Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

1st reading
Thursday 23rd November 2023

(7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL] 2023-24 Read Hansard Text
First Reading
11:49
A Bill to make provision about prevention of and response to genocide and other atrocity crimes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

2nd reading
Friday 22nd March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Second Reading
13:35
Moved by
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to propose, for your Lordships’ consideration, a statutory mandate for the prevention of and response to genocide and atrocity crimes. Instances of mass atrocity violence—war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing—are not just rising but are spiralling around the world.

I am the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and I have spent time with, and campaigned alongside, survivors of atrocity violence, from Yazidi women in Syria and the Uighur communities in exile from China, to the women and human rights defenders of Afghanistan, and many others. Their stories are a glaring testament to the collective failure to stand resolute in the face of atrocity crimes and hold accountable those who continue to perpetrate this kind of identity-based violence.

I have been helped in all my work by a wonderful team at the International Bar Association’s institute, particularly by Dr Ewelina Ochab, who helped in the drafting of this Bill. I have also been assisted by another great group of people, led by Dr Kate Ferguson, who runs an operation called Protection Approaches, which is concerned with foreign affairs.

Of today’s major and emerging foreign policy crises, the vast majority—from Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Israel and Palestine to Myanmar and Xinjiang—are driven by violent targeting of civilian groups based on their identities. If left unchecked, the global propellants of prejudice and inequality, climate collapse, the retreat from liberal democracy, and the great changes in technology, as we see in social media and so on, mean that identity-based mass atrocity crimes will multiply over the next decade. Of that I am sure. We are already seeing it happening.

At the same time, growing disregard for international law, for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and our collective responsibilities to prevent and protect, has ushered in an age of impunity. We have failed, time and again, in the face of these grave crimes, and as a consequence our world—indeed, our nation—is less safe and becoming less so. Impunity begets impunity.

Regrettably, these crimes have deep consequences. Perpetrators commit genocide and crimes against humanity because they work; they fulfil the dreadful political objectives of their architects. It is not a nice fact, but it is a true one. It is past time that we, and our Government, accept it. For too long, the reluctance to do so has created a strategic and moral deficit in government policy.

This Bill would move towards filling that gap. Anchored by a statutory mandate and, importantly, bolstered by political leadership and strategic vision, properly prioritising atrocity prevention could see the UK lead the world on preventing violence and protecting civilians. It would re-energise commitments to international humanitarian law and rehabilitate Britain’s battered reputation on the global stage, which has happened as a result of our pulling away from our international obligations.

It is commonly said that armed conflicts are a precursor to the commission of mass atrocity crimes, but in fact it is not always that way round. Indeed, during the many human rights crises of the modern age, mass atrocities often came first and caused armed conflict to break out. For example, mass atrocities drove armed conflict in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and failures to adequately respond to mass atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar in 2017 emboldened the Tatmadaw, contributing to their seizure of power in February 2021 and the ensuing civil war. The current conflict between Hamas and Israel follows decades of terrible conduct, by both the IDF and Hamas, before, during and after 7 October. We are now seeing the consequence of that in the current crisis in Gaza.

Members of this House and the other place have stood together in outrage, time and again, and I see those of your Lordships who have often supported those of us who have sought to put amendments into legislation. There has been a strong sense of outrage, but it is not sufficient. Outrage does not help to protect innocent civilians from deliberate attack, arbitrary detention, summary execution, sexual violence and torture, or forced starvation.

This Bill seeks to address this fact head on and focuses on what can be done. In recent years, the Government have made welcome progress, recognising mass atrocity prevention as a new foreign policy priority. That started in 2021, and I pay tribute to the Government for doing that. Following the much-needed inquiry by the International Development Committee on this very issue, a mass atrocity prevention hub was created in Whitehall, tasked with co-ordinating the UK’s approach to these crimes. Here I pause to pay tribute to organisations such as Protection Approaches and the UK atrocity prevention working group, and indeed the institute which I have the fortune of directing, all of which have worked on making changes. Despite the steps forward, it is difficult to see their impact in the inconsistent and insufficient policy responses of government to widespread, systemic and systematic violations.

