That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, at the outset, I express my thanks to all those Members of your Lordships’ House who are participating today and my appreciation for their greatly valued support for this crucial legislation.
In their unavoidable absence, I have been asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, KC, and my noble friends Lord Carlile of Berriew, KC and Lady D’Souza to put their support for the Bill on the record. I refer to my interests in the register and thank the Coalition for Genocide Response, of which I am a patron, Dr Ewelina Ochab and the House of Lords Library for their help in preparing for today’s debate.
Let me frame the debate with a remark made by Boris Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary as the House of Commons voted to recognise the atrocities in northern Iraq as a genocide against the Yazidis, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused to do. On 28 March 2016, writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said:
“Isis are engaged in what can only be called genocide of the poor Yazidis, though for some baffling reason the Foreign Office still hesitates to use the term genocide.”
This Bill, with all-party support, seeks to remedy his bafflement.
This House and another place are well aware of the causes of that bafflement because there is no adequate mechanism for making a determination of genocide. Following debates on the Trade Bill and amendments passed here with three-figure majorities, the Government recognised the problem and offered a solution in Section 3 of the Trade Act 2021. However, as many noble Lords predicted at the time, it is so narrow in scope that it ultimately cannot provide an effective mechanism for genocide determination or, indeed, the determination of the serious risk of genocide. That is what this Bill seeks to address.
During those powerful debates last year—many of the noble Lords present in the House today participated in them—we heard in speech after speech examples of the consequences of failing to recognise genocide and the risk of genocide for what it is, as well as of our failure to honour the obligations laid on us to predict, prevent, protect and prosecute. Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, but we are nowhere near having clear mechanisms to help us deliver on the duty contained therein to prevent the very core of the convention—“never again”—happening all over again.
These are not theoretical debates. As we will hear from Members of your Lordships’ House—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, indicated in an earlier debate that places such as Tigray will no doubt be referred to during our proceedings here—these challenges are current and contemporary. When we do not face the same existential realities, the pain, suffering and human consequences may sometimes seem too abstract or remote. However, when we attached this nation’s signature to the genocide convention, we accepted a solemn and binding duty to use our voice and place among the nations to prevent constant recurrence of this crime above all other crimes.
On Monday in your Lordships’ House, I was able to give the Minister a meticulously documented account of some of the earliest examples of this heinous crime, including against the Herero and Nama, the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. It traces the origin of the genocide convention and the obligations, to which I referred to, that we entered into. It also addresses what my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead has said is our “dismal failure” to make the convention fit for purpose in our time, and specifically to create a legal mechanism to assess evidence and make determinations, which is what the Bill seeks to do. The account that I gave the Minister, authored by myself and Dr Ochab, also examines what our failures to make determinations of genocide have meant for the Uighurs in China, the Yazidis in Iraq, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Tigrayans in Ethiopia, Christians in Nigeria and North Korea, the Hazara in Afghanistan and the suffering people of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, during a drop-in session organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Yazidis, I personally experienced the “Nobody’s Listening” VR on the Yazidi genocide. This amazing technology brought back vivid and harrowing memories of my visit to Sinjar—of meeting Yazidi and Assyrian survivors of the barbaric atrocities of ISIS, named as a genocide by the House of Commons but never accepted, as I pointed out at the outset of my remarks, by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as such.
Last week, I chaired a session on PSVI in North Korea during an international conference on North Korea, partly hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea—which I founded and am co-chair of—held here in Parliament. Eight years after Justice Kirby and the UN commission of inquiry on North Korea said that crimes against humanity it found in North Korea should be referred to the International Criminal Court, it never has been. Why? Because China would doubtless veto it in the Security Council. Justice Kirby, incidentally, has also said that the targeting of religious minorities such as shamans and Christians might constitute genocide. This is a question never considered by a competent court and, as things stand, most likely never will be.
I support the noble Lord very strongly. He mentioned Ukraine, so does he agree that, given the language used, the actions of Putin and those around him are clearly a genocide?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. He will be glad to know that I will come to Ukraine as one of the two examples I want to give your Lordships’ House as I proceed with my remarks.
The meticulous analysis that I referred to and shared with the Minister was written before the shocking discovery of mass graves in Bucha and the hunting down of the Hazara in Afghanistan. How will that be assessed? How will those responsible, like those in North Korea, be held to account? In preceding debates, I have provided details of some of the genocides I have mentioned. Today, I shall refer to and focus on the two cases I have already mentioned.
In the second half of 2021, as the Taliban reimposed its rule on Afghanistan, the Hazara once again became a reviled target. Over the months that have followed, we have witnessed specific attacks on Hazara mosques and the bombing of schools and other community places in the predominantly Hazara regions. These targeted attacks increased in April and May and have led to hundreds of people being killed. On 3 September, the Hazara inquiry, a joint effort of cross-party parliamentarians from both Houses and experts working together revealed atrocities and called for the promotion of justice for the Hazara in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in a report which we published.
As a member of the inquiry team, I chaired some of the hearings and met with several members of the Hazara community. I sent that report to the Minister. It focuses on the situation in Afghanistan since 2021. It found that Hazara in Afghanistan, as a religious and ethnic minority, are at serious risk of genocide at the hands of Islamic State Khorasan Province—IS-K—and the Taliban. Our findings reiterate the responsibility of all states to protect the Hazara and prevent a possible genocide, as we are required to do under the genocide convention and customary international law.
The Taliban have reversed the 20-year progress made in addressing the marginalisation and discrimination experienced by the Hazara minority—gains that were referred to in the report on Afghanistan by your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee, on which I serve. The return to power of the Taliban has included brutal acts of violence against the Hazara throughout Afghanistan and a return to terror. In August 2022 alone, IS-K claimed responsibility for several attacks that resulted in over 120 fatalities in a matter of days. Witnesses told me that they anticipate further attacks because of inaction and impunity in response to the targeting of the Hazara—a trend that is likely to continue.
This underlines the pressing need, in line with our international obligations, at least to examine the evidence, make a determination, and protect the Hazara with at least the knowledge that those responsible for these crimes might one day face justice. Many of us have met Afghans, including some of those women judges who fled to the safety of this country. Their passion for the rule of law is one we must share, and we must not allow “baffling reasons” to prevent us doing so.
Even closer to home, 2022 has shown us that atrocity crimes, and possibly even genocide, may well be happening on European soil in Ukraine. In questions, speeches and letters to Ministers, and during a debate I initiated on 21 July on “Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to the Blockade of Ukrainian Ports”, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others in your Lordships’ House participated, I have repeatedly asked for greater clarity on the determination we are attaching to Putin’s atrocities, and encouraged the Minister to invite the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, to visit your Lordships’ House to brief us on the ICC’s actions and intentions. I encourage the Minister to facilitate that.
Since Putin’s illegal war on Ukraine began on 24 February, evidence of atrocity crimes, be it war crimes, crimes against humanity and even possible genocide, has accumulated. In May 2022, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy published a legal analysis of the serious risk of genocide in Ukraine and Russia’s incitement to commit genocide. The report makes two important findings: first, of the existence of a serious risk of genocide; and, secondly, of the direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Among other findings, the report cites a litany of open-source data in relation to both findings, including evidence of mass killings, torture, the use of rape and sexual violence, and deportations of children to Russia, about which I have corresponded with the Minister.
