Today, MPs will debate and vote on a resolution which does what the Government has been unwilling to do: name ISIS’s crimes in Syria and Iraq as genocide. A recent ComRes poll shows that the British majority agrees. People want the UK to use its international influence to bring an end to the ongoing atrocities in the Middle East.
ISIS is a clear and present threat to the freedoms we all too often thoughtlessly enjoy. The self-declared caliphate scorns international law and the liberty it enshrines. It acknowledges no authority but its own perverted ideology. Its purpose is to eradicate all opposed to its message of conformity and brutal hatred. It is spreading like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa, and in its wake thousands are dead, disenfranchised or displaced.
Minority religious and ethnic groups are deliberately targeted. Christians, Yadizis, and members of other religious minorities are a symbol of resistance, of freedom of belief and the right to question. Their existence challenges the validity of ISIS’ worldview and brings the hope of liberty. ISIS is relentlessly seeking to extinguish this hope by systematically eliminating ethic and religious difference.
Its methods are brutally and intentionally direct. Since 2014, ISIS has executed an estimated 5000 Yazidi men, women and children. Their only crime was their faith. The Yazidi community in the region of Kurdistan is almost eradicated. The Christian community has radically declined; from two million to one million people in Syria and from 1.4 million to less than 260,000 in Iraq.
Followers of Islam whose actions or beliefs deviate from the militants’ strict dogma are not immune from violence. In vicious pursuit of uniformity and a world without human rights, ISIS has assassinated religious leaders, kidnapped communities, and denied religious minorities the basic necessities of food, medical care and water. Non-Muslim women and girls are considered chattels fit for sexual assault, slavery, forced abortions, and forced marriage. Boys are turned into child soldiers. Minorities who are allowed to live are politically oppressed; their property is confiscated while they are forced to pay ‘protection’ taxes.
Not content to simply destroy, ISIS seeks to demean its victims. Women are raped before their families, condemned men are executed in the graves they were made to dig, and children are tied to crossbeams and crucified. Churches are converted to prisons and thousands of years of cultural heritage are obliterated in one explosion.
ISIS’s atrocities are well documented – indeed, it flaunts them, on social media and in propaganda magazines. ISIS delights in committing genocide.
Genocide – the “crime of crimes” – is expressly prohibited by international law. It is not an amorphous or vague concept. What constitutes genocide is well defined. Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide makes clear that genocide is murder, rape, and other serious crimes, committed with the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Genocide may be accomplished through executions, inflicting serious physical or psychological harm, or destroying the family unit and the broader community by preventing births or removing children. Genocide may also be achieved through deliberately imposing conditions of life calculated to cause physical destruction, such as denying food, water and medical care. To put simply, genocide is the intentional destruction of a culture and the people belonging to that culture. Article II is a roll call of ISIS’s actions. If it were a checklist, ISIS would tick every box.
World leaders are beginning to acknowledge this reality. The Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the US House of Representatives, the US Secretary of State John Kerry, and religious leaders including Pope Francis have labelled ISIS’s actions for what they truly are: genocide. Acknowledging genocide provides the hope of justice for victims and the promise of protection for those still suffering at ISIS’ hands. However, acknowledging that genocide is occurring is only a first step. Further action is required.
The United Nations Security Council was established for moments such as these. It has the means and the obligation to stand against genocide and human rights abuse. And as one of its five permanent members, the UK has a leading role in this influential UN body.
Today’s motion proposes that the Security Council should allow, by referral, the International Criminal Court to try ISIS militants for genocide. An ICC prosecution would universally condemn ISIS’s vile agenda. With one united voice it would reaffirm the world’s commitment to human rights and unequivocally denounce ISIS for its atrocities.
The world has faced such evil before. Evil may prosper, but only for a time. ISIS’s reign of terror will come to an end. But the number of lives destroyed and cultures lost depends on our willingness to act. The fight against ISIS is a fight for human life and the survival of minorities in the Middle East. For all trapped within ISIS’s borders this fight is real, it is tangible and it must be won. But this is also a fight for the preservation and enforcement of basic human rights and the international legal system that was established to defend justice, peace and liberty.
It is time to act. And today’s debate presents MPs with a chance to do just that. There is no ‘neutral’ position here. The Government’s deafening silence hinders further concrete action, particularly at the UN Security Council, and creates doubt even in the face of irrefutable evidence.
Robert Clarke is a barrister and Director of European Advocacy of ADF International.