This Bill’s first purpose would provide a statutory basis to elevate and leverage the important work of the mass atrocity prevention hub. It also includes the monitoring of the steps that take people, and Governments, on a trajectory towards genocide. The hub is forecasting global atrocity risks and making country- specific risk assessments, along with the development of early-warning indicators and policy-making efforts. All of that is good, but it is not being adequately supported, so we press for the changes of the Bill.

The second provision of the Bill addresses and seeks to enshrine the need for senior political leadership and ownership of the UK’s moral and legal obligations to prevent and protect. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is in his place, and he holds ministerial responsibility for UK atrocity prevention. I know he shares my deep concerns about these matters, but I would welcome his thoughts as to what can be done to repair our damaged reputation, as a state that has strayed from the bounds of international law in recent months under this Government.

Thirdly, the Bill addresses the urgent need to support and train embassies and country teams on the dynamics and warning signs of modern atrocities, and the trajectory towards genocide in some cases. The Government have already committed to doing this, but are yet to deliver on it. UK country teams in fragile or violent states have to be properly resourced to embed atrocity prevention thinking and strategy within their policy and programming.

The Bill is ambitious. I make no pretence about the fact that we want to see a growth in accountability for upholding and delivering on this mandate. As your Lordships will see, there is a section in the Bill which requires a Minister to lay an annual report before Parliament. Such a report would enable proper scrutiny of the United Kingdom’s contributions to prevent, protect and punish, and allow us all to advise on their development.

One of the final provisions in the Bill seeks to establish a fund with ring-fenced budget lines that guarantee consistent resourcing for mass atrocity early-warning systems, strategic policy-making and effective implementation.

This is not an expensive set of changes, but I urge them on the Government. The hub that exists is full of really good people doing good work, but it needs to be strengthened. We need proper leadership from politicians and from the Secretary of State. We want to see some real building on this, in the way that has taken place within the State Department in the United States on atrocity crimes and genocide prevention.

It is evident that any meaningful development of a strategic approach to preventing and responding to mass atrocities must bring together senior representatives of government departments—No. 10 itself, the intelligence agencies and multilateral representatives, from the UN to NATO. Atrocity prevention has been a core national security interest for the United States since 2011, supported by a clear atrocity prevention strategy launched in 2022. I knew and was a huge admirer of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, who was very much at the heart of persuading the American State Department to take these steps and to create a hub that was about genocide prevention and atrocity crime prevention.

I hope that there will be support in government for this Bill. I know that the hub exists, but we need to strengthen it and put it on a statutory footing. I beg to move.

13:45
Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and I congratulate her on her work and initiative. The Bill, as I understand it, is an important step forward which would boost His Majesty’s Government’s capabilities to implement their obligations under the genocide convention and is in line with the Government’s duty to prevent genocide.

If the Government are to implement their duty to prevent genocide, they must have comprehensive mechanisms to enable them to monitor early-warning signs and risk factors of atrocities to come. The issue of early-warning signs and risk factors of atrocities to come has been discussed in this House on many occasions. Time after time, we have raised the issue that the Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers—a message that should be ingrained in HMG’s laws and policies on genocide and atrocity crimes. However, sometimes this message is ignored, so I shall repeat it again: the Holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started with hate speech; it started with dehumanising of Jews; it started with policies and laws that discriminated against Jews. It started with attacks on Jews—their places of worship, shops and places of work. It started with impunity for such acts. It started with all these warning signs and risk factors that may have been seen as irrelevant, but they were not—early-warning signs are never irrelevant.

How shocking it is that, today, on Friday 22 March 2024, we see on page 13 of the Daily Mail the following two headlines. The first is, “Jewish Boy mistreated by pro-Palestine nurses on NHS hospital ward in Manchester”. Secondly, next to a picture, is the caption: “Was this terrifying house blaze in east London an anti-Semitic attack?”. I repeat that this was on 22 March 2024.

Let us look at the harm that misinformation can bring about. Sadly, social media and mainstream news outlets, including elements of the UK Government, could be complicit because of the spread of lies about what is happening in Gaza. I shudder to think what Joseph Goebbels would have done with social media.

In this Chamber, I have raised the issue of genocide several times. I did so in relation to the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, with the 30th anniversary coming up on 7 April. Would it not be appropriate if those perpetrators who are living freely in the UK are either tried immediately here or sent back to Rwanda for trial?