On the serious risk of genocide, the report analyses the risk factors specific to genocide, as per the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, focusing on evidence of Russia’s denial of the very existence of Ukrainians as a people; the history of atrocities committed with impunity; past conflicts over resources or political participation; and signs of genocidal intent, including
“documentation of incitement, targeted physical destruction, widespread or systematic violence, measures that seriously affect reproductive rights or contemplate forcible transfer of children, dehumanizing violence, use of prohibited weapons, strong expressions of approval at control over the protected group, and attacks against homes, farms, and cultural or religious symbols and property.”
No one can deny that these risk factors have been there for a long time, inexorably culminating in Putin’s unleashing of horrific atrocities.
If this has not concentrated our minds on the urgency of a new approach to genocide in this country, most likely nothing ever will. Instead of offering the same old platitudes, it is time to open our eyes to the evidence that is before us, recognise it for what it is, and act upon it.
This Bill would introduce two important mechanisms: one that would empower victims of genocidal atrocities to have the genocide determined by a competent court; and one that would ensure checks and balances, transparency and oversight over the Government’s response to genocide globally.
Let me spell it out. First, in Clause 1, the Bill empowers victims by way of equipping a person or group belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or an organisation representing such a person or group, with the power to apply to a court for a preliminary determination that there is a serious risk of genocide or that genocide is being or has been committed. Indeed, we know that, in order to implement the duty to prevent genocide, as explained by the International Court of Justice in its 2007 judgment, a state is required to act upon the serious risk of genocide rather than wait until genocide is being perpetrated.
The preliminary determination is not the end goal in itself. No: it is a crucial determination to trigger responses. Indeed, Clause 3 states that, once the court has made a preliminary determination, the Secretary of State must refer the determination as a finding of a United Kingdom judicial body to the country standing accused of the crime, to other countries that are parties to the genocide convention, and to other bodies, including the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Security Council.
Secondly, in Clause 2 the Bill ensures checks and balances, transparency and oversight over our government responses to genocide globally by way of expanding the already existing mechanism for genocide responses in Section 3 of the Trade Act 2021.
To conclude, the Bill enjoys all-party support. It provides for the same mechanism as the so-called “genocide amendment” that was carried by a majority of 153 and 171 in this House.
Earlier this year, on the anniversary of being sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party for my actions in relation to the Uighurs and Hong Kong, I was invited, with the other six sanctioned parliamentarians, to a meeting at 10 Downing Street. The then Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary told us that they would support the reform of how we deal with genocide. Here is an opportunity for the Government to honour that promise. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the Genocide Determination Bill and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing it forward and indeed for his continued and tireless work on genocide; as I learned from the House of Lords Library briefing, he has raised it over 300 times in this House.
I was recently in France, where I visited Le Jardin des Rosiers in Paris and saw a memorial to the 101 infants of pre-school age who in the first half of this century lived their too-short lives in the 4th arrondissement. They were arrested by French police of the Vichy regime and handed over to the Nazis for extermination, simply because they were Jewish. The youngest was 27 days old.
We say “Never again”, but in the world we live in today there are recent cases of genocide, in various stages. These cases, along with the tragedy and horror of the Holocaust, need to be kept in mind when we make important decisions on mechanisms that could address them.
In 2014, Daesh perpetrated a litany of crimes against the Yazidis and other religious minorities, sending a clear message that they were not to exist under the Daesh reign in the region.
In 2016, over a million Rohingyas were forced to flee their homes. The Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, resorted to mass killings, torture, rape—including gang rape—and sexual violence, and much more, and I heard those stories first-hand when I visited Cox’s Bazar.
In 2018, we started hearing stories from Xinjiang, China, of thousands of Uighurs and other Turkic minorities being stripped of their religious identity, subjected to horrific abuse and sent to labour camps.
Just in the last year, we have seen some evidence of genocidal atrocities in the Tigrayan region. Among other horrors, we have seen women being violently raped and mutilated before being told that “A Tigrayan womb should never give birth.”
In 2022, we again have to consider the issue of genocide, whether it is the serious risk of genocide or elements of the legal definition, in Ukraine or in Afghanistan against the Hazara community, as we heard from the noble Lord. These cases are indeed current and contemporary.
The fact that in the last eight years alone we have been discussing so many cases of genocide does not mean that we are being too liberal with the word. It means that our inaction to address the early warning signs and risk factors of genocide, and then full-blown genocide, emboldens the perpetrators. This inaction sends the message that people can get away with it—a message that is the opposite of “Never again”.
Several decades after accepting the obligations to prevent and punish the crime of genocide, as identified in the UN genocide convention, we have not done enough to ensure that these obligations are implemented. I know that the Government are fully committed to these obligations, but this commitment must be followed by actions. The Government’s long-standing policy is that genocide is left to international judicial systems; I articulated that policy from the Dispatch Box when I was an FCDO Minister. However, I was uncomfortable with that policy at the time, and no longer believe it to be correct. We are not seeing it working, because the UK does not have any formal mechanism that allows for the consideration and recognition of mass atrocities that meet the threshold of genocide.
His Majesty’s Government place immense confidence in the international judicial bodies to respond to genocide, despite seeing slow—or a lack of—action in them, and despite the Government being the duty bearers under the genocide convention rather than international judicial systems. We still do not have a determination from an international judicial body for any of the atrocities that I have mentioned as genocide. After everything that we know about these atrocities, including by way of the incredibly brave testimonies of survivors, some of which we heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Alton —survivors such as Nadia Murad, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a woman that I know my noble friend the Minister has great admiration for—how can we continue to justify the long-standing policy that ultimately prevents the community having their pain and suffering recognised for what it is?
This is a difficult and complex issue, but that must not mean that we do nothing. The circular failure of the Government’s long-standing policy on genocide must be addressed once and for all. The Genocide Determination Bill does this: it provides a mechanism for genocide determination or serious risk of genocide, in line with the ICJ interpretation of the duty to prevent genocide. It also requires His Majesty’s Government to act and proposes steps to be taken, including engaging the ICC, the ICJ or relevant UN bodies. These are steps that the Government do not currently use.
That memorial in Les Jardin des Rosiers contained this message:
“Passer-by, read their names. Your memory is their only tombstone … Let us never forget them.”
We must never forget them or any other victim of genocide. We say, “Never again”, but to mean it, we must have a comprehensive reform of the UK’s genocide strategy. I support the Bill as the first step towards that.
My Lords, I too support this Bill and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, was reminded in the Library briefing that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has in this place spoken and raised questions about our approach to genocide upwards of 300 times. This is not only a testament to his extraordinary leadership and perseverance but, sadly, an indication that our Government are yet to respond adequately to the concerns that he has raised or the cross-party consensus that the UK’s genocide policy needs reform. I remind your Lordships that in 2017, the lack of a formal mechanism, whether grounded in law or policy, was criticised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Having acceded to the genocide convention, the UK has a duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. This is not an exhaustive list, but since our accession, genocide has been committed in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Libya, Myanmar, Syria and Iraq, and presently is being committed in Ethiopia and China. Evidence of Russia’s ongoing atrocities in Ukraine, too many to list, include the abduction and forced adoption of Ukrainian children. That is revealed in recently published legal analysis that suggests a serious risk of genocide. It is true that, in accordance with the convention, the UK introduced laws criminalising genocide, no matter where it is committed, and has this long-standing policy of leaving the question of genocide determination to the international judicial systems. Unfortunately, this effectively means a de facto absence of any formal mechanism that allows for the consideration and recognition of mass atrocities which meet the threshold of genocide.
