While the UK Government, and also other governments, are confident in their policies and strategies to respond to genocide, including to prevent genocide, the growing number of atrocity crimes globally, many of which meet the legal definition of genocide, tells a different story. Only this year, two new cases of genocidal atrocities have emerged: of the situation in Ukraine, following Putin’s act of aggression on 24 February; and of the situation of the Hazara in Afghanistan – following the Taliban takeover and lawlessness that followed. Genocides are perpetrated, and will continue to be perpetrated, as States continue to leave genocide prevention to chance.
On 7 December 2022, the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and the Coalition for Genocide Response, will host a Parliamentary session marking the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime (9 December). During the session, speakers will discuss some contemporary cases of genocidal atrocities. Lord Alton will launch a new campaign ‘Not Leaving Genocide Prevention to Chance’ and event series on genocide ‘Genocide Convention at 75: Lessons Learned or Not.’
Session Co-Chairs: Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Kennedy KC
On 28 October 2022, the UK House of Lords gave the Genocide Determination Bill (the Bill) a Second Reading and agreed that the whole House should give it a Committee Stage. This Bill is a Private Members’ Bill that has cross-party support.
Recent years have witnessed horrific atrocities that may meet the legal definition of genocide, as per Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) including the Daesh atrocities against Yazidis, Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, the Tatmadaw atrocities against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, the CCP atrocities against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang, the atrocities against the Tigrayans in Ethiopia, the IS-K and Taliban atrocities against the Hazara in Afghanistan, and as Putin’s war in Ukraine rages on – the serious risk of genocide and the incitement of genocide against the Ukrainians.
And, as many of these atrocities are still contemporaneous, and pose an existential threat to the targeted communities, we are nowhere near to having clear mechanisms to implement ‘the duty to prevent’ imposed by the Genocide Convention upon signatory States, including the UK.
A reform of the UK Government’s response to genocide is urgently needed.
Earlier this year, on the anniversary of being sanctioned by the CCP for our actions in relation to the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, three of our patrons were invited, with the other sanctioned Parliamentarians, to a meeting at 10 Downing Street. The then Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary told them that they would support the reform of how we deal with genocide. Unfortunately, these promises have yet to be followed up.
This Bill seeks to enable that promise to be met and helps to implement the duty to prevent genocide and reform the inadequate approach of the UK Government by introducing two basic mechanisms:
First, in Clause 1, the Bill empowers victims by way of equipping a person or group belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or an organisation representing such a person or group, with the power to apply to a court for a preliminary determination that there is a serious risk of genocide or that genocide is being or has been committed.
Secondly, in Clause 4 the Bill ensures checks and balances, transparency and oversight over our government responses to genocide globally by way of expanding the already existing mechanism for genocide responses in Section 3 of the Trade Act 2021.
During the House of Lords debate a former FCDO Minister said: ‘The Government’s long-standing policy is that genocide is left to international judicial systems; I articulated that policy from the Dispatch Box when I was an FCDO Minister. However, I was uncomfortable with that policy at the time, and no longer believe it to be correct. We are not seeing it working, because the UK does not have any formal mechanism that allows for the consideration and recognition of mass atrocities that meet the threshold of genocide.’
And UK former Ambassador to the United Nations said: ‘As someone whose conscience was scarred by sitting as Britain’s representative on the UN Security Council during the Rwanda and Srebrenica genocides, I say that this excuse—that is what it is—is shameful… I would call it a Catch-22: a convoluted way of ensuring that nothing is done to determine whether a genocide is taking place, even when we know that it is.’
The full debate may be read at: https://www.davidalton.net/2022/10/28/genocide-determination-bill-given-a-second-reading-in-the-house-of-lords-as-peers-agree-to-commit-it-to-a-committee-of-the-whole-house-for-further-consideration-full-debate/ Or watched at: https://youtu.be/pP7MIZsGhMQ
The all-party Genocide Determination Bill is a crucial first step to reform the UK Government’s responses to genocide.
Watch the speech by Lord Alton here: https://www.davidalton.net/2022/10/28/genocide-determination-bill-given-a-second-reading-in-the-house-of-lords-as-peers-agree-to-commit-it-to-a-committee-of-the-whole-house-for-further-consideration-full-debate/
On 17 October 2022, the International Development Committee, a cross-party parliamentary committee, published its report following an inquiry into the United Kingdom’s role in atrocity prevention internationally. The report considers how the UK’s approach to atrocity prevention could be improved and makes several recommendations for the UK Government to follow.
Commenting upon the report, the Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP, said:
‘The last decade has seen terrifying scenes in China, Ethiopia, Syria and Myanmar – to name just a few – and has shown clearly that atrocities don’t only happen in conflict settings. The deep divisions at the top of the United Nations mean we are living in what appears to be an era of impunity when it comes to persecution, segregation and abuse of civilians. The UK is perhaps uniquely placed to be the ‘world’s canary’ when it comes to alerting others around the world of possible atrocities. We have a network of embassies and a strong reputation for acting within the rule of law. We should train and support our Ambassadors to spot the danger signs that could lead to atrocities. That means looking out for hate speech or laws that marginalise or segregate certain groups from society. We can and must focus the international community’s attention to de-escalate these situations.’
