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Yazidis: Attempted Genocide

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to secure justice for the Yazidi people of Northern Iraq, following the genocide attempted by the so-called Islamic State.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has played a crucial role in galvanising international efforts to secure justice for the Yazidi people and the many other victims of Daesh’s crimes in Iraq. This includes leadership in ensuring that the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2379 to establish a UN investigative team for the accountability of Daesh—UNITAD. The UK has now contributed £2 million to UNITAD, whose mandate was recently extended on 20 September for a further 12 months.

I thank the Minister for his Answer and also for the work that he and UK diplomats have done to try to take this issue forward. However, the reality is that, more than five years after thousands of Yazidi women and girl children were enslaved for the purposes of daily rape and beating by IS fighters, and nearly two years since the supposed defeat of Islamic State in Iraq, there have been no prosecutions in the United States, the United Kingdom or most European courts of nationals, or their return for prosecution to their own countries. There have been no victims’ statements or charges for these crimes in the Iraqi courts that have tried some IS fighters for terrorism, and, as a result, there is a desperate feeling among the Yazidi families and the returnees that there has been no justice for them that would deter similar incidents in the future. Will the UK support the proposal for a hybrid court, perhaps set up through treaty between the Iraqi authorities and the United Nations, that would ensure that at least the most senior ISIS figures who were involved in these depraved crimes could be put on trial and a record could be set that might deter others from carrying out such horrific acts in the future?

My Lords, I first pay tribute to the work the noble Lord is doing in this respect. He and I have had various conversations on this issue and on the wider issue of stability in Iraq. I am sure that on his visit to Iraq, the noble Lord was pleased to see the contributions we are making in provinces such as Sinjar. Through UNITAD and other programmes, we have contributed extensively to ensuring the return of the Yazidi community to their provinces. There are about 98 projects, of which 56 have been completed.

The noble Lord is right to raise the issue of justice and accountability. He will know that is a priority for the UK Government. We continue to work with the High Judicial Council, and counterterrorism investigative judges, to assess the current capability of the Iraqi judiciary. The noble Lord will be aware that, when it comes to crimes of sexual violence, the best accountability is local accountability. We are lending our support to ensure that there is national accountability. At the PSVI conference, scheduled for 18 to 20 November, we will be exploring other international mechanisms to hold the perpetrators of these crimes to account.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of Yazidi villages in northern Syria have been under attack because of the Turkish invasion, and that a number of these people have now fled to Iraq? They are obviously extremely worried about ISIS fighters escaping from camps. What protection are we offering them? What work are we doing with any of our allies to support them?

The noble Baroness is quite right. She and many other noble Lords will recognise the porous nature of the border between Syria and Iraq. That has a posed a challenge, notwithstanding the incursion by Turkey, to the Iraqi Government as they seek to build stability. She is also right to raise the issue of Daesh fighters. Concern has been expressed directly to the United States and Turkey by the United Kingdom, including in conversations that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has had with the President of Turkey on the very issue she raises. We continue to work very closely with the Iraqi Government to ensure that they have the systems of protection and the intelligence available to ensure that those who have perpetrated crimes previously, or who seek to re-establish Daesh in any part of Iraq, can be dealt with constructively, with the Iraqi Government, to ensure that they do not take root again, particularly in Iraq.

My Lords, given the recent discovery of mass graves and the knowledge that we now have of the horrendous crimes that have been committed against Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq, and now potentially in north-east Syria, will the Minister take the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment as a signatory to the 1948 convention on crimes of genocide, and our duty to prevent, to protect and then to punish? Will he say what we will do to support Germany, Norway and Sweden in their efforts to create a regional tribunal, to be established in Iraq, so that some of those responsible for these crimes will at last be brought to justice? Will he give consideration to the Private Member’s Bill that was given a First Reading in your Lordships’ House last week on efforts to prevent genocide from taking place in the first place?

First, I reassure the noble Lord that, as signatories to any international convention, we uphold our obligations in that respect. He raises valid issues. The noble Lord and I have had various discussions about regional tribunals. It is very important to recognise that, before we can have a successful prosecution, we need the evidence base. We have been pleased to support the UNITAD mission on the ground, which is now collecting, sustaining and protecting the evidence that will allow for successful prosecutions. That is an important first step.

The noble Lord talked about the discovery of war graves. Again, the UNITAD mission was central to that, together with the Iraqi Government. Let us not forget that the survivors should be at the heart of finding a resolution to this challenge and ensuring accountability. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor, has been working very closely with the Government on this agenda.

Is any support being provided for the mental health of individuals damaged by these dreadful experiences?

The short answer is yes. Directly through the UNITAD mission, we now have established female expertise to deal directly with psychosocial issues as well as offering immediate medical assistance.