It is a simple fact, and our experience, that impunity begets further crimes and that lack of action only empowers those seeking to commit them. Determination and recognition of mass atrocities for what they are is not only a matter of good practice. It derives from the state’s international law duties and is compelled by the duties to prevent and punish genocide. A preliminary determination of genocide or the serious risk of it is crucial to engage the duty to prevent genocide, in Article 1 of the convention. The ICJ judgment on Bosnia and Herzegovina versus Serbia and Montenegro in 2007 confirmed that under the duty to prevent, states must act
“the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.”
Although there are international options, the UK Government do not have a strong history of engaging with these judicial systems. While recently the UK Government have led in some initiatives, such as on UN Security Council Resolution 2379, establishing an investigative mechanism into the Daesh atrocities in Iraq, all of these have fallen short of engaging the question of genocide itself.
The UK is, I regret, in good faith not meeting the requirements it signed up to under the convention and must do more. It must ensure it has all relevant mechanisms to implement its duty to prevent, including by ensuring it can make preliminary determinations of genocide and the serious risk of it, consistent with the ICJ determination. Genocide determination is the first step towards an effective and comprehensive response, including to prevent the risk of genocide from materialising. To prevent further atrocities, states should have effective monitoring and determination mechanisms in place. Domestically, as we have heard, there is no mechanism to enable UK courts to deal with this question. Not having such a mechanism or procedure means that the UK risks a de facto breach of its international law obligations under the convention.
This Bill creates a framework by which the UK can meet its ongoing commitments to prevent genocide by the introduction of two mechanisms for preliminary definition of genocide or a serious risk of it. They were explained comprehensively by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I do not intend to refer to them. I expect that the Government will argue that the procedure stipulated by the Bill does not currently exist in law. This is certainly true but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out, mechanisms such as those set out in the Bill will allow for a process for genocide hearings to follow due process in full accordance with the law.
I have relied heavily on the briefing from the Coalition for Genocide Response for my contribution today. It believes that other states will replicate this model once it passes into law. It is also convinced that, while the Genocide Determination Bill tabled cannot solve all the problems with the UK’s response to genocide, it implements the UK’s own long-standing policy that it is for the courts to deal with genocide determination. It implements recommendation seven of the Bishop of Truro’s review and rectifies the unenforceability of Section 3 of the Trade Act 2021. It addresses the international judicial systems not being engaged on the issue and the lack of political will. It bridges the gap between the duties under the genocide convention and their realisation. It implements the UK’s duty to prevent, by ensuring that the situation is assessed by a competent body, and the UK Government can then act in an informed way. For all these reasons, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his dogged determination to ensure that the UK’s signature to the 1948 genocide convention has real meaning. I commend him on his thorough introduction to the debate. I also thank the authors of the Library briefing on the Bill, which I found extremely helpful. This is a vital Bill and the proposals within it will, if accepted by the Government, help make the world a better place by giving us here in the UK a mechanism to call out the risk of a genocide, an ongoing genocide or a genocide that has already taken place.
The evidential bar to bring a case to the High Courts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the Court of Session in Scotland, will be suitably high. Not least, there is a requirement that a committee of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords produce a report based on both written and oral evidence. Only if that report flashes a red light will it go to the Secretary of State for his response. It is only after the Secretary of State has responded that an application can be made to the High Courts and the Court of Session for a predetermination, with the criteria for the admissibility of the application set by the Secretary of State. I think I have understood that right, but I am sure that noble Lords, particularly the Minister, will put me right if I have not. It is clear that the Government will be in the driving seat.
Our current reliance on the international courts to determine first whether a genocide has taken or is taking place, or that there is a serious risk of one taking place, has subjugated our duty to prevent and punish genocide to the sidelines, leaving us with years of inaction while perpetrators go free. The Bill will give us a means to save at least some lives, by instigating earlier action then might otherwise be the case. One of the gravest horrors of genocide is that victims are dehumanised and subjected to cruel and unusual treatment. If the Bill can prevent one such death, it will have done its job.
I conclude by saying a few words about the origin of the word “genocide”. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born lawyer, heard Winston Churchill speak about the horrors of World War Two. Churchill said this:
“whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands—literally scores of thousands—of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German Police-troops. We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”
Lemkin, who lost much of his family in the Holocaust, understood the vital necessity of naming this heinous crime if future atrocities were to be prevented. Genocide, a combination of the Greek word “genus”, meaning “race” or “tribe”, and “-cide” from the Latin meaning “killing”, was the term he came up with, which he defined as
“the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group.”
In 1948, the newly formed United Nations used this word in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, commonly known as the genocide convention. It was a treaty intended to prevent any future genocides. However, although ratified by 152 nations, it has not prevented the attempted destruction of people for the sole reason that they belong to a particular nation or group. Recent examples abound: the Tutsis in Rwanda, Darfur, the Muslims in Bosnia, Daesh atrocities against Yazidis and Christians, Bangladeshis in the former East Pakistan, and now the undoubted atrocities against the Uighur Muslims. As we have heard, that is the tip of the iceberg. I point out, with a nod of approval to the previous Bill that we debated, that women and girls bear the brunt of this violence.
The convention on genocide on its own is patently not working; we need something else. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has worked tirelessly to present us with a credible preliminary step to determine what constitutes a genocide, as well as with a referral mechanism to the international courts. It will also help to fulfil our legal obligation to the responsibility-to-protect principle. We should welcome it.
My Lords, I support the Bill and, in company with others, pay warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his perseverance and passion for justice for the victims of genocide. We are united in this House and on these Benches in our condemnation of what is a manifest evil, that which the Coalition for Genocide Response describes as “the crime of crimes”. My colleague the Bishop of Truro, whom I hope will join us in this House before too long, three years ago published his report on the persecution of Christians, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, just referred. Your Lordships will recall that His Majesty’s Government accepted all its recommendations in full. Recommendation 7 asked the Government to:
“Ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide through activities such as setting up early warning mechanisms to identify countries at risk of atrocities, diplomacy to help de-escalate tensions and resolve disputes, and developing support to help with upstream prevention work.”
It is the mechanisms with which we are concerned in the Bill.
July’s report by the independent assessor found that much of recommendation 7 is in the process of delivery, and, if the Minister were able to update the House on that, I should be grateful. I am aware of the United Kingdom’s long-standing position that whether a situation amounts to genocide is an issue for national and international courts to determine, not individual Governments. The Bill will help with the implementation of that policy by bridging the gap between our duties under the genocide convention and their realisation.
Many on these Benches voted to support the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, last year to amend the then Trade Bill, now an Act. The Bill before us would expand Section 3 of that Act to engage the Secretary of State where a committee of this House or the Commons publishes a report concluding that there is a serious risk of, or is already, genocide occurring outside the United Kingdom. By expanding the scope of Section 3, the requirement on the Secretary of State would be to engage more broadly than in cases of prospective free trade agreements.