I have spoken about the situation of the Uighurs. The atrocities seen in recent years did not start with the forced indoctrination camps for whole populations; they started with narratives presenting the Uighurs as extremists. It started with things such as the Xinjiang regulations and blatant discrimination against members of the community, which flourished without impunity. As the early warning signs of the atrocities against the Uighurs were circulating in international media, we did not have a hub on atrocity crime, but even if we did it would not have had the capacity or resources to conduct the kind of monitoring of early warning signs that would be needed to enable us to prevent them.

All these issues can be rectified once and for all by this Bill. I end by referring to the late, great Lord Sacks. As many noble Lords will know, we will celebrate Purim tomorrow night. Purim was to be the first genocide; the whole Jewish population was to be murdered. In looking for what I wanted to say, I found a “Thought for the Day” on BBC Radio 4 from 22 February 2002 by Jonathan Sacks. If I may, I will share his teachings about Purim with the House:

“It’s a joyous day. We have a festive meal; we send presents to our friends; and gifts to the poor, so that no one should feel excluded. Anyone joining us on Purim would think it commemorates one of the great moments in Jewish history, like the Exodus from slavery or the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Actually though, the truth is quite different. Purim is the day we remember the story told in the book of Esther, set in Persia in pre-Christian times. It tells of how a senior member of the Persian court, Haman, got angry that one man, Mordechai, refused to bow down to him. Discovering that Mordechai was a Jew, he decided to take revenge on all Jews and persuaded the King to issue a decree that they should all—young and old, men, women and children—should be annihilated on a single day”.


That is the day of Purim that we celebrate. He went on:

“Only the fact that Esther, Mordechai’s cousin, was the King’s favourite allowed her to intercede on behalf of her people and defeat the plan. Purim is, in other words, the festival of survival in the face of attempted genocide. It wasn’t until way into adult life that I realised that what we celebrate on Purim is simply the fact that we’re alive; that our ancestors weren’t murdered after all. Like many of my generation born after the Holocaust, I thought antisemitism was dead; that a hate so irrational, so murderous, had finally been laid to rest. So, it has come as a shock”—


this was in 2002—

“To realise in recent months that it’s still strong in many parts of the world, and that even in Britain yesterday a cleric appeared in court charged with distributing a tape calling on his followers to kill Jews. What is it about Jews—or black people, or Roma, or foreigners—that causes them to be hated? The oldest explanation is probably the simplest: because we don’t like the unlike. As Haman”—

the wicked figure in the story—

“put it, ‘Their customs are different from those of other people.’ And that’s why racial or religious hate isn’t just dangerous. It’s a betrayal of the human condition. We are different. Every individual, every culture, every ethnicity, every faith, gives something unique to humanity. Religious and racial diversity are as essential to our world as biodiversity. And therefore, I pray that we have the courage to fight prejudice, of which antisemitism is simply the oldest of them all. Because a world that can’t live with difference is a world that lacks room for humanity itself”.

13:53
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, as we have heard, having ratified the UN convention against genocide, the UK has a treaty obligation to prevent genocide wherever and whenever it is threatened. However, too often this does not happen. It is worth while examining the reasons why and seeking answers.

As it stands, this admirable Bill has only a faint chance of being adopted by the Government. Here, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her unceasing efforts to uphold human rights. The Bill asks for considerable resources, and touches on economic and diplomatic interests of states parties to the convention. It puts forward some clear and doable mechanisms to detect, acknowledge and act upon the early indicators of genocide which are, by now, well researched; it is cost effective, certainly in terms of saving human lives.

It is, to say the least, disingenuous to believe that Governments are unaware of the potential for genocide or the early warning signs. Going back to the Rwanda massacres in April 1994 and Srebrenica in July 1995, there were clear indications. For example, in the case of Rwanda, the widely popular Mille Collines radio station virtually spelt out its genocidal plans in lightly coded messages, including references to the Hutus as “cockroaches”. Furthermore, genocidal tribal attacks had occurred with depressing regularity in that region of Africa. In Srebrenica, the rounding up of 750,000 Muslim men and boys and the sudden departure of the UN forces made massacres inevitable, but events leading up to this terrible development were obvious.

