The British Government is facing increasing calls to recognise that ISIS’s attacks on Christians, Yazidis and others should be declared genocide.
A cross-party group of peers is moving an amendment which could trigger a legal process obliging the Government to fulfil its obligations as a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention.
If the amendment passes, a judge – possibly from the High Court or Supreme Court – will examine the evidence and decide whether ISIS’s actions count as genocide.
That would force the Government to take concrete steps to protect the victims of ISIS and seek to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Government has so far refused to make a declaration of genocide, saying that such decisions are a matter for the judicial system.
In a letter to peers asking them to support the amendment, Baroness Cox, one of the group, said: “It is noteworthy that, in the past two years, two serving Foreign Secretaries have lamented the failure of the international community to decry the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda quickly enough, despite overwhelming and compelling evidence. We have an opportunity to prevent history from repeating itself.”
The peers moving the amendment to the Immigration Bill include Baroness Kennedy (Labour), Lord Forsyth (Conservative) and Baroness Nicholson (Lib Dem).
The Government is whipping against the amendment, which will face a Lords vote on Monday. If it passes, it will then come to the Commons.
It comes after the US House of Representatives voted unanimously by 393-0 to declare that ISIS is committing genocide. The State Department has pledged to announce by tomorrow whether it classes ISIS’s actions as genocide, though the decision may be delayed until next week.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the United States Foreign Affairs Committee, and the European Parliament have all said that ISIS is committing genocide.
A recent report from the Knights of Columbus, Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East, lists 1,131 Iraqi Christians killed between 2003 and 2014, and documents hundreds of attacks on Christians and churches.
One of those leading the Lords campaign, the Catholic crossbench peer Lord Alton, told the Catholic Herald that there is a “Catch-22 situation” in which the Government says declarations of genocide are a matter for the judicial system, but the judicial system is not obliged to examine the evidence. The amendment could oblige the Government to act.
Lord Alton said that although the UK is one of over 140 signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, “as things stand, it doesn’t seem to be worth the paper on which it’s written”.
If the judicial system does make a declaration of genocide, Lord Alton said, the definition “obliges us to both punish those who are responsible for genocide and to protect the people who are the victims”.
This would lead to a prioritising of asylum for victims of genocide: notably Christians and Yazidis, but also possibly others such as Mandaeans, Turkmen, and some Shia Muslims.
Lord Alton said: “To prioritise people who are the victims of genocide – the crime above all crimes, after all – would mean that you would then have a pathway where you would take people because they are the clear victims of what is underway. Rather than people who may be amongst the perpetrators of those events.”
He also hopes that Britain would table a resolution at the UN Security Council calling for the International Criminal Court to bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice. “Simply saying that we deplore what they do is not enough,” Lord Alton said. “You must always seek to bring people to justice.”
David Cameron said last year that Christian persecution was a “crucial” issue, adding: “We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”
In a letter last month, senior lawyers including four QCs asked the Prime Minister “to reconsider its position and to clarify why it operates a policy of refusing to recognize acts of genocide”. A similar letter was sent to the Prime Minister in December by over 60 parliamentarians.