Your Lordships will be aware of the many disturbing examples from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Myanmar and Xinjiang province in China. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief does essential work here, as do Open Doors and other human rights organisations.
As we have heard, we are united in our condemnation of genocide, and the Bill would enable us to move beyond sentiment. It cannot solve all the problems associated with our nation’s response to genocide, but it is a significant step forward. As my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leeds said, when introducing a debate on this subject in the General Synod of the Church of England:
“In today’s interconnected age it is no longer possible to claim ignorance of these terrible events. To quote William Wilberforce: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’”
The severity of the charge of genocide requires a high bar to clear before we come to conclusions. But, however high the bar is set, it must remain within our reach. As our nation seeks a new role on the global stage, I hope that we become a leader among nations in how we identify the threats and call out and respond to genocide. That is why I gladly support the Bill and congratulate the noble Lord on bringing it for a Second Reading.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, who, like other speakers, set out the route by which we arrived at this Second Reading of the Bill—it was painful and too long. I support the Bill for a very simple reason: it helps to fill a gap in the implementation of our British international obligations under the 1948 genocide convention, signed and ratified by this Parliament, but all too often overlooked when heinous crimes are actually being committed. It is thus an essential reform, if we mean it when we say that we are stalwart backers of the rules-based international order.
As other speakers have said, the 1948 convention was of course a response to the Holocaust, designed to give effect to the worldwide feeling of revulsion and to the cry of “never again”. Unfortunately, that cry has proved to be grossly overoptimistic and, since then, there has been a rising number of instances of genocide. Some of them—those in Rwanda and Cambodia and at Srebrenica—were tried and punished, however belatedly, in international courts, but many were left untried and unpunished. Most shamefully perhaps of these were the genocide against Iraqi Yazidis by IS and the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Burma—and there have been others.
Unfortunately, and misguidedly in my view, our Government have, so far, declined to take any steps to define emerging acts of genocide, either ones in the making or even those that are under way. They have sheltered behind the excuse that the determination of genocide lies in the hands of international tribunals, even when they know perfectly well, as we all do, that in some instances—the Uighurs in Xinjiang, for example —such a determination by an international tribunal will likely never be forthcoming. As someone whose conscience was scarred by sitting as Britain’s representative on the UN Security Council during the Rwanda and Srebrenica genocides, I say that this excuse—that is what it is—is shameful. It has been called a Gordian knot, something to be cut with a knife, but I would call it a Catch-22: a convoluted way of ensuring that nothing is done to determine whether a genocide is taking place, even when we know that it is.
This Bill will remedy that lacuna in our performance of our obligations under the genocide convention. It will not in itself prevent further genocides, but it will be a building block in deterring them and provide a basis for taking action against those perpetrating such appalling crimes. For the benefit of those who have marshalled the arguments in the FCDO, for which I used to work, I add that it would also, incidentally, provide a safeguard against excessively loose accusations of genocide. I hope therefore that the Government will feel able to assist the Bill’s passage into law in both Houses.
My Lords, it is pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who speaks with such authority on this issue. Of course, like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his remarkable and persistent efforts, which reflect very well on your Lordships’ House, and I thank him for yet another opportunity to debate this issue. However, it saddens me that we need to. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, implied, the fact that we do surely reflects poorly on the UK as a supposed bastion and champion of freedom and respect for human rights, and as a signatory to the genocide convention.
It is difficult to add anything to what has already been said, such is the strength of the noble Lord’s argument and indeed those made by other noble Lords from across the House, so I offer a slightly different “What if?” perspective. Noble Lords might have seen or read about a recent and horrific interview on the Russian broadcaster, RT, with an influential Kremlin commentator. His appalling advocacy of genocide—drowning Ukrainian babies, refusing to accept the existence of the Ukrainian nation—could have been taken straight out of the book, Night, by the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, in which he describes witnessing, on arrival at Auschwitz as a young teenager, babies being flung into firepits to be burnt alive. He recounts his disbelief that this could happen in 1944. Fast forward 78 years to 2022, and here we are again.
My “What if?” is very simple: what if the Soviets had not triumphed over the Nazis and we had had to come to an accommodation with the odious regime in Berlin? What if the State of Israel, of which I know my noble friend the Minister is a fantastic supporter, did not exist and the all too familiar historical cycle of pogroms continued to ravage the Jewish communities of Europe, or what remained of them after the Shoah? Would we be doing any more than wringing our hands? Sadly, I doubt it. In fact, I am confident that we would once again let the Jewish people down. As my noble friend Lady Sugg suggested, to do so, to maintain our current position, is to invite, however inadvertently, further genocide. We are witnessing this not only in Xinjiang and elsewhere, as other noble Lords have mentioned, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, quite possibly in Ukraine—only a couple of hours’ flying time from your Lordships’ House.
I wish the Bill every success. I also wish that it were not necessary. I simply say to my noble friend the Minister that His Majesty’s Government could still get off an increasingly flimsy and uncomfortable fence and make it so.
My Lords, I am very supportive of the direction of travel of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and, as he knows, of his detailed work in this area. I therefore support the principle of the Bill, but a lot of the detail poses difficult dilemmas. I think the noble Lord himself referred to the 2007 ICC ruling, which highlights the dilemmas when using the term and concept of genocide.
What was determined in 1948 needs—this is not an issue for the British Government per se—further refinement in the modern era. The kind of example I would cite is an attempt by a state to eradicate a religion, or a language, or perhaps both together. There are many techniques that could be used these days to do that, but which do not necessarily involve the mass murder of or attempt to exterminate either a population or a section of it. But the invidious nature of such genocide, as it would be accurately described, is still there.
In recent times, Philippe Sands, on looking at the definitions used in the Nuremberg trials, rather brilliantly illustrated the differential background arguments between the concepts of genocide and of crimes against humanity. Conceptually, for most people they would be the same, but in terms of what action is taken they can have very different targets and consequences. What is happening in Russia falls within that, from my perspective. Is it a war crime? Is a crime against humanity? Is it a mass atrocity? Is it genocide? There are differences between those. The fact that language is used loosely is a danger. The nationalising—and the internationalising—of the issue is a danger. There are ways of bridging the gap, but doing so can weaken the international to the national. Mr Raab is now in post, but hopefully he will not attempt to remove us from the European Convention on Human Rights. There is a principle within it that, if you nationalise these issues, it gives the green light to others to nationalise them. We may be capable of doing so on a rational, unbiased and impartial basis, but not all states will be.
Let us consider the targets of genocide. Let us consider the Armenians, who have a genocide centre where there will be a big conference in the near future. They have very eloquently argued their case that what happened to the Armenians a hundred or so years ago was a genocide. It is easier to do if you are a nation state than if you are, say, the Batwa. I have not heard the Batwa raised very often but, statistically, the elimination of the Batwa population across Africa is so extraordinarily all-encompassing that it defeats anything else, numerically. But I have seen no evidence that the Batwa have ever attempted to have a nation state; they have dwindled in number because they have been fair game for mass atrocities by virtually everybody, in huge numbers. Is that recognised as a genocide? What is then to be done about that?