The UK, like many other countries, has been deeply reluctant to act. It is said that the US officials in Rwanda were ordered not to use the term “genocide”, precisely because to do so immediately implied the obligation to act. The UK Government have consistently referred any threat of genocide to the courts to determine the application of the genocide convention. More than anything else, Governments are fearful of stepping out alone, or being seen as stepping out alone, in the absence of strong support from allies and member states.

Perhaps the way forward might include the setting up of, or greater co-ordination between, existing early warning mechanisms and units across Europe and North America. The specific task of these networked systems would be to both monitor signs and issue timely alerts to all participating member states, with a view to concerted action. Difficult as it might be to get countries to agree on such vital actions, a scheme such as this might reduce the paralysing reluctance to declare the risk of genocide and to act according to the obligations of the treaty.

The mechanisms and the tasks of a proposed genocide monitoring team set out in the Bill provide an excellent blueprint for other similar units. The UK human rights community, which has steadfastly pursued the prevention of genocide around the world, is well placed to encourage such an international network and achieve its ultimate aim.

13:57
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on her speech and her tireless efforts in the area. She shines a light and that it is very important. I pay tribute to the Minister, who is also no slouch in this area; I know he makes considerable efforts to do what he can. I hope we are going to hear some very good Foreign Office reasons as to why we are going to take the legislation forward rather than why we are not going to take it forward, and I look forward to his speech.

I hope the Minister can be persuaded that this small but significant piece of legislation—small in length and minimal in cost—will help provide a massive boost to the prevention of atrocities and genocide. It will provide a laser-like focus on the efforts of His Majesty’s Government, which have consistently provided a powerful lead on such matters, as is consistent with our history, our leading international role, our status as a permanent member of the Security Council and as a leading player on the world stage.

In the US, there is a similar provision. In her opening speech, the noble Baroness referred to Elie Wiesel and the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018; that US legislation is very similar to what the noble Baroness is suggesting we have here in the UK.

That legislation has helped identify likely atrocities in a host of countries, working alongside the UK on occasion—for example, in Ukraine and in Myanmar. It has also provided the ability to highlight atrocities in the People’s Republic of China, northern Ethiopia, South Sudan and so on. The United States is committed to promoting respect for human rights and atrocity prevention, and we should be doing the same as a core national interest. Surely we can take up that baton.

My personal interest in this policy area comes from when I was Minister for Faith in what is now the levelling up department. I took an active role in this policy area, for example, in honouring the Holocaust memorial—I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Polak for his powerful speech today—but also later, as president of Remembering Srebrenica. Taking up that role, alongside Dr Waqar Azmi, who provided inspirational leadership in this area—and still does—I recall a seminal visit to Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which demonstrated to me that genocide does not just suddenly happen; its roots are deep. This is important, as is the essence of prevention and getting in early to do something.

I recall the momentous moment I met a doctor who had been a young man at the start of the conflict. Before the conflict, he was to have been a doctor—I suppose like a GP in our own country—working in a quiet rural community called Srebrenica. He looked forward to his new life, an almost idyllic life. Then came the conflict, the war—the genocide—and his life altered. He was called on to do things that a doctor is not normally called on to do, and his life changed. He became a hero when he had wanted a relatively quiet, ordinary life.

I met many other people who talked to me of friendships they had across religion in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina: people they had grown up with, living next door to them, who suddenly disappeared, leaving the flats that they lived in to go and live in another community. They never saw these people again. They had been lifelong friends until this moment, and suddenly this community was split, divided, and what had been perfect harmony led to conflict and genocide—yet these people had been living together in perfect harmony for generations.

It is disappointing that against this background, the Minister cut back funding for Remembering Srebrenica. That is regrettable. We should be encouraging and promoting the Bill. It is in our country’s and the world’s interests that we do something on this. I commend the work that the noble Baroness has done on this and look forward to the Minister wanting to take this forward, to ensure that Britain’s role is highlighted and that we can do something powerful as a leading member of the world community.

14:03
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, before I begin, I offer my great thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for introducing this piece of legislation, which is quite admirable. Given the brickbats that were being directed at her in the last debate, I hope that my words of thanks will offer some help in that moment, and also my word of congratulations on the signal honour she received last week.

