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Terrorism: Sexual Violence

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the recommendation of the Henry Jackson Society’s report Trafficking Terror that an International Legal Task Force should be established to gather evidence on sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism.

My Lords, we condemn the use of sexual violence by terrorist organisations and are committed to holding perpetrators to account. UK law enforcement agencies are already assessing the threat posed by terrorism and human trafficking globally with our multilateral and bilateral partners. Our team of experts is also supporting efforts to gather evidence of sexual violence in conflict. The report makes a number of valid points and we will give them due consideration.

I thank the Minister for his sympathetic reply. Is he aware of the scale of money flowing from modern slavery to terrorist organisations such as Islamic State and Boko Haram? According to the report, from just 16 victims taken hostage, Islamic State gained between £98,000 and £198,000 from ransom payments. Slavery is also used to provide a plethora of non-monetary incentives to attract and reward terrorist fighters. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider the broader implications of laws, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Terrorism Act 2016, to reflect adequately the spectrum of crimes committed by individuals using sexual slavery and violence as a tactic of terrorism?

I assure the noble Baroness that we not only condemn it but act on that. She will be aware of our action at the highest level at the UN Security Council with the passing of Resolution 2331, which addresses the nexus between human trafficking, sexual violence and terrorism. More recently, as I have said to the House, in September this year at the UN Security Council we passed a resolution specifically to set up an investigative team to gather greater evidence on sexual violence and crimes committed by Daesh in Iraq. That demonstrates the action we are taking at an international level to ensure that we tackle this head on.

My Lords, this is one of those critical issues that requires interdepartmental examination and is not just about UN activity. The relationship between human trafficking, sexual violence and terrorist groups is complex. Will the Minister assure us that the departments in Whitehall are working together to examine this so that consideration is given to both international law and domestic law?

I can give the noble Lord that assurance. Only two weeks ago, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, chaired a meeting of Ministers, including those from the Foreign Office and DCLG. They looked at the action we are taking domestically on the primary issue of modern slavery and the referral mechanism, which includes support for victims of human trafficking. The meeting also brought together elements of international action and our bilateral representation and leadership on this issue, and how modern slavery and human trafficking is one of many instruments used by terrorist organisations.

My Lords, are the Government aware that by misunderstanding or misrepresenting Islam, this kind of slavery is now extended to children as young as nine years old? The issue is becoming much more serious and needs to be comprehensively dealt with in the localities. Intervention is essential at the point where it starts.

I assure the noble Baroness that I understand that issue very well. Around the world, organisations such as Daesh, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab erroneously say that their actions are inspired by Islam, by religion. What religion? What humanity? We condemn them totally and unequivocally. On a practical point, I was in New York earlier this week and met the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed. We discussed some of the steps that have been taken in Nigeria—including the very point the noble Baroness alerts us to—about working with communities and clerics on the ground to ensure that the poisonous narrative the terrorists present can be unequivocally condemned by the religious leaders who represent that faith.

My Lords, the excellent report of the Select Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict recommended, among other things, a review of local legislation. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s progress in implementing this? Does he agree that it is in our interests to lead the international task force recommended in the Henry Jackson Society’s report to show the international leadership that we are capable of and to help cut off funding for terrorism on the streets of Britain?

The noble Baroness raises a vital point and I agree with her totally. We also need to demonstrate local action. However, as she will be aware, such local actions are reflective of the international human trafficking that occurs. On the specific issue of preventing sexual violence, we have also led the way. She may be aware that over the past 12 months we have had 20 deployments through 10 countries. That demonstrates our commitment to building international co-operation on tackling not only sexual violence but what leads to human trafficking in that respect.

Does the Minister accept that there are three stages to this business? First, you have to gather the evidence; then you have to have a prosecutor; and, finally, you have to have a court or tribunal to try cases. Will the Government try to co-ordinate all three stages?

The noble Lord is correct. That is why I again allude to the Security Council effort made this year in September, where the resolution passed does exactly what the noble Lord suggests. It is about gathering evidence, building the capacity of the team gathering that evidence, and then bringing terrorist groups to justice. This, of course, is focused specifically on Daesh. We want to see how we can replicate the effort to bring international co-ordination on this particular activity so that we can hold the perpetrators to account.