The detail here is critical. Removing us from the convention would be foolhardy, and I am sure the Minister will want to discreetly talk to his colleague Mr Raab. The European Convention on Human Rights was part of the same systems determined at the time of the genocide convention; it came from the same ethos—Churchill knew what he was doing. I hope that this will go forward and that the Minister will use his great influence on other matters.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the passionate and determined way he has pursued this vital issue over many years. As the first Armenian in the British Parliament, and as a descendent of a genocide survivor, I owe him a particular debt. I was born in Iraq to Armenian parents made refugees by the 1915 genocide, in which more than 1 million ethnic Armenians were massacred by the Ottomans. I say that I am a genocide survivor, and in 33 countries around the world that description would be acknowledged, yet the country I have made my home is not one of them.
My great-grandfather, who lived in Erzurum in what is now north-east Turkey, was executed along with his sons by the Ottoman forces. My grandmother, then just a teenager, escaped with her mother, and the two of them walked barefoot for weeks before finally finding sanctuary in Mosul in northern Iraq. They were the lucky ones. Many other women and children were sent on a death march across the desert from which they would never return. Half a century later, my family and I emigrated from Iraq to Ireland, where I studied medicine, before moving to London in the 1990s, where I have dedicated my career to the NHS.
As the first Armenian in this House, I was overjoyed when President Biden decided a year ago to break with his predecessors and recognise the Armenian genocide. The vote in the US House of Representatives in October 2020 was overwhelming. It was a hugely emotional moment for me and for Armenians all over the world. Most European countries—including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden—have recognised the Armenian genocide, but the UK has not. As Hitler planned the Holocaust in 1939, he asked his fellow Nazis:
“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Unless we, as members of the international community, call out genocidal violence wherever it occurs, its perpetrators will feel encouraged to continue. We should use the experience not to fuel bitterness and revenge but to set a stake in the ground and declare, “Never again”—not just for the Armenians but for people all over the world. We cannot protect the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Tigrayans in Ethiopia and others experiencing genocidal attacks in the 21st century without telling the truth about the past. Indeed, sacrificing the truth about the past for the convenience of the present is dangerous. In 2020, the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, forced 90,000 Armenians to flee their homes to escape the threat of ethnic cleansing. The world stood by, with few consequences for either Azerbaijan or Turkey.
This Bill is not simply about addressing a historic injustice. It is about how our understanding of the past shapes our actions in the present. It is about giving the full message of meaning when we say, “Never again”. I ask that your Lordships give the Bill your full support.
My Lords, I too congratulate my friend and colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his persistence in pursuing a politics-free determination of genocide. Genocide is the mass killing of members of an ethnic or religious community. Unfortunately, evil behaviour is often overlooked or condoned in the pursuit of trade or national self-interest. More than one UK government Minister has openly stated that we should leave human rights to one side when we talk trade.
In June 1984, the then Indian Government, trailing in the opinion polls, attacked the centre of Sikhism, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and other gurdwaras to win the support of bigots in the majority community in the forthcoming general election. Thousands of Sikhs were killed. Baat Cheet, the official Indian army newspaper, openly declared that all practising Sikhs were potential terrorists. In November of the same year, tens of thousands of innocent Sikh men, women and children were brutally killed as a result of further incitement by the government-owned All India Radio, calling on people to kill Sikhs. Electoral lists were given to gangs of thugs to help them identify Sikh households.
At the time, I was a member of the Home Secretary’s Advisory Council on Race Relations. I raised the issue with the then Home Secretary, David Waddington—a genuine and affable man. He looked at me and said, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s happening, but it’s difficult. We’re walking on a tightrope. We’ve already lost one important contract”—that was the Westland Helicopters contract.
In 2014, on the 30th anniversary of the genocide against Sikhs, I raised the same issue in the House, quoting from a United States embassy document saying that more Sikhs were killed in India in a few weeks than the number of people murdered in the 17-year rule of President Pinochet of Chile. I asked for an apology from the British Government for providing military aid—documented in newly released papers at the time—to assist in the genocide against Sikhs. There was no apology—why upset an important trading partner?
India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was widely seen as being instrumental in the orchestrated killing of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002. For some years, he was banned from entering this country or the United States. Then he won a general election and everything changed: he was welcomed here as the Prime Minister of an important trading partner.
The word “genocide” is strongly associated with Hitler’s pogrom against the Jews. I know of the incredible suffering of the Jewish people. I have visited Auschwitz and seen the showers where innocent men, women and children were gassed to death. Anti-Semitism was rife in Europe at the time, not only in Germany but in this country, where the word “Jew” was seen as a term of abuse. News of the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews by the Nazis touched the conscience of many in the West, who compensated for their previously negative attitude by linking genocide almost exclusively to the killing of Jews. The reality is that genocide, like that described against the Sikhs, has gone on throughout history and is still continuing today.
I have supported Holocaust Memorial Day since its inception, but I have had no joy in getting the committee to recognise the genocide against the Sikhs or other genocides, such as the mass killing of those who opposed the Ayatollah’s regime in 1988 and, as we read in the news, are still opposing it and its subjugation of women today.
There is an irrational fear that highlighting the suffering of others will somehow dilute our recognition of the suffering of Jews. We urgently need to get away from this politically generated hierarchy of suffering. Genocide is genocide wherever it occurs. That is why this Bill to take the determination of genocide away from politics is so important. As a member of the Sikh community, in the closing words of the Sikh daily prayer, “seeking the well-being of all”, I strongly support this important Bill.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, just made very clear, genocide is genocide wherever it happens. There is a simplicity to that statement, but I think belief in it is shared across your Lordships’ House. Genocide is something that we fundamentally understand. It may have been defined only in the post-war era, by Raphael Lemkin, as my noble friend Lady Sheehan pointed out, but that very specific crime against humanity of genocide is one we understand.
Yes, the Holocaust is the most obvious and discussed example, but it is not the only one. Today, many previous genocides have been discussed, some of which I will touch on later, but in many ways this debate feels like the logical successor of the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger. The Minister and I have participated in both debates. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, my friend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been tireless in his efforts to ensure that His Majesty’s Government begin to take their obligations under the genocide convention seriously.
As I understand the Library briefing, this Bill is the fifth attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to pass a Private Member’s Bill to determine genocide. Yet, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Singh, in some ways our understanding of genocide ought to be straightforward. In debate after debate in your Lordships’ House, we have heard cross-party voices, so often including that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, along with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, saying that we need to call out something as genocide and that the Government need to accept it and act. The response from the Dispatch Box has been, “We can’t do that. It is not for us, as a Government, to determine a genocide. It is for the courts to decide”. Well, this Private Member’s Bill is seeking to assure a precise way in which, when a genocide is being perpetrated or is in prospect, we do not turn away; we all look and respond. It is incumbent on His Majesty’s Government to do just that.
As the right reverend Prelate pointed out when quoting William Wilberforce, you cannot pretend the facts are not there and choose to look the other way. If we know that something is happening that can only reasonably be called a genocide, it is surely incumbent on His Majesty’s Government to act and on all of us in Parliament, in this Chamber and the other place, to do whatever we can to stop a genocide that could happen or is in the process of happening.
