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War Criminals: International Mechanisms for Prosecution

Volume 796: debated on Thursday 21 March 2019


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make proposals for international mechanisms to identify and prosecute suspected war criminals, in particular in the Middle East, in consultation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant parties.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hylton, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the United Kingdom helped to secure a Security Council resolution in December 2017 to establish a UN investigative team to support domestic efforts by Iraq to hold Daesh accountable by collecting, preserving and storing evidence of Daesh crimes. The UK also co-sponsored the United Nations General Assembly resolution in December 2016 that established the international, impartial and independent mechanism for Syria, a step forward in ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in that country.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. With the fall of ISIS at Baghuz, and as the investigative team established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2379 begins its first mass grave excavation in Sinjar, will the Minister say how the evidence of genocide will be used? What consideration is being given to establishing an international or regional criminal tribunal to ensure that the trials are conducted with due process? Will he reflect that it is inevitable that the removal of citizenship from perpetrators will make it even harder to bring those responsible for genocide to justice?

My Lords, the noble Lord raised the issue of the first mass graves. Some noble Lords may have seen the many images; I have read the reports. It is poignant that those graves have been found where Nadia Murad used to live. She had to go through many tragic circumstances and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of ensuring that, through the passing of Resolution 2379, the first step is collection and preservation. In many cases, prosecutions will be best left to national authorities, and we continue to work with Iraq. I know that the noble Lord is particularly keen to ensure that local or regional justice is served. It may be that in future some form of international hybrid justice mechanism is used to try those most responsible for crimes of international concern. It is too early at this stage to suggest where each crime will be tried, but we are looking at all options.

On the issue of the prosecution of perpetrators of genocide where the removal of citizenship has occurred, I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that we all share the Government’s priority of the safety and security of our own citizens. Those who joined Daesh will face justice, whether in Iraq, once mechanisms are set up, or through international tribunals. If foreign fighters return here, that will be a matter for the CPS and police to judge.

My Lords, under the recently passed Magnitsky law, the Government have the powers to prevent impunity of those guilty of grave human rights abuses by imposing visa bans and asset freezes. Will the murderers of Khashoggi be put on the Government’s list?

My Lords, in that case, as the noble Lord will be aware, there are ongoing legal proceedings taking place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I note the concerns—they are concerns that we share—about anyone who is being tried or is then convicted of crimes. I note the noble Lord’s concerns, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on an ongoing case.

Does the Minister agree that the work of the British Council in Iraq is exceptional and it should be further supported in its determination to support the Bar associations under the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government, and in Baghdad itself, under the Federal Republic of Iraq, given that in most instances local trials swiftly carried out are considerably better than international trials which, however wonderful, may take 25 years? This is particularly so since most criminals in these instances—not just in Iraq but in the Middle East and elsewhere—are nearly always local people.

My noble friend speaks with great insight about Iraq, and I pay tribute to her work. When I visited Iraq, one of the notable features was that we saw some very good co-ordination starting to occur between the KRG and the Government in Baghdad. As I have already said, I share my noble friend’s view that justice is best served locally. If we look at other occurrences of genocides elsewhere in the world, Rwanda is a good living example of how justice was served locally: accountability for the perpetrators was held locally and that country, notwithstanding the many challenges that remain, is moving forward.

My Lords, in a week when international law showed its reach once againin Bosnia, is the Government’s commitment to the International Criminal Court as strong as it always was? I hope it is, given the reluctance of the United States, China and others to support the ICC. In light of that, how long does the Minister think it will take, with either an international or a hybrid court, to bring to justice those who have committed alleged atrocities in this region?

My Lords, taking the noble Baroness’s second question first, I think we have seen the first steps with the passing of Resolution 2379 and the budget of £90 million for the preservation and the work that is being undertaken in finding evidence against those people who are currently being held. It remains to be seen, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are working with the Iraqi Government to see how local justice mechanisms can be strengthened. As for the ICC, it needs reform and there are challenges, but we remain absolutely committed to the ICC.

Does the Minister agree that, with the discovery of these mass graves, it is surely time that the Government said that they have prima facie evidence that genocide was committed? Secondly, would it not be helpful if the Government were to say that they would support whichever choice the Government of Iraq prefer—either local trials or a hybrid international tribunal? That would surely be a helpful move; we do not have to say anything about the International Criminal Court, because that will take place depending on whether its jurisdiction exists in Iraq.

On the issue of genocide, the noble Lord knows that it is very much a matter for judicial authorities to make that case. It is very clear that mass graves are being exhumed and I point out that the UN special representative in that regard is Karim Khan, a British QC, so I assure the noble Lord that we are working very closely with the Government of Iraq to ensure that justice is primary in everyone’s mind. Where local justice can be strengthened, we will do so and we are working very closely to ensure that objective.