The Committee stated that UK’s new strategy must:
give greater priority to preventing atrocities by addressing this issue at the highest level of government, within the UK’s recently-created Foreign Policy and Security Council;
allocate appropriate funds and staff to the new atrocity prevention team in the Foreign Office;
ensure that our diplomats abroad are getting the training and support they need to recognise and act on warning signs; and
re-assess whether enough UK aid is reaching countries at risk of atrocities.
In September 2022, the Hazara Inquiry, a joint effort of cross-party Parliamentarians from both Houses and experts, published their report on the situation of the Hazara in Afghanistan since 2021, finding that Hazara in Afghanistan, as a religious and ethnic minority, are at serious risk of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (IS-K) and the Taliban. This finding engages the responsibility of all states to protect the Hazara and prevent a possible genocide, under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) and customary international law.
In an interview with BBC Persia, a Taliban spokesperson denied that the Hazara are targeted and claimed that all minorities are protected in Afghanistan. Our co-founder, Dr Ewelina Ochab, commented on these claims and presented the findings of the Hazara Inquiry.
Watch the full BBC Persia coverage of the topic below.
In September 2022, the Hazara Inquiry, a joint effort of cross-party Parliamentarians from both Houses and experts, published their report on the situation of the Hazara in Afghanistan since 2021.
The report finds that Hazara in Afghanistan, as a religious and ethnic minority, are at serious risk of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (IS-K) and the Taliban. This finding engages the responsibility of all states to protect the Hazara and prevent a possible genocide, under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) and customary international law.
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, it significantly affected the situation faced by the Hazara and reversed the 20-year progress made in addressing the marginalisation and discrimination experienced by this minority group. The return to power of the Taliban has included brutal acts of violence against the Hazara throughout Afghanistan and a return of terror.
The first half of 2022 has seen hundreds of members of the Hazara community killed and many more injured as a result of the targeted attacks, including bombings of Hazara schools, places of worship and other centres. As this report was being finalised in August 2022, IS-K claimed responsibility for several attacks that resulted in over 120 fatalities within a few days only. Further attacks are expected because of the inaction and impunity in response to the targeting of the Hazara. This trend is likely to continue. There is a pressing need to provide the community with protection, in line with international obligations under the Genocide Convention.
Commenting upon the report, Lord Alton of Liverpool, a member of the Hazara Inquiry and patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response, commented that ‘Over recent months, we have witnessed a serious and increasing risk of genocide against the Hazara. It is urgent that we act to protect this vulnerable targeted community before it is too late. The dire situation faced by Afghanistan’s Hazaras will deteriorate further if the crimes committed against them are met by inaction and impunity. We have duties under the Genocide Convention and it is about time we acted upon them.’
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, member of the Hazara Inquiry, director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response, added, ‘The escalation of hostilities and attacks against the Hazara in Afghanistan require urgent response. We cannot allow the Taliban and IS-K target the Hazara for annihilation in the country – not if we have any respect to the promises we once made – to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.’
Dr Homira May Rezai commented, ‘Hazaras experienced genocidal campaigns in 1890s when almost two third of their population were annihilated as well as in 1990s under the Taliban regime when thousands were targeted and killed. Hazaras who were among the driving force leading the democratisation movement in Afghanistan are once again at risk of genocide. Urgent response is required by the international community and they must act on their duty to prevent genocide in Afghanistan.’
The report was delivered to several government’s officials in the UK, US, Canada, the Netherlands, but also UN and the ICC representatives.
The Hazara Inquiry continues to examine the situation of the Hazara in Pakistan and will be publishing the report over the next months.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Her Majesty was loved and admired by the people in the United Kingdom and beyond.
She has been the strength that the people of the UK (and the world) needed, especially through the difficult times in recent years. She was loved and admired by the people in the United Kingdom and beyond. Her life of service will be an inspiration for many generations to come. Her dedication will continue to move nations to do good for generations to come.
Her Majesty will be dearly missed but Her legacy will live on.
Our thoughts go out to the Royal Family at this difficult time.
The Coalition for Genocide Response welcomes the decision of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to proceed with an investigation into alleged crimes, under the jurisdiction of the Court, in relation to the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, having been authorised by the ICC Appeals Chamber in March 2020.
As announced by the Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan QC, the investigation will focus on the actions of the Taliban and Islamic State of Khoroson (ISIS-K) in Afghanistan.
The Coalition for Genocide Response welcomes the investigations into the crimes, especially as recent months have seen evidence and serious risk of atrocity crimes, including of genocide against the Hazara community.