Clearly, there are times when it is important to acknowledge that there has been a genocide, and the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, spoke so movingly of his family’s experience of the Armenian genocide. Of course, it is vital to acknowledge when there has been a genocide and pay our respects to those who have lost their families. But how much more could we be doing now to ensure that genocides are not perpetrated? We cannot bring the dead back. If people’s reproductive rights are being threatened now, if we say, “Well, at some future date we might think it was a genocide”, by then it will be too late. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.
The crime of genocide is the worst, and yet, somehow, it is one that His Majesty’s Government seem unable to acknowledge in many ways. My noble friend Lord Alton pointed out that, while he was a Telegraph columnist, Boris Johnson said that it was baffling that we could not name the Iraqi genocide against the Yazidis. Yet, it is commonplace that Governments—not just His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom but other European governments as well—seem to be unwilling or unable to define genocide. Is it because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, pointed out, it can be difficult to define? It is not as easy as simply saying, “Genocide is genocide wherever it is”. But if Governments acknowledge that a genocide is or might be taking place, that Government have obligations under the genocide convention and under the responsibility to protect.
It is vital that Parliament holds the Government to account on their international obligations under those conventions. Equally, we do need to ensure that we have a way that gets beyond what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, called “Catch-22”; it is not a good use of parliamentary time for us to have a debate on almost every single piece of legislation where the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, can just find a chink of light so that maybe we can talk about potential genocide. That is not a sensible way of going about things, however inventive it might be. We need to have clarity on determining genocide. This proposed legislation provides a way that includes Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary. We are not asking the Government to make their own determination, but to send something to the courts. The Catch-22 in the past has been precisely that the courts have said, “It’s not for us to determine, we need some mechanism to be able to do that”. This proposed legislation gives us the opportunity to define genocide—or, at least, to find a way of determining it.
There have been far too many cases of genocide throughout history, even since World War Two, the war to end all wars—nie wieder Auschwitz. We have heard this afternoon of so many genocides and the only one where I have really talked to victims was in Bosnia. I went on an all-party parliamentary visit last year to Bosnia, where 30 years after Srebrenica the mothers are still looking for parts of the bodies of their children; the genocide was not about simply saying, “We will kill young men”; the bodies were ripped apart and the bones we buried in all sorts of different places precisely because that would make it much harder to identify individuals. Those families are still grieving 30 years on. The pain of the mothers who lost children is palpable. That is just one case among so many. We can talk about it now and we can regret it, but how much better if we could act as soon as there was a danger of genocide, because we should not turn away and we must not turn away.
Liberated from the Government Front Bench, the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, has admitted that maybe the line that the Minister is usually asked to rehearse is not necessarily the right line. I do not quite expect the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to throw off the shackles of government today in order to join us and say, “This Bill is the right Bill”, but we ask him to find a way to work with us so that we are not amending Bill after Bill in an ad hoc way, but so that we find a way to ensure that His Majesty’s Government can define genocide and send things to the court for a preliminary ruling if necessary. This is a Bill whose time has come, and we need His Majesty’s Government to step up to the plate and help us to ensure that the United Kingdom is abiding by our international obligations and that we lead on these international obligations. I support the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this Private Member’s Bill today: it is an important element of our fight to defend human rights. I stress that it is an element of our fight to defend human rights because I must pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann: there is a pathway to genocide. It does not start with mass murder or gas chambers; it starts with abuse, disrespect and all kinds of actions that can accumulate. It is really important that we look at that sort of pathway.
Certainly, since the UK acceded to the genocide convention in 1948 and introduced laws that criminalised genocide, no matter where it is committed, we have a duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide wherever it occurs. An important lesson from this debate is that we need to look at the mechanism to prevent, as much as to punish, genocide. The UK Government, as we heard from all speakers, has a long-standing policy of leaving the question of genocide determination to the international judicial system. Of course, it has not stopped the Government supporting efforts and I know that the Minister will say that where there is a strong evidence base, we will support the gathering of that evidence and make sure that there is a strong basis for pursuing that international court action. But the lack of a formal mechanism, whether grounded in law or policy, was, as we heard from my noble friend, criticised by the Foreign Affairs Committee in December 2017, particularly on the situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar.
On these Benches, we support the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We supported him in the Trade Act. In debates on that Act, I also had amendments, supported by this House, to underpin the element of it being not just about genocide. A lot of the things we have been talking about today are not simply about genocide; they are that pathway to genocide.
When I read the Library briefing and the campaign briefing that the noble Lord has been associated with, what struck me was the question of whether a determination makes a difference. I found the research in the briefing by Gregory Stanton from George Mason University fascinating. It found that recognising as genocide mass atrocities that meet the legal definition has resulted in a more comprehensive response, including to stop atrocities. That is what the Bill is about. It is not about having the luxury position of saying, “We now know they’re guilty and there’s a legal process”, but about how we stop it. I thought that research was really important. As Gregory Stanton put it, genocide determination is the first step towards an effective and comprehensive response, including to prevent the risk of genocide materialising and to prevent further atrocities. Has the department seen that research? How might it help the department to consider the broader policy issues in relation to how we pursue evidence of genocide?
The global community has previously acknowledged the failure to prevent tragedies such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. I have been working on the United Nations for the last year for the Labour Front Bench, and I was struck by Kofi Annan’s report from 2000 on the role of the UN in the 21st century. He posed the question,
“if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica—to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?”
The result of that question was the 2005 world summit to address the four key concerns: to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The outcome was a global political commitment, endorsed by all member states, called the responsibility to protect, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. That commitment had three pillars. First, there are the protection responsibilities of the state. Each individual state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The second is international assistance and capacity building. States pledged to assist each other in their protection responsibilities. The third pillar is a timely and decisive collective response. If any state is manifestly failing in its protection responsibilities, states should take collective action to protect that population.
Despite the apparent consensus about the responsibility to protect, there is a persistent contention over the application of the third pillar in practice. In preparing for today’s debate, I thought I would reread the Secretary-General’s annual report on the responsibility to protect that was published last year. Key points in the report were:
“Systematic and grave human rights violations, widespread impunity, hate speech, exclusion and discrimination can all increase the risk of atrocity crimes. Prioritization of prevention remains crucial. Atrocity prevention should be integrated into all relevant fields of the work of the UN.”
Can the Minister tell us today what assessment the FCDO made of last year’s report? How is it influencing our engagement with the UN and underpinning the principles of the right to protect?
As we have heard, since 2005 and that global consensus, we have seen clear evidence of genocide in Myanmar, Syria, Iraq and China. Yet, in the face of all this, the UK Government’s stance remains unchanged. Impunity begets further crimes, and the lack of action will only empower those seeking to commit this crime. I read in today’s Guardian about the crimes in Syria and the appalling video evidence of the case of Major Yousef, who committed and filmed a massacre. I understand that the French Government are looking at preparing a case and taking action.
That leads me to my other point. I hope that, in supporting the pathway the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is pursuing through this Bill, we do not have to wait for his legislation to act. I know that the Minister will come back on some of the practical things in terms of evidence, but what are we doing to work with other Governments and our allies to pursue cases such as Syria—for example, co-operating with the French Government? I hope the Minister can reassure us this afternoon that this Government will work with their allies.
