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House of Lords Hansard
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ISIS: Trial of British Citizens
28 February 2018
Volume 789

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are taking measures to ensure that British ISIS members captured overseas are tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide; if so, what steps they are taking; whether those individuals will be tried in Britain; and where British citizens who have had their citizenship revoked will be tried.

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My Lords, we are clear that there must be accountability for Daesh’s crimes in individual cases of Daesh members captured overseas. Foreign fighters should be brought to justice in accordance with legal due process, regardless of their nationality, where there is evidence that crimes have been committed. The decision on the appropriate process will depend on the individual circumstances.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does the accountability that he has just referred to extend to support by the Government for the creation of a special regional tribunal to hold to account those responsible both within ISIS and in the regime in Syria for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes? Does he agree that execution without trial or the shipping of UK citizens to other national jurisdictions are no substitute for the prized rule of law and that the Nuremberg principles and the Geneva and Hague conventions will be rendered worthless unless those who have inflicted mass murder and appalling suffering are prosecuted and brought to justice? Does he also agree that a failure to do so will merely embolden others to believe that they can carry out atrocities with sheer impunity?

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My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that in September last year the United Kingdom Government, along with other members of the Security Council, drove the issue of Daesh accountability. I am sure we were very pleased to see the passing of Resolution 2379, which is focused on ensuring that, as peace prevails in Iraq, evidence is gathered and the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice, exactly as the noble Lord said. On his broader point about ensuring that justice is brought to bear on those who have committed crimes, I assure noble Lords that we expect everyone, including foreign fighters and those holding British nationality who are captured in either Iraq or Syria, to be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law. As the noble Lord will know, that includes ensuring that they have the correct legal representation by those who speak their language, among other conditions.

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My Lords, the noble Lord’s Question refers to some very dangerous individuals who could cause considerable harm if they were allowed to return to this country freely. The problem is surely finding adequate evidence that will stand up in a court of law. Therefore, are the Government now providing, and are they prepared to provide in the future, funds to third-party organisations to help them bring forward evidence of ICC crimes?

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I agree with the noble Lord. The first duty of any Government is the security of their citizens, and I believe we all subscribe to that. On his second point, I referred to the Security Council resolution and he will be aware that the Government are also providing financial support in this regard, having already allocated £1 million for that purpose.

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My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the case of Jack Letts, a British-Canadian national who travelled to areas under the control of Daesh in 2014? In 2017 he was captured by the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. I am sure that my noble friend will say that we do not have consular support in Syria. I recognise that, but we have regular contact with the YPG. In the light of the sentiments that he expressed and the Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, can he let the House know whether the British Government have made any contact with Jack Letts and, if not, why not?

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My Lords, first of all, my noble friend will be fully aware that the key advice we have given in all respects to anyone seeking to travel to the area is not to do so because they then open themselves up to great danger. She is correct to say that the UK does not have a consular presence in Syria and cannot provide support to British nationals in Syria in this regard. On the specific case that she raises, I will certainly write to her to make it clear that whatever contact and support we can provide, we have. However, as has been talked through by respective Ministers across both Houses, the general and important point is: in both Syria and, to a lesser degree, Iraq, the key advice has always been not to travel to that area because the Government cannot provide consular assistance until we have assistance on the ground.

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My Lords, of the two British men who have been accused of committing crimes on behalf of ISIS, the Defence Secretary says that no way should they come back to the United Kingdom to face trial. The Home Secretary is less certain. We have even had a former Minister say that people should be shot for their crimes if they are in a warzone. Surely the Minister can take the Government’s responsibility seriously. The line he is giving us this afternoon is the correct one. These people must be held to account and put to trial, and upholding the rule of law must be our vital concern.

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My Lords, it is not just the line that I have been given, it is the line that I believe in as the Minister with responsibility for human rights. We must hold people to account but, at the same time, in parallel, ensure that international humanitarian law is upheld.

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The Minister will be aware that there is jurisdiction under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 to try war crimes in this country for British nationals, but it has so far been used only against British soldiers. Is there any reason why it should not be used against British nationals who have formed part of ISIS?

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On the issue of the process that would be used, as I said, the underlying principle and approach that the Government have taken is to ensure that whoever is tried, and wherever they are tried, it is done so according to the principles of international humanitarian law. All pathways in that regard will be considered.