazidi and Christian women and girls held captive by ISIS. Why has not a single person, including returning jihadists, yet been brought to justice? Following the unanimous vote of the House of Commons two months ago declaring this to be a genocide, have we raised this in the Security Council? Are we creating the judicial mechanisms necessary to bring to justice those responsible for these abhorrent and wicked crimes?

My Lords, there were at least four questions there, but in deference to the bravery of Pari, whom I have met on other occasions and met again last week to discuss these matters, I say that I do not doubt the determination and sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in raising these matters. The House should not underestimate the determination of the UK Government to be able to resolve the horrific experiences which Pari’s family has seen and which have been experienced by other groups, whether it is LGBT people being thrown off rooftops or women being undermined in their communities. We are making our best efforts with allies around the world to find new ways of collecting information and of working at the United Nations to bring justice to those who so richly need it.

My Lords, it is hard to find language adequate to describe the events in Mosul last week. Clear evidence is coming out of that part of the country that those women were put into cages and set on fire. They burned screaming for their lives in the presence of huge crowds which were forced into the squares to watch this happening as a lesson to them all. The women were there because they had refused to have sex with their ISIS captors. Yazidi women who have been captured are being used as sex slaves. They are appearing on platforms to be sold. They are also being subjected to repeated rape. If ever anything was a genocide, this is. As our nation sits on the Security Council with a special position as one of the five with a veto vote, I wonder whether we could have this placed on the Security Council agenda, which does not involve any vetoes. We could have it on the permanent agenda. Are we doing anything to secure that place on the agenda for this issue?

My Lords, it is a fact that Daesh uses these most appalling treatments and murders in order to subjugate people. It is therefore important that when we consider them, we look very carefully at how we communicate what has been happening and that we also look carefully at the evidence of what has been happening. Taking a political action is a matter of a moment; it does not deliver justice. The commitment of this Government to delivering that justice is absolute. It consumes the work that I do and the work of those in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in other departments who are helping me and who have great expertise, because we know that it is only by delivering justice in that area that we can not only help people there but ensure that there is more security elsewhere.

My Lords, at the wonderful parliamentary prayer breakfast in Westminster Hall that I attended this morning along with 750 others, including 150 parliamentarians, many of them from this House, we were addressed by Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK. He spoke movingly of the plight of Christians in the Middle East. While I acknowledge that the vast majority of those killed by ISIS are Muslims, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will work ever more closely with the leaders of the appallingly persecuted Christian community in the Middle East, such as Bishop Angaelos, and other religious leaders there in order to learn their perspective on what is happening?

The right reverend Prelate makes a vital point, and indeed I do give that undertaking. I was very fortunate that a couple of weeks ago Bishop Angaelos invited me to the headquarters of the Coptic Church in Stevenage to discuss matters with him there, and he subsequently kindly ensured that here in the Palace I was able to meet senior representatives of Christian faiths from Syria, who very bravely travelled to this country to give me information. We will continue to do that.

My Lords, in 2015 the United Kingdom gave refuge to 322 Iraqis, which includes those who applied for asylum here and those who entered under the UN Gateway and Mandate schemes. The 20,000 allocation of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme is of course open only to Syrian passport holders, so Yazidis are ineligible to claim purely because they hold the wrong passport. Please could the Minister raise urgently with her colleagues in the Home Office the need for a modest extension of the scheme so that Iraq’s persecuted religious minorities, who are equally affected by the actions of IS, can be offered some form of refuge here?

My noble friend makes a very humanitarian point, and I agree that it is worth taking up. The Home Office’s Gateway, Mandate and children at risk resettlement schemes are not nationality-specific, so they could indeed cover Yazidis. With regard to internally displaced persons, which the majority of Yazidis are, it is a fact that as a matter of international law those seeking international protection have to be first outside their country of origin. We will continue to look at how best we can deliver security to those who have been displaced by Daesh, but security really means defeating Daesh; that is what it is all about.

My Lords, it is mercifully unlikely that this particularly unsavoury episode actually took place. None the less, the Yazidi Spiritual Council reminded me yesterday that, as the Minister knows, the Yazidi faith is now the second largest in Iraq. It is a distant cousin of Christianity and extremely ancient. In order to try to stop the Yazidis being totally wiped out—this is the 72nd episode in a millennium and a half—extraordinary action must be taken, and it cannot just be overseas aid. Would the Minister consider putting together a small group of Ministers from other departments—I would gladly offer to help—to set up a religious tolerance programme internationally and in the United Kingdom, led by Britain? We have a uniquely tolerant attitude towards different faiths. If the Yazidis are to survive at all, we have to make a unique effort.

The noble Baroness makes an important point. I can say that we as a Government hope to play our own small part in doing something towards that in the autumn. On 19 and 20 October we are going to hold a conference for all faiths on freedom of religion and belief, and we are going to be examining the very points that she put forward.