Whatever happens, I wish this Bill a successful passage. It does not give us all the answers—I think the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would be the first to admit that—but it provides a pathway. What we cannot do is continue to stand by and watch these horrendous crimes being committed. I support the Bill.
My Lords, first, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whom I would describe as a dear friend, for the insight that he has again provided in this debate.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about the repeated nature of engagement on this important issue. One thing I would say is that persistence ultimately pays. There are certainly many examples of that; over the past five years, I have seen them.
On a slightly lighter note on what is a serious subject—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I often joke about this—my inbox, my in-tray and some of the responses I have provided to the noble Lord demonstrate active engagement with and response to the important issue of human rights. To the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and others who raised this issue, I say this: of course human rights remain central to the Government’s approach.
The noble Lord talked about trade Bills, for example. As the UK’s human rights Minister, I have certainly been clear about ensuring that whatever deals are struck on trade—or, indeed, in other areas—reflect the essence of protecting but also strengthening the rights of all communities and citizens whom we call friends and allies. Is it a job done? No. However, I believe that it is through direct engagement—sometimes privately, sometimes publicly, but always candidly—that we can see progress, as I have seen for myself, when it comes to human rights across the piece.
I therefore agreed totally with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, when he said, in looking at the big picture of human rights, that this is a journey and does not happen overnight. Even the determinations on the Holocaust did not happen overnight when they were first made. There is often ignorance.
I see the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, is in her place. I remember our conversations about the famous poem “First They Came”, and how its final words
“And there was no one left
To speak out for me”
resonate when we learn about and reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust. Therefore I also thank my noble friends Lord Shinkwin and Lady Sugg for drawing attention to the importance, when we debate such issues, of looking back at the horrors of the past.
I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, said about declaring genocide and will come on to the specifics in a moment. I accept that not every conflict focusing on seeking to destroy a community has resulted in the term “genocide”. However, time has shown that people have spoken out and, while the term may not have been associated with those events, the horrors are absolutely clear.
I am the son of someone who endured the partition of India, but the horrors recounted by my own family were never described in those terms. However, the loss of life, and the grave shaking of what sustains a family, are not forgotten; those things become ingrained. Therefore I was very touched by the insights provided by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, when he talked of his personal journey. On a positive note, I suggest that despite the journey he experienced—away from the abhorrent crimes experienced by his own family and community—there is hope. That hope, I am proud to say, is often provided in a country like ours. It provides those kinds of strengths to communities and journeys, so that within this Chamber and the other place we are able to have such important discussions. Therefore I welcome this debate and acknowledge once again, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, the tireless efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his passion for justice, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter reminded us. I know that that is reflective of the sentiments shared by many in your Lordships’ House.
The Government’s long-standing policy is that any determination that a genocide has been or is being committed should be undertaken by a competent court, such as the ICC or the ICJ. Under this policy, the Government have formally acknowledged the Holocaust. I, like many other noble Lords, have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau and seen the chilling impact of the Holocaust’s aftermath, and it is important that we remain focused on that. Subsequently, like others, I visited and saw the horrors of Srebrenica. When that horror and holocaust took place, with the annihilation of 8,000 or 9,000 young men and boys, it was during all our lifetimes. Of course, there was also the Rwandan genocide. Recently, I returned from the DRC, together with the Countess of Wessex, and in Rwanda we went to the museum there which marks the genocide.
In all these journeys, however, there is something that gives hope. Whether it is the fact of the Jewish homeland, the State of Israel, the current fragile peace which sustains in Bosnia-Herzegovina or the fact that we have seen progress in Rwanda, we should not lose sight of that. Of course, that demonstrates that genocides beyond the Holocaust do exist. Therefore I say to the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, who I respect greatly, that I do not think there is a sort of table in which one community is recognised over the other. I accept that time has shown that sometimes before a genocide is recognised there is a process, but that does not mean we forget the lives lost and the conflicts of the past.
There are of course thresholds which must be met so we can say that genocide has occurred. The genocide convention, which several noble Lords referred to, requires not only the act itself but the
“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”,
to be proved. Again, I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said. Sometimes it is about not speaking up and then it is the odd discriminatory point against a community. Before you know it, it has turned into a persecution or a targeting in isolation. It moves from “Okay, it was only one or two acts—these were random and isolated”, to being tantamount to a sudden targeting and annihilation of the whole community. Therefore we must always remain vigilant and the United Kingdom Government, over successive Governments, have been focused on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked of the Government’s approach and the noble Lord talked of his own frustration at times in trying to change the system. It is important that we seek to change—and to change in a constructive way that allows progress to be made. While the Government’s approach is consistent with our obligations under the genocide convention and the Rome statute, we believe that we act in a clear, impartial and independent way on the measures that exist for the determination of genocide. It also aligns with other international partners. However, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, provided the insight that there are countries, such as the US, which have made exceptions in this respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to Resolution 2379 and the leadership the UK showed in Iraq—although ultimately it did not quite meet what he hoped our intervention would be. I remember going to Mosul as it was liberated from Daesh and meeting the Yazidi survivors of ethnic cleansing against their communities. I remember the survivors who were so destroyed in their souls that they no longer showed any emotion. I heard and I listened to their shocking, abhorrent tales of violations, violence, rape, torture and death. It is important sometimes, although a determination of genocide has not been made, that we are seen to be acting and taking action. While it may not meet the satisfaction of many noble Lords and others, which I understand, the United Kingdom Government have continued to play an important part in calling out these atrocities around the world.
On a small point, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, in his assessment; there are a lot of difficult issues we confront when we look at the particular issue of genocide determination. He very rightly summarised many of the challenges the Government face. He mentioned the ECHR. I think it is important. Your Lordships’ House and many in it play an important role in vocalising that this is not an issue of Brexit; it is a fundamental basis of human rights. It is an important convention to which we adhere which protects the rights of all.
In terms of the Government’s position on this Bill, our overarching policy remains to maximise our ability to take effective action, call out atrocities and prevent them from happening again. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, among others, referred to our responsibility to protect. We have acted on this, and I will come to the issue in Ukraine in a moment to demonstrate how we have led and worked with key partners on the crucial issue of our responsibility to protect. This is particularly important in the context of Ukraine.
While the Government today are not persuaded that the current Bill is the right way forward, I can assure noble Lords—I hope that they will respect this—that we are looking carefully at whether our current policy achieves the overarching aim and intent. Of course, we will keep noble Lords informed on this. I state clearly today—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to this; I thought he had a copy of my speaking notes at one point—that the current policy does not prevent us as a United Kingdom demonstrating forthright leadership in the face of human rights abuses, whether they are formally determined as genocide or not. The UK remains committed to acting and confronting human rights abuses in all forms.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his customarily articulate introduction of this Bill, talked of the situation of the Hazara in Afghanistan. He knows about my commitment to ensuring that we afford all protections and rights to all religious minority communities around the world.
The right reverend Prelate raised the important issue of the Truro report and recommendation 7. We have made further progress in this respect, and we remain very much true and committed to it. I initiated and wrote the terms of reference for the first freedom of religion or belief—FoRB—envoy, so it is a personal priority in government to see that all elements of the Truro report are fully and effectively implemented. But implementation is just the first stage; sustaining the recommendations is equally important.
