On 28th October 2022, the House of Lords debated the Genocide Determination Bill, brought forward by Lord Alton of Liverpool, in its second reading. The Bishop of Exeter spoke in support of the bill:
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I support the Bill and, in company with others, pay warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his perseverance and passion for justice for the victims of genocide. We are united in this House and on these Benches in our condemnation of what is a manifest evil, that which the Coalition for Genocide Response describes as “the crime of crimes”. My colleague the Bishop of Truro, whom I hope will join us in this House before too long, three years ago published his report on the persecution of Christians, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, just referred. Your Lordships will recall that His Majesty’s Government accepted all its recommendations in full. Recommendation 7 asked the Government to:
“Ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide through activities such as setting up early warning mechanisms to identify countries at risk of atrocities, diplomacy to help de-escalate tensions and resolve disputes, and developing support to help with upstream prevention work.”
It is the mechanisms with which we are concerned in the Bill.
July’s report by the independent assessor found that much of recommendation 7 is in the process of delivery, and, if the Minister were able to update the House on that, I should be grateful. I am aware of the United Kingdom’s long-standing position that whether a situation amounts to genocide is an issue for national and international courts to determine, not individual Governments. The Bill will help with the implementation of that policy by bridging the gap between our duties under the genocide convention and their realisation.
Many on these Benches voted to support the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, last year to amend the then Trade Bill, now an Act. The Bill before us would expand Section 3 of that Act to engage the Secretary of State where a committee of this House or the Commons publishes a report concluding that there is a serious risk of, or is already, genocide occurring outside the United Kingdom. By expanding the scope of Section 3, the requirement on the Secretary of State would be to engage more broadly than in cases of prospective free trade agreements.
Your Lordships will be aware of the many disturbing examples from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Myanmar and Xinjiang province in China. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief does essential work here, as do Open Doors and other human rights organisations.
As we have heard, 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. As my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leeds said, when introducing a debate on this subject in the General Synod of the Church of England:
“In today’s interconnected age it is no longer possible to claim ignorance of these terrible events. To quote William Wilberforce: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’”
The severity of the charge of genocide requires a high bar to clear before we come to conclusions. But, however high the bar is set, it must remain within our reach. 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. That is why I gladly support the Bill and congratulate the noble Lord on bringing it for a Second Reading.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con, Minister of State – Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office): I am the son of someone who endured the partition of India, but the horrors recounted by my own family were never described in those terms. However, the loss of life, and the grave shaking of what sustains a family, are not forgotten; those things become ingrained. Therefore I was very touched by the insights provided by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, when he talked of his personal journey. On a positive note, I suggest that despite the journey he experienced—away from the abhorrent crimes experienced by his own family and community—there is hope. That hope, I am proud to say, is often provided in a country like ours. It provides those kinds of strengths to communities and journeys, so that within this Chamber and the other place we are able to have such important discussions. Therefore I welcome this debate and acknowledge once again, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, the tireless efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his passion for justice, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter reminded us. I know that that is reflective of the sentiments shared by many in your Lordships’ House.
The Government’s long-standing policy is that any determination that a genocide has been or is being committed should be undertaken by a competent court, such as the ICC or the ICJ. Under this policy, the Government have formally acknowledged the Holocaust. I, like many other noble Lords, have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau and seen the chilling impact of the Holocaust’s aftermath, and it is important that we remain focused on that. Subsequently, like others, I visited and saw the horrors of Srebrenica. When that horror and holocaust took place, with the annihilation of 8,000 or 9,000 young men and boys, it was during all our lifetimes. Of course, there was also the Rwandan genocide. Recently, I returned from the DRC, together with the Countess of Wessex, and in Rwanda we went to the museum there which marks the genocide.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Exeter reminded us of our commitment that we have to honour under recommendation 7 of the Truro report, which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, referred to. He also reminded us of a quotation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to as well, from William Wilberforce: you can choose to look the other way but you cannot say that you did not know.
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