I speak in support of this Bill as one deeply scarred by my experience as Britain’s Permanent Representative on the UN Security Council during the periods of the Rwanda and the Srebrenica genocides. The UN—and we, an important participant in that body—failed to do anything effective then to prevent those genocides, although we did set up the tribunals that brought to justice their perpetrators. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for what he has done in recent years to ensure that the horrible experience of Srebrenica is not forgotten. Whatever one says about those two events, we really must do better now.

The Bill before us does not attempt to name any genocides, either those already perpetrated or those at risk of being so. That, in my view, is extremely wise. The term “genocide” is at some risk of being sprayed around indiscriminately, at the cost of being devalued and even discredited. Look only at Russia’s claim of the genocide of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine for an example of that. In debating this Bill, I hope we can avoid citing too many explicit examples and concentrate rather on future prevention, which is what the Bill does in a non-discriminatory way—in all directions, in fact. I hope the Government will feel able to throw their weight behind the Bill.

One possible impediment—the often deployed and long-discredited argument that it is for only courts and not Governments to identify and name genocides—is no longer the obstacle it was. Otherwise, how could the Government—rightly, if belatedly—have decided to join the International Court of Justice case brought by Gambia against Myanmar in respect of the Rohingya Muslims before the court has ruled on the matter? In the case of the Yazidis killed in a genocide by Islamic State, while there is a court ruling, the Government have again—quite rightly, in my view—treated it as genocide, even though the court in question was a German one and not an international court; it was what the Government in a different context might have called a foreign court. Since the Government are no longer as attached as they were to their earlier argument, it would surely be better to systematise the process of reaching a prima facie determination of genocide. That is what the Bill would provide the instruments to achieve.

Britain cannot on its own prevent an act of genocide, of course. It can act only as part of an international collective effort to do so. The Bill, which largely replicates what is already being done by the US and which also could be followed, if we give a lead, by the EU and its member states, would be a significant step in that direction. I hope that, at the end of this debate, we will hear from both the Government and Opposition Front Benches that they will support this effort.

14:07
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hannay has reminded us of the searing experience of the Rwanda genocide and the failure of the international community to act in time. The tribute he paid to the noble Baroness for the recent honour she received was well made. She was made one of 16 members of the Order of the Thistle. I note that its motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit”—no one harms me with impunity. Those words sum up the motives that lie behind this Bill, as it seeks to end the culture of impunity and the lethal harm caused by genocide.

In parenthesis, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for reminding us of the late Lord Sacks. I was privileged once to chair a lecture he gave in Liverpool. During the course of it, he said that no one should ask, “Where was God at Auschwitz?”; they should ask, “Where was man?”. It is about what men and women can do to prevent these atrocities occurring.

The noble Lord, Lord Polak, who comes from Liverpool, cited the experience of Esther at the time of Purim. She is one of the great figures in the Bible. She is told, “You have come into this world for such a time as this”. It reminds us that sometimes unlikely people who have no great power can do extraordinary things. Each of us who has the privilege to serve in this place has the chance to do extraordinary things and to be a sign of contradiction.

As the noble Lord said, the word “genocide” should not be used as a slogan or devalued. It is different from war crimes and crimes against humanity. The duty to prevent genocide is one of the most neglected duties under international law. In 2022, with Dr Ewelina Ochab, who has been mentioned in this debate, I published State Responses to Crimes of Genocide, which the Minister has a copy of. Although I know he welcomes the establishment of the hub on atrocity crimes, I am sure that he will agree that progress is slow. We are still a long way from implementing our obligations set out in Raphael Lemkin’s 1948 convention on the crime of genocide.

On other occasions, I have spoken about the Rohingya, the Yazidis, Armenia, Nigeria and the Uighurs. Today, in my brief few minutes I will focus on three particular cases that underline why a Bill of this kind is needed: Tigray, the Hazaras and Darfur.

In September 2023, the APPG on International Law, Justice and Accountability published its Tigray report. Our inquiry received an unprecedented amount of data, including testimonies from victims and witnesses from Tigray. We found evidence of atrocities, including mass killings, sexual violence, and starvation, which continue to this day and for which no one has been brought to justice. On numerous occasions, I have brought the dire situation of the Tigrayans to the attention of the Government. There are more than 100 references in Hansard, and letters and emails to the FCDO. I asked for a JACS—joint analysis of conflict and stability—assessment. Close to two years after the beginning of the war in Tigray, the Government finally commissioned a JACS for Ethiopia, but they have refused to make it available to Parliament. Why on earth are parliamentarians denied the right to see information that is crucial to our duty to prevent genocide?