However, examples of UK action include action on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where credible evidence of atrocities continues to emerge. Our responsibility to protect has resulted in the UK spearheading decisive action. We have led efforts to expedite the International Criminal Court investigation. I hear the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I have mentioned this to the prosecutor —he was here briefly, but I will continue to make that point—who is doing some good work. I hope that we will also be able to bring the prosecutor-general from Ukraine to your Lordships’ House to share some of his thinking about the work that is being done.
We filed a declaration of intervention at the International Court of Justice in August in the case brought by Ukraine against Russia. On a question raised by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we have helped to create the atrocity crimes advisory initiative with key partners, including the European Union and the United States, to ensure that we can start accountability efforts and effectively documenting those crimes now.
I turn to Myanmar’s military actions against the Rohingya, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to. Like others, I have been to Cox’s Bazar, as I said earlier today, and have directly seen the impact of Myanmar’s atrocities. Although they have not been termed “genocide”, the term “ethnic cleansing” has been used. Of course, other tools are available to His Majesty’s Government, including sanctions policy. Again, I thank all noble Lords for their co-ordination and support of the actions that we have taken in that respect.
I am pleased that we recently announced our intention to intervene in the case brought by the Gambia against Myanmar for its alleged breach of the genocide convention, which again shows another step forward for the Government—several noble Lords raised this. We have also bolstered our approach to identity-based violence, and internal monitoring mechanisms have been strengthened to alert the Yangon embassy earlier to atrocity risks and escalations.
On China, I praise the work of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who will know of the United Kingdom’s leadership, particularly in the context of the Human Rights Council, where we have led in calling out the situation of the Uighur community in Xinjiang in particular, and that continues. We will continue to strengthen international partnerships to call out the current suppression, prosecution and persecution of a whole community by China. We will continue to act with partners to end these appalling human rights violations in Xinjiang.
I did not want to interrupt, but the noble Lord has just referred to the United Nations Security Council debate on Michelle Bachelet’s report, which found evidence of crimes against humanity, if not genocide, against the Uighur community in Xinjiang. China has mobilised other countries, including those that ought to have an affinity with Muslim Uighurs, to vote with it not to even debate that report; does that not demonstrate yet again why we need a much more effective mechanism, not dependent on the UN Security Council?
The noble Lord is referring to the UN Human Rights Council. I assure him that, after the many lobbying programmes that we have had in recent weeks, it was disappointing that we lost that procedural vote by one. He is of course correct, and he knows where I stand on this. It is shocking to me, and that point is made candidly to countries, particularly across the Islamic world, for their failure to stand up on the biggest internment of Muslims anywhere in the world. That point is not lost on His Majesty’s Government, and we will continue to make that case.
I thank all noble Lords for their strong co-operation on this issue. I know the intent of the Bill, and while the Government have not committed to supporting it specifically, as I have said, they continue to look at their position to see how best they may respond. Over a number of years I have personally seen an enhanced focus on the responsibility to protect human rights across the world, particularly where we see atrocities being committed, as we do in Ukraine, ethnic cleansing taking place, as we see in Myanmar with the Rohingya, or human rights being supressed, as we see in Xinjiang.
In conclusion, I thank everyone who has taken part in this important debate and assure them that the Government remain focused on these important issues. I know that your Lordships would like the Government to focus on the determination of genocide, but I hope I have been able to provide a degree of assurance that they remain very much committed to a broad human rights agenda and are acting in specific ways to call out atrocities wherever they may occur.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. In his concluding remarks, I heard him say that the Government “are continuing to look at” this question, which at least leaves a door ajar. I therefore hope that the Government will support the committal of this Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, and that we can then start to look at the detail he has been discussing. I was very struck by his answer to my intervention, which was about the Human Rights Council but also the implications for the Security Council. Some countries veto any kind of action being taken on any issue concerning human rights, crimes against humanity, genocide or whatever it may be, on the “ladder” that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was right to refer to.
We have heard a series of compelling and powerful speeches from all sides of the House on why our response to this horrific and grotesque crime of genocide must change. The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, a former Minister, endlessly had to give the same arguments from the Dispatch Box that the current Minister has given today. We have heard these arguments as recently as this week, in a Procurement Bill Grand Committee debate about forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong and Uighurs in Xinjiang. In the Moses Room, the Minister said that this is a matter for the courts and not something on which the Government can decide. Yet little changes, even when the courts do decide—as in Germany recently, where, on the issue of the Yazidis in northern Iraq, the courts found that there was genocide. Why has that not changed the definition we are able to make, at least on that significant point, without there having to be further intervention?
Both the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and the Minister recognised that these are very complex matters. Surely, the answer to that is to say, “Yes, they are very complex matters, and that is why we need legislation such as that put forward by Lord Alton”. That would enable a court—not the Government, not Parliament—to say, “Yes, that is genocide”, or, “No, sorry, it isn’t genocide but it is a crime against humanity”. That is the case for this legislation and the very complexity of it.
It is indeed. As our former distinguished ambassador to the UN has reminded us, we have had our consciences scarred so many times, whether in Rwanda, which my noble friend referred to earlier, or any of these other situations. We have a duty to act, yet, as he also said, what we have at the moment is a Catch-22 situation where we suggest that something is being done when we know that it is not.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, with all the authority of a former Defence Secretary and Cabinet Minister, said that this is about not just good law but what we are compelled to do, and that it is consistent with our policy that this is a matter for the courts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, quoted Raphael Lemkin’s role. More than 40 of his family were murdered in the Holocaust. He gave us this word “genocide” to answer the question that Winston Churchill posed about why this was a crime that we could not even describe.
The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Exeter reminded us of our commitment that we have to honour under recommendation 7 of the Truro report, which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, referred to. He also reminded us of a quotation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to as well, from William Wilberforce: you can choose to look the other way but you cannot say that you did not know.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, said that we should not even need to have this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, quite rightly said that there will be detail that we need to resolve and that this is not an answer to all these problems—I never suggested that it is.
I was very struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Darzi. I have read The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by the Jewish writer, Franz Werfel. It is a novel about the experiences of the Armenians during their genocide. It is a very powerful account. It is not surprising that Adolf Hitler had that Jewish writer’s books burned, because, as the noble Lord told us, Hitler himself said, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”—effectively, “Why should we worry when nobody else seems to worry?”
I have been to Nagorno-Karabakh with my noble friend Lady Cox. I took my daughter with me, and said to her, “If ever you go into public life, speak up for those for whom there is no voice”. My grandfather gave me pictures that he brought back from the Holy Land during the First World War that showed executed Armenians who had been murdered as the Ottoman Turks retreated from Jerusalem. We saw those same photographs in the genocide museum in Yerevan. I was personally very taken not only by what the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, had to say but by what everyone has said in this debate.
This Bill should be committed to a Committee and we should have further discussion. We should thrash out the details and honour the promises that were given to me by two former Foreign Secretaries, who are also now former Prime Ministers. We should be as good as our word in politics. They said that this would be reformed. This Bill provides an opportunity for it to be reformed. I commend it to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 3.28 pm.