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Bishop of Exeter backs Bill giving High Court power to investigate suspected genocide

04 November 2022

Alamy

Members of the Hazara community hold a protest in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday of last week

Members of the Hazara community hold a protest in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday of last week

THE Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, has lent his support to a Private Member’s Bill that would give the High Court power to investigate allegations of genocide, and to refer its findings to the International Criminal Court.

The Genocide Determination Bill, introduced by Lord Alton, passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Friday, and will now be considered by a committee made up of peers.

Speaking in the debate on Friday, Bishop Atwell said: “We are united in our condemnation of genocide, and the Bill would enable us to move beyond sentiment. It cannot solve all the problems associated with our nation’s response to genocide, but it is a significant step forward.”

Bishop Atwell concluded: “As our nation seeks a new role on the global stage, I hope that we become a leader among nations in how we identify the threats and call out and respond to genocide.”

Lord Alton, a former Liberal Democrat MP, argued that the Bill was necessary because “there is no adequate mechanism for making a determination of genocide.”

He referred to the plight of the Hazara people, in Afghanistan, who have long been the target of terrorist attacks and extreme persecution, and reports of mass atrocities in Ukraine committed by Russian soldiers, as a reminder of the “urgency of a new approach to genocide in this country”.

He continued: “Instead of offering the same old platitudes, it is time to open our eyes to the evidence that is before us, recognise it for what it is, and act upon it.”

Last year, Lord Alton helped to secure an amendment to the Trade Act 2021, which provided for a Commons committee to investigate allegations of genocide in the territory of a prospective trade partner.

On Friday, however, he described this as “so narrow in scope that it ultimately cannot provide an effective mechanism for genocide determination — or, indeed, the determination of the serious risk of genocide”.

Several speakers in the debate, including Bishop Atwell and Lord Alton, paid tribute to the report, by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, on the persecution of Christians around the world (News, 8 July 2019).

On Friday, Bishop Atwell highlighted the seventh recommendation in the report, which advised the Government to “ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes”.

After the delivery of the report, the Government pledged to implement all the recommendations (News, 30 August 2019). In the summer, an independent analysis of the implementation process found that the seventh recommendation was “in the process of being delivered” (News, 4 July).

Responding to the debate on Friday on behalf of the Government, Lord Ahmad, who is Minister of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, praised the “tireless efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his passion for justice”, but stopped short of endorsing the Bill.

He said that, “while the Government today are not persuaded that the current Bill is the right way forward”, they are “looking carefully at whether our current policy achieves the overarching aim and intent”, which is to “maximise our ability to take effective action, call out atrocities and prevent them from happening again”.

Despite the Government’s position, the Bill received strong cross-party support, including that of Conservative peers such as Baroness Sugg, who said: “We must have a comprehensive reform of the UK’s genocide strategy.” The Bill will continue to the Committee Stage.

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