Afghanistan’s Hazaras were referred to in our own International Relations and Defence Committee report on Afghanistan in 2021. Later that year, I was approached by Hazara human rights defenders concerned about the lethal targeting of their community. With colleagues, I established the Hazara inquiry. Our report, launched here by me and the noble Baroness, found that Hazaras, as a religious and ethnic minority, are at serious risk of genocide at the hands of the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province. Under the genocide convention and customary international law, this finding should have engaged the responsibility to prevent—but it did not. The return to power of the Taliban has included brutal acts of violence against the Hazaras and a return of terror, including the bombings of Hazara schools, places of worship and other centres—atrocities that continued throughout 2023 and now into 2024. On 18 December 2023 in an Oral Question, I asked whether a JACS report could be initiated, not least because Pakistan had begun mass deportations back to Afghanistan—I have never had a reply.

Finally, I will mention Darfur, which I visited during the genocide 20 years ago. Some 18 months ago, people on the ground warned that a new genocide was likely. In response, all I have received from the FCDO are statements about deadlines for transitional justice being met and that progress was being made. Dissatisfied with those assurances, the APPG on Sudan and South Sudan decided to establish the Darfur inquiry, which I chaired, and we collected evidence from victims, survivors and experts.

In 2023, as the situation in Khartoum deteriorated, we published our Darfur report warning about the very clear early warning signs of atrocities to come and the danger of yet another genocide. These warnings were not listened to and were not acted on. The catastrophic situation in Sudan has led to 9 million displaced people, thousands dead and now an impending famine. In Darfur, the RSF continued the genocide begun by the Janjaweed. Who is being brought to justice or held to account?

The work of monitoring early warning signs cannot be left to parliamentarians and ad hoc inquiries—that is why the Bill is necessary. The FCDO has the capacity and resources needed to do this work well. We have a Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who understands that and works hard on these issues. The prevention of genocide and atrocity crimes is a duty that the noble Baroness’s Bill might ensure is treated with the gravity and urgency it deserves, and I support it.

14:13
Lord Hussain Portrait Lord Hussain (LD)
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My Lords, I support the Bill. I have been able to visit some countries that have been discussed: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Darfur in Sudan and many other areas where there has been evidence of genocide and human losses taking place at a large scale in the past. I have noted many other areas where there are concerns about genocide taking place. Britain is a member of the UN Security Council, which is well placed to help to prevent genocide whenever there are chances of it happening.

One of the areas which I want to draw to the attention of Members is India. Gregory Stanton, chairman of Genocide Watch, who predicted genocide in Rwanda five years before it happened, is calling for the world to take note of genocide in the making in India, and he particularly mentions Kashmir. Genocide does not happen overnight. It is a process over a length of time, and steps are taken when genocide happens. Over the past couple of decades, Kashmir has been the biggest army camp, with nearly 1 million Indian soldiers there since 1990. There are widespread reports from renowned international human rights agencies such as the UN Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and so on, that the Indian Army is involved in killing, rape, torture, missing persons, and so forth.

In 2019, India withdrew the special status that Kashmir had within the Indian constitution. It has taken a lot of rights back from the local people. Since 1990, there have been reports that more than 100,000 people have been killed and there are thousands of people still languishing in prisons. We talk about human rights in other places, and we have human rights champions whom we celebrate who have fought for people’s rights. We have people such as Shabir Shah, who has been in prison for more than 30 years in Kashmir. These are the signs which prove that Gregory Stanton may not be far from the truth in what he is saying. We must take this seriously. Britain is well placed. We have strong links with India and must use them to prevent genocide taking place in Kashmir.

14:17
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, it is pleasure to rise from these Benches to support the Private Member’s Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. It is also something of a relief that the debate on this Private Member’s Bill has been somewhat more consensual than that on the previous Bill, in which I found myself in the unusual position as being on the opposite side from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, which was a slightly uncomfortable position to be in.