Considering the recent developments in Afghanistan, and the Taliban and ISIS-K’s legacy of atrocity crimes that have flourished in impunity for years, this focus is justified. This prioritisation is further affirmed by the limited resources of the ICC.
The ICC’s mandate to prosecute high-level perpetrators where States remain unable or unwilling is one that should be applied consistently and without fear or favour: as such it must not neglect the crimes of other alleged perpetrators in the region including nationals of non-States Parties in Afghanistan at the relevant time. The ICC ought to consider atrocities allegedly perpetrated by other actors when the situation allows.
Contact us if you wish to sign the below statement.
We, the undersigned individuals and organisations, write respectfully to urge you to take decisive steps to locate the 2,763 Yazidi women and children who have been victims of forced or involuntary disappearances and missing for seven years. There are decisive steps that the international community could, and must, take to aid the discovery and safe return of these persons. We have a moral imperative to offer whatever leadership and support we can to end this horrific situation.
As many governments and international institutions recognised, Daesh’s murderous actions against the Yazidis constituted genocide and crimes against humanity. Their 2014 attacks on Sinjar and the Ninevah Plains forced thousands of people to flee. Thousands more were abducted: boys forced to become child soldiers, and women and children sold into sex slavery. The number of those killed by Daesh is still not known. Mass graves continue to be discovered.
Seven years after the genocide, it is a travesty that the Yazidi women and children remain missing and their fate unknown. If they are alive, they continue to be enslaved and subjected to daily abuse. Despite findings of genocide and repeated pronouncements expressing concern for Yazidis, the international community has failed to organise any effort to locate these kidnapped individuals.
We respectfully ask that you, individually and together, take the initiative to organise a search for the missing Yazidi women and children. We understand many of the missing may have perished, but we have a moral responsibility to find the living and provide closure to the families of those murdered. Therefore, we call upon you to work together with allies to ensure that the missing Yazidi women and children are accounted for, partnering with like minded governments, the United Nations, the Yazidi community as well as NGOs and experts.
While the situation is complex, there are concrete actions that would aid the search and make a substantial difference for those who are still trapped, and their families. Therefore, we call upon you to:
Work with partners to conduct an official search to identify the whereabouts of the missing women and children, including in the Al-Hol camp in Syria where many are believed to be held;
Work with local partners to free all Yazidi women and children who are alive and ensure that the remains of those killed are returned to their families and given a dignified and honourable burial.
Now is the time to put action to words. While Yazidis face many challenges, organising a search for kidnapped women and children is tangible, workable, achievable, and long overdue. We call upon you to demonstrate the moral leadership and courage necessary to push global action in the face of genocide.
In May 2019, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution establishing The International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief to be marked annually on 22 August. The establishment of such a day, however, is not an end goal in itself. This day is intended to provide a springboard towards action that addresses the growing issue of violence based on religion or belief. In recent years, violence based on religion or belief is an ever-growing problem which must be addressed with a number of different and wide-ranging responses.
On 23 August, the Coalition for Genocide Response hosted a webinar marking the day. The webinar was co-chaired by Fiona Bruce MP, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Dr Ewelina U. Ochab, Co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response, author of the initiative to establish the UN day. While marking the UN day, the speakers discussed required responses to acts of violence based on religion or belief, focusing on how to help individuals and communities after such violence occurs and how to prevent such acts in the future.
Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, Founder and Director of Refcemi
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Peer at the UK House of Lords and Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
Jos Douma, Special Envoy for Religion and Belief, Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance
Nadine Maenza, Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom
Adam Phillips, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (FBNP), and of the Local, Faith and Transformative (LFT) Partnerships Hub within the Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation (DDI)
Helen Berhane, Eritrean former prisoner of conscience, advocate.
On 10 August 2021, the Coalition for Genocide Response joined over 90 international organisations in an open letter to the Biden Administration calling for the formal recognition of the atrocities against the Rohingyas as genocide and crimes against humanity.
As the letter states:
‘A Rohingya genocide determination would … demonstrate a commitment to evidence-based accountability as the struggle for a truly inclusive and representative democratic Myanmar continues.
A determination would also help to ensure continued international attention on the plight of the Rohingya, while enabling the United States to mobilise additional diplomatic and economic pressure on Myanmar to shift its behaviour. This attention could offer a measure of protection for the Rohingya and others in Myanmar. It would also represent an expression of solidarity with the governments of Bangladesh and other refugee hosting countries, signalling the United States is committed both to accountability and supporting conditions for safe and voluntary return when conditions so permit.’
Commenting upon the joint initiative, Dr Ewelina Ochab, the co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response, said: ‘We must remember that this genocide is not over and the Rohingyas in Myanmar continue to be at risk. Leadership is urgently needed. Global action is urgently needed. We shall not wait until this genocide materializes in whole. We must name it for what it is and act.’