We are supporting the Genocide Determination Bill, currently 6th in the Private Member’s Bill Ballot in the House of Lords. The Bill would allow for the UK to make a preliminary determination that we believe mass atrocities have taken place.
In 2014 the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) unleashed a campaign of atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq and Syria. Many observers, legal experts and even government ministers have argued that the crimes of ISIL amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity. The atrocities themselves, together with the testimonies of thousands of survivors and ISIL’s own declared intent, would seem to support this view.
- Legal determination of genocide is conventionally reserved to international tribunals, be it ad-hoc tribunals as the ICTY or the ICTR or the International Criminal Court (the ICC). However, currently, there is no ad-hoc tribunal to consider the crimes of ISIL and the ICC does not have the territorial jurisdiction to engage. An attempt to involve the ICC failed. Owing to the technical difficulty of referring Syria without also involving the actions of the Assad government, no referral to the ICC has been made by the UN Security Council, prevented by vetoes from Russia and China.
- Meanwhile, suspected ISIL genocidaires have not seen justice for their crimes, and continue to perpetrate atrocities, making a mockery of States’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention).
- The UK Government has not made any official genocide determination, relying on the argument that it is a matter for ‘international judicial systems,’ and not for politicians. Reliance on ‘international judicial systems’ is flawed. It neglects the basic fact that it is the UK that is a duty bearer under the Genocide Convention and not the ‘international judicial systems.’ Hence, the UK must act to ensure that the determination is made by a competent body (in accordance with the law and policy in the state) and that decisive steps are taken to fulfil its obligations under the Genocide Convention to prevent and punish. Furthermore, the reliance on the argument of ‘international judicial systems’ neglects the fact that often there is no ‘international judicial system’ with the jurisdiction to engage in the determination of genocide.
- This failure was recently identified in Bishop of Truro’s review of the FCO’s response to the persecution of Christians. In its recommendations, the review recognised that the determination of genocide must be legal and not political ‘the FCO should nonetheless determine its policy in accordance with the legal framework and should be willing to make public statements condemning such atrocities.’
- To address the UK’s long-standing failures under the Genocide Convention, Lord (David) Alton of Liverpool at the House of Lords introduced the Genocide Determination Bill. This private members’ bill provides for the High Court of England and Wales to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide, and for the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal. The bill provides for a mechanism to ensure that the genocide determination is made by a competent body to inform the UK Government’s strategy to address the atrocities.