This is a Private Member’s Bill to which we have heard no opposition from any part of your Lordships’ House. We heard the Minister’s noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth say that he hopes that the Minister will bring some words of comfort from His Majesty’s Government. I have been in your Lordships’ House for nearly a decade. I have rarely heard from the Government Front Bench words that lead us to think that a Private Member’s Bill is going to be warmly accepted, but on this topic, I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give some positive responses.

Over many years the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, have spent much of their time in your Lordships’ House, in ad hoc committees and in other places arguing that we need to take the crime of genocide seriously, calling on His Majesty’s Government to look at particular cases and acknowledge that they are, or could be considered, genocide. Although the present Bill is not about genocide determination, the House of Lords Library briefing for today reminds noble Lords of the words of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in previous debates.

We have heard many times that the Government are not able to act because the issue of genocide is for courts to determine—yet, as the present Bill and the Library briefing both make clear, under the genocide convention the Government have a duty to prevent genocide. It is not simply that we need to say, “We are not happy with this”; we have a duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, parliamentarians cannot do that—we cannot individually prevent or punish genocide—but His Majesty’s Government and other sovereign Governments are in a much better place, precisely because of their embassies and high commissions, to understand what is going on on the ground. The Bill, which I suggest is not as modest as some Private Members’ Bills—it is very ambitious—would pave the way for the Government to be able to do what the UK needs to do in performing its duties under the convention.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Polak, a reminder that the Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers. The same has been true of other genocides. Something does not happen at the point where hundreds of thousands or millions of people are being killed or potentially fleeing for their lives; there is a much more insidious process. Recently, for our debate for Holocaust Memorial Day, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reminded Members, in a very helpful briefing, of the stages of genocide.

By the time your Lordships’ House talks about genocide, it is usually at a point where we are saying that there already is or has been genocide—in Darfur, of the Uighurs or of the Yazidis. We need to raise issues and find a vehicle for exploring the potential for genocide before it happens—before it is too late. We heard from my noble friend Lord Hussain that His Majesty’s Government need to look at the situation in Kashmir, and maybe the Foreign Secretary, for example, should be talking to his opposite number in New Delhi. We need to be thinking and exploring issues ahead of time, and the Bill gives us and the Government the opportunity to do that.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the situation in Darfur and how he has been told that there is further potential for a new genocide there. If one goes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, one finds that “remember Srebrenica” is not just a slogan; it is an everyday injunction. There is still concern there about Republika Srpska and concern on the ground about the situation. We should never be complacent as a Parliament or as a country.

The Bill offers His Majesty’s Government the opportunity to act, and it would hopefully empower the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to do many of the things from the Front Bench that he has often said he wished he was able to do—but these things were for courts to decide and for other people to do. I am not sure I expect the Minister to accept the Bill as it is enshrined today, but perhaps he could give us some suggestion of the Government bringing forward their own proposals that would have the same purpose as this eminently welcome Private Member’s Bill.

14:24
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend’s Bill introduces mechanisms to ensure that the United Kingdom’s Government are better equipped to prevent and respond to genocide and other atrocities. It is a welcome piece of legislation. My noble friend highlighted that the problem with the current generic responsibility across all embassies of examining where genocide might be in the offing is that it often results in a situation where, when everyone is doing it, no one is doing it. That is clearly a problem.

The solution in the Bill is absolutely vital. It is to put on a statutory footing this special hub within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which will monitor and evaluate processes and keep in touch with developments taking place and research being done. As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, highlighted, we have seen what the US has done in putting its legislation on a statutory footing within the Department of State.

We should not forget, as I am sure the Minister will say, that the UK has a positive record of contributing to international efforts to gather evidence of alleged genocide and war crimes. This includes the example of the ICJ case of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar. More recently, it includes Russia’s conduct during its invasion of Ukraine, and the ongoing case at the ICC. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to give us an insight into what kind of staff resource is required for this work and what kind of processes are in place to ensure international co-operation in a manner that builds capacity and avoids unnecessary duplication.

We welcome the proposal to put the responsible team on a statutory footing, whether it is the existing mass atrocity prevention hub or another team, to come up with recommendations for enhancing the Government’s work to mitigate atrocity and genocide risks. I certainly agree with my noble friend that three staff working in the atrocity prevention hub seems too few.

