CALLS for the British Government to seek a court ruling that the acts perpetrated by Islamic State (IS) constitute genocide were supported by the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, this week.
He spoke in the House of Lords on Monday of a “growing consensus that the systematic violence of people operating in the name of Daesh [IS] is rightly described as genocidal. . . Can the category of ‘genocidal acts’ help to stop the killing and help to bring the perpetrators sooner to account for their crimes? Yes, I believe it can”. He noted the support of “a number of distinguished jurists”.
He was speaking in support of an amendment to the Immigration Bill by Lord Alton of Liverpool, which stated that asylum should be granted to those from groups “subject to the conditions detailed in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”. It would be for the High Court to determine whether these conditions were met.
The British Government was currently putting forth a “circular argument”, Lord Alton said, by insisting “that declarations of genocide are not made by the Government, but by the international judicial system; yet there has been no referral of any evidence by the Government to any court in Britain or elsewhere.”
Citing the failure to decry early enough the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, he warned that the genocide convention “becomes nothing more than window dressing, which is an insult to the original drafters and ratifiers, as ‘never again’ becomes a hollow slogan, devoid of meaning”.
He was supported by several peers, including Baroness Cox. But Baroness Berridge cautioned that “risk of politicising and putting into foreign-affairs terms a policy such as genocide is grave”, and warned that a ruling from the High Court “will not only apply only to Iraq and Syria”. The mechanism outlined in the amendment would “not ensure that the most vulnerable people are helped”. Instead, the Government’s programme for resettling the most vulnerable people should be expanded.
The amendment was lost by 148 to 111.
The debate followed the determination by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, last week, that Islamic State had committed genocide against religious minorities. It is only the second time that the US administration has used the term during a conflict. In 2004, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell used it to label the killings in Darfur.
Bishop of Leeds visits Iraq. After a visit to displaced families in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that the stories he heard “spoke loudly of Good Friday, and betrayal and suffering and destruction”.
It also left him questioning the wisdom of urging internally displaced people (IDPs) to go back to their homes, and feeling “nagged” after the suggestion by a UK government official in the area that Iraqis “have to sort this out themselves”.
During the trip to Erbil and Duhok, organised by Christian Aid — which included the Bishops of Southwark, the Rt Revd Chessun, and Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth — Bishop Baines met young men who had been airlifted from Sinjar Mountain after escaping Islamic State (IS), and a young woman whose sisters were taken to Germany, also after escaping IS.
“A policy of resettlement in their original homes only makes sense from a distance,” Bishop Baines wrote on his blog. “What might it actually mean for women whose family has endured fearful threat, violence, and loss before being scattered? Or for those whose home no longer exists: relationships are dead, houses are destroyed or occupied by former neighbours, where there is no economy and no infrastructure?”
He also visited a young mother, whose husband is missing, presumed dead, who described the beheading of her brother, and the trauma inflicted on his son. REACH, a Christian Aid partner, has enabled her to train as a hairdresser and start a small business.
After the suggestion, by a UK government official in Erbil, that the Iraqis “have to sort this out themselves”, the Bishop wrote: “Why is it their responsibility to sort out what they did not create? Why did that thinking not hold sway when outsiders were considering bombing the place to bits? And, in that context, why is the amount of money being spent on reconstruction and humanitarian assistance such a tiny fraction of what was spent on the military campaigns?”
There are 3.3 million IDPs in Iraq; the Kurdistan region hosts the largest number. The director general of the Kurdistan Ministry of the Interior’s Joint Crisis Co-ordination Centre told the Bishops that public salaries had not been paid for five months, and that only nine per cent of financial support promised by international partners had got through. He also claimed that aid given to Baghdad would never reach Kurdistan.