Lords oral questions on genocide in Syria and Iraq

On 22 November Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in bringing to justice those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, particularly against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities, in Syria and Iraq.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con)

My Lords, the Government believe that there needs to be accountability for the crimes committed in Syria and Iraq. We continue to support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and have launched a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice. We are working with the Government of Iraq to bring a proposal before the UN to gather and preserve evidence in Iraq as a first step.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, tomorrow is Red Wednesday, when Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, a synagogue in north London and many other public buildings, including the Palace of Westminster, will be floodlit in red to commemorate all those who have been subjected to genocide or persecuted for their faith. Does the Minister recall that on 20 April the House of Commons declared that ISIS is responsible for genocide, the crime above all crimes? Can she therefore tell us how many British-born ISIS recruits have been brought to justice in British courts? Further, with Russia’s withdrawal last week from the International Criminal Court, are we talking to other Governments about the creation of a freestanding regional tribunal to bring to justice those who have been responsible for these crimes of genocide?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked several important questions and I will try to encapsulate them. Perhaps I may first comment with regard to Russia. When Russia grabbed the headlines about leaving the ICC, it was when I was going to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I was perfectly well aware that the Russians had never ratified, although they had signed, the initial treaty—they made a play of the headlines, but there we are.

As regards the prosecution of Daesh fighters, it is the case that these have already begun, and I can certainly write to the noble Lord with details of the cases that have been taken in this country. However, around 60 countries have legislation in place to prosecute and penalise foreign terrorist fighters for their activities, and to date at least 50 countries have prosecuted or arrested such fighters or facilitators. On the matter of how a tribunal might be set up, it is possible of course that some form of international or hybrid justice mechanism may prove to be appropriate, but it is too early—and not for us alone—to prejudge that.

Lord Shinkwin (Con)

My Lords, as the order of scale of the genocidal crimes perpetrated by Daesh becomes ever clearer, are Her Majesty’s Government aware that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently called on the International Criminal Court to accept the existing jurisdiction that it has to prosecute foreign fighters complicit in the atrocities? Can my noble friend tell me whether Her Majesty’s Government will assist the International Criminal Court in that endeavour?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, my noble friend is right about the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. When I was in The Hague last week, I made it clear both to the president of the ICC and the chief prosecutor that the UK continues fully to respect the independence of the Office of the Prosecutor to determine which situations are subject to preliminary examination. I emphasised, both publicly and privately, that the United Kingdom has a fully co-operative relationship with the ICC and an obligation to respond to all requests for assistance from the Office of the Prosecutor, and will do so.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane (Lab)

My Lords, as well as punishing existing genocide, is there not a case for trying to prevent genocide in the future by tackling its precursor, which is frequently an education system that actively preaches discrimination against minorities? Can the Minister use her influence with DfID to ensure that our aid budget is used positively to help countries preach tolerance within their communities but at the very least to ensure that none of it is used actively to preach discrimination against minorities?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, the DfID aid budget is indeed used to ensure that those who need humanitarian aid receive it but also to address the issue of education. For example, a preliminary project in Iraq is looking at how to ensure that teachers are able to deliver education in a way that means that the next generation will not have some of the prejudices that have unfortunately been seen in some—only some—of the present generation. The Government of Iraq work very closely with us for peace and reconciliation.

Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)

My Lords, what further discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with other members of the Security Council, particularly Russia and China, about the suffering of minorities at the hands of Daesh? What discussions do they plan to have with the incoming United States Administration?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, following the launch by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in September of the global campaign to bring Daesh to justice, we ensured that we had discussions with the other members of the Security Council—who were already aware of what was about to happen. We are making good progress in discussions across the United Nations on designing a system whereby evidence can be collected to bring Daesh to justice. Although I know that we have our differences with Russia over the way in which it has carried out some of its activities in Syria, I am hopeful that it may be in a position to support a process of bringing forward evidence in conjunction with the Government of Iraq—because it is Iraq led—so that the United Nations can then have a resolution before it which could be accepted by all.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)

I welcome what the Minister has said regarding the commission of inquiry. Just to amplify the last point, how are the Government building a consensus for that? I acknowledge the difficulty at the United Nations, but is not the first step surely to get wider support for that commission of inquiry?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I think that I must be clearer in my answer and differentiate between the commission of inquiry, which we fully support and which continues as it is, and the work that we will now undertake with the Government of Iraq to present a resolution to the United Nations which would focus on collecting an evidence base. That is a different process. Our diplomats both in the United Nations and around the world are working hard to achieve support for that, including with our allies in the United States.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)

My Lords, while members of ISIS responsible for open slave markets and the systematic humiliation of Yazidi and Christian women must be brought to justice, does the Minister agree that the systematic bombing—to near extinction—of the people of Syria by both Russia and the West is also a war crime for supposed strategic interests? Does she also agree that the constant repetition of the mantra that Assad must go does nothing whatever to address the underlying religious tensions?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

No, my Lords, I do not agree. It is the case that 68 members of the global coalition have come together in a signal of international intent to ensure that there is a government in Syria chosen by the Syrian people. It is Assad who is the block upon that: he is the major cause of the conflict and the major cause of death for those who have died—between 85% and 90%. He provides a rallying cry for Daesh. I am afraid that on this occasion, although on many others I can agree with the noble Lord, he and I will have to have different opinions.

This debate is sourced from the uncorrected (rolling) version of Hansard and is subject to correction.