Luke de Pulford is Director of the Arise Foundation and serves on the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
We have known about the mass graves of Yazidis for more than six months. Reports began to surface of children beheaded for their faith or ethnicity more than two years ago.
Two. Years. This year we learned of the systematic rape of children, rendering their fragile bodies incapable of pregnancy. We also learned that Daesh is selling minority children as spoils of war. The younger they are, the higher the price.
Anyone who has attempted to read the various reports of Daesh’s atrocities without throwing up (see here, here, or here) will know that these disgusting acts only hint at the undiluted barbarity of the Daesh Genocide – a genocide in the fullest meaning of the word, and one being perpetrated as I type.
Yet still, years and years and tens of thousands of genocidal killings later, the UK Government still refuses to name it for what it is.
The rest of the world is waking up. The US Senate, House of Representatives, Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Secretary of State (John Kerry), the European Parliament and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly have all declared that religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocidal violence.
This isn’t mere word-play. When states use the word genocide, grave responsibilities to the victims follow. Perhaps most importantly, naming these atrocities genocide paves the way for consideration at the International Criminal Court which said a long twelve months ago that it ‘stands ready’ to investigate, but cannot do so without a referral from the UN Security Council.
And where is the UK? In a lamentable catch-22 of civil servants’ making, apparently unable to express an opinion on whether or not Daesh’s unspeakable violence is genocide.
We are told: ‘It is long-standing Government policy that any judgements on whether genocide has occurred should be a matter for the international judicial system rather than legislatures, governments or other non-judicial bodies’.
Sorry, what? The UK has repeatedly used the word genocide without the prior ruling of judges. In 2013, the Commons passed an unopposed motion acknowledging the genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.
In 2013 again, David Cameron also used the word in connection with the 1988 Halabja poison gas attack when at least 5000 people were killed.
In 1993, John Major berated Ken Livingstone for failing to support the Government in “preventing that genocide” in the North and South of Iraq.
These events have not been declared a genocide by the international judicial system, so, according to the Government line, ministers should not be using the G-word to describe early Nineties Iraq. But they are.
So why can an exception be made for Iraqi Kurds and not those being slaughtered under Daesh?
The only long-standing thing here is the ability of Foreign Office officials to refuse to acknowledge genocides while they are happening.
During the Cambodian genocide, declassified documents reveal that a senior FCO legal adviser wrote: “The criterion for execution appears to have been political attitude (or assumed attitude) vis a vis the Cambodian government. It may therefore be difficult to establish that genocide has been committed.” It was genocide, claiming an estimated three million lives.
During the Bangladesh genocide in 1971, more declassified correspondence shows that, despite having been presented with evidence, the Foreign Office reported to the Indian High Commissioner: “We have no evidence of genocide”. 300,000 lost their lives.
During the genocide in Darfur, then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was only able to say: “The Secretary-General is keeping the question of whether what has happened is genocide under very close review, and so are we.” It was genocide. 300,000 lost their lives.
Two ministers have recently shown reluctance to defend this brief. First Tobias Ellwood who, in an honourable contribution, gave as much indication of his personal view as he could, but spoke of not wanting to ‘get myself into trouble’ with nearby officials.
A few weeks ago, Lord Bates similarly joked that the presence of the chief whip on the front benches during his speech was to ensure he didn’t ‘throw away his brief’.
Remarkably, the next time the issue came up, Bates actually did throw away the brief, choosing instead to hand responsibility to the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Keen. Bates – a man of profound integrity – has since resigned his post, giving as his reason a desire to undertake a charity walk across South America.
Why is the government allowing itself to be bullied into accepting this terrible policy by Foreign Office civil servants?
It is clear that ministers like Swire, Ellwood and Bates understand the need to do this while mandarins don’t – some of whom whisper in ministerial ears that they mustn’t be seen to”discriminate” in favour of an ethnic group because of its religion – especially the religion that in Foreign Office circles dares not speak its name: Christianity.
Little wonder that Margaret Thatcher insisted that control over foreign policy would not be left to cliques of officials who have forgotten what this country is about. Little wonder that some of her closest colleagues – Lawson, Moore and Forsyth included – were in the lobby voting against the Government this week. The are also in step with pubic opinion, only 7% of whom oppose declaring a genocide.
In 1942, when reliable reports regarding the Shoah had reached the government, but well before the full horrors of the camps were known, Eden made a “solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end.”
Contrast this with today’s heel-dragging. What has happened to Britain that our response to modern genocide is a callous shrug in the direction of international judges? If the EU Parliament and the US Government can call this a genocide, why can’t we?
If all governments were to pursue the same line as ours, no genocide investigations would ever take place. There would be nobody to refer them, because all governments would be waiting for these ‘judicial systems’ to act first. It brings shame upon us that we are trotting out these lame, circular excuses in the face of these evils.
Plainly, this can go on no longer. Parliament should pass a resolution naming this genocide for what it is, and the UK should use its permanent seat on the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, giving them jurisdiction to investigate and, when the time comes, punish.
It is time we showed suffering minorities the respect of acknowledging the severity of what is being done to them, and time to move beyond aerial bombardment to a consideration of justice. It is the very least we can do.