Chris Whitehouse is an Isle of Wight councillor and heads The Whitehouse Consultancy.

Just before Christmas, 75 Parliamentarians drawn from both Houses, all political parties and the cross benches, wrote to David Cameron to urge that the Government do all that it can at the United Nations to obtain agreement that the word “genocide” should now be used to describe the slaughter by Daesh/Isis of Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, yet Ministers still seem to be obfuscating on the issue.

The influential signatories to the letter to the Prime Minister included Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, and Lord Evans of Weardale, a former Director General of the Security Service’s Management Board – individuals who are fully aware of the nature of the killings on the ground and who, in signing the letter, are among a growing group of Parliamentarians exasperated at the apparent reluctance of Ministers to dare to use the “g” word.

There is now clear evidence that the genocide in the Middle East includes assassinations of Church leaders; mass murders; torture, kidnapping for ransom in the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria; sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian girls and women; forcible conversions to Islam; destruction of churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and Christian artifacts; and theft of lands and wealth from Christian clergy and laity alike.  ISIS has made its own public statements taking “credit” for mass murder of Christians, and expressing its intent to eliminate Christian communities from its “Islamic State”.

But the use of the term “genocide” is not a matter of mere semantics. “Genocide” is defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide which makes it quite clear that genocide is not simply the random killing of individuals, but is rather a systematic killing or seriously harming of people because they are part of a recognisable group. That group may be “national, ethnic, racial or religious” and the treaty identifies “acts committed with intent to destroy [that group] in whole or in part.”

There would be two main benefits from the acceptance by the U.N. that genocide is being perpetrated. First, it would send a very clear message to those organising and undertaking this slaughter that at some point in the future they will be held accountable by the international community for their actions: they will be caught, tried and punished. Second, it would encourage the now 147 nations that are signatories to the Convention to face up to their duty to take the necessary action to “prevent and punish” the perpetrators of these evil acts.

More recently, Hillary Clinton, the US Presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State, accepted that there is now sufficient evidence that the killings should be determined to be genocide. Yet still the British Government in its official statements and in Ministerial answers to Parliamentary Questions passes the buck and argues that it is for other bodies, particularly the United Nations, to make the determination. This is disingenuous at best – unless and until those same Ministers are prepared to write formally to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and his Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, asking that such a determination be made through the channels of the United Nations.

The lack of action as Christianity is systematically being wiped out in its birthplace brings shame on the international community. It would cost our Government nothing, and would earn it respect, praise and gratitude from the beleaguered victims of ISIS in the Middle East, if Britain were to state a view that genocide is being perpetrated and call formally on the United Nations to act. If not now, then when? When the last Christian and Yazidi has been raped and murdered?