The UK Parliament has joined US Secretary of State John Kerry, US House of Representatives, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in describing the actions of Islamic State (or Da’esh) as genocide.
A motion, passed on Wed 20 April by 280 votes to 0, had been proposed by Member of Parliament (MP) Fiona Bruce, although the UK government opposed it, urging MPs on its payroll to abstain from voting. It said it was wrong to prejudge the issue in a case that may go to the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, Ms Bruce successfully argued that the ICC cannot make a judgment on whether violence amounts to genocide unless nations ask it to do so. “That is why supporting this motion is so important,” she told the UK Parliament.
She said MPs had heard from a woman who had come directly from Syria and spoke of Christians being killed and tortured, of children being beheaded in front of their parents and of mothers who had seen their own children crucified.
Ms Bruce said that Christians and Yazidis had been targeted explicitly because of their religion and ethnicity, and that recognition of ‘genocide’ brings obligations on the part of the international community to prevent, punish and protect.
Scottish MP Ian Blackford suggested that the UK should follow the example set by the Allied governments in 1942 when they made a joint statement condemning genocide.
“Just as we stood against genocide then and made sure that those responsible would face justice, we must now show the required level of leadership today when we are faced with genocide in Syria and Iraq,” he said.
“The British government must now urgently push the UN Security Council to immediately refer these crimes to the International Criminal Court.”
Five dense dossiers are reported to have been compiled detailing these crimes – by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide and the US Knights of Columbus.
Experts say there has never before been such international support for recognising a genocide while atrocities are still happening.
In the UK government’s official response to the vote result, Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood, who agreed that he personally believed ‘genocide’ to have taken place, said: “I have listened, No. 10 has listened and the nation has listened to the will of [Parliament] today. That is important. I commend the efforts of Members in all parts of the House who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the voices of those who have been murdered, persecuted or silenced by Da’esh are heard… but as the Prime Minister has said, genocide is a matter of legal rather than political opinion.”