We share the Government’s view that determinations of genocide must result from a legal rather than a political process—this has been touched upon slightly. That does not mean that we shy away from saying that matters need to be investigated if there is sufficient evidence to require an investigation, but we certainly agree that determinations of genocide must result from a legal rather than a political process. This morning, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, kindly sent me the letter he received from Minister Mitchell, setting out a number of the jurisdictions where the British Government have responded to those determinations. I will not read them out today.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, there are clearly a number of steps to be taken before those cases are brought. That is why I referenced the efforts of the Government and previous Governments to collate the evidence and make sure that it is not lost, because, sadly, far too often in these terrible cases, the evidence is got rid of. I hope that the Minister can give us a better idea about who decides—whether at the FCDO or in individual embassies across the world—which allegations to investigate, how much resource is devoted to evidence gathering, what domestic or international legal cases the UK becomes a party to and at which stage it might do so. Obviously, we have had discussions in the Chamber about that.

My noble friend raised current events in Gaza, which clearly continue to cause grave concern. We are clear about the need to avoid a Rafah offensive, and instead to secure an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. I know what efforts we have taken at the United Nations; I hope the Minister can give us an up-to-date report. We discussed this week that Gaza is on the brink of famine, and I have repeatedly stressed that Israel must comply with the ICJ’s interim measures. I hope the Minister can provide us with an update on the status of the negotiations that we know are carrying on at the moment.

We have also made reference during the debate to reports by UN bodies and others that suggest very clearly that China has serious questions to answer about the treatment of the Uighurs. Again, I hope that the Minister can respond positively on that.

As to the proposal to have a Minister with the responsibilities set out in the Bill, clearly we need to look at how these very serious matters are overseen in government, at whether and how there is parliamentary accountability for the work of the FCDO’s unit and the UK embassies, and at whether the current set-up is the appropriate model.

We cannot prevent every atrocity or genocide, but, as has been made clear in this debate, we absolutely must do more to mitigate atrocity and genocide risks around the world, and to integrate this work into our foreign policy, making it a clear priority. We certainly welcome the Bill’s focus on better monitoring risks in a way that joins up our country presences with Whitehall-based expertise.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted, the Government’s approach in Sudan shows, frankly, how badly prepared we were. We failed to listen to civil society groups warning us about the risk of impending violence. We know that the Government put too much focus on bargaining with elites who had little interest in stepping back from power. If we had done the long-term work of supporting inclusive peacebuilding in Sudan, Sudanese civil society might now be in a stronger position to take part in the transition negotiations that we are all hoping for. We must learn from our mistakes. We certainly welcome the Government’s decision to support the work of the ICC and the UN OHCHR in investigating and documenting the atrocities taking place in Sudan, and their support for the Centre for Information Resilience.

Labour has consistently called for attention and action on these atrocities, and will continue to highlight the need for further and better co-ordinated action on this crisis. Our sanctions against those fuelling the violence in Sudan have not gone far enough and came too slowly. I hope the Minister will agree that we must do more to hold those actors responsible for these atrocities to account.

We are also concerned that the Integrated Security Fund, formerly the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which has a domestic and international remit, could see the important work of mitigating atrocity risks abroad deprioritised. I hope the Minister can offer some reassurance in this regard.

I hope I have made clear in my response to this debate that I think the Minister and I have been at one in wanting to ensure that we prioritise this work, and that we take seriously the measures highlighted by my noble friend. We have to work together to make sure we can deliver on it.

14:34
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for tabling this Bill. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who talked of the incredible work that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, do in this area, and have done over many years. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that a fair bit of that is done in my office, with both the noble Baroness and noble Lord ever-present. I am sure they both recognise the deep affection that I have for both of them in the challenge that they provide—but it is not just a challenge. As we see from the tabling of this Bill, it is also about making practical suggestions on how we can move forward.

I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I think there are many across your Lordships’ House who genuinely put the importance of human rights at the heart of their work, in our diplomacy and development activities. That is an important attribute to continue. I shall be honest in saying that it is a challenge, particularly when we look at the global world as it is today, but we should not give up this important flame of hope and humanity.

In thanking the noble Baroness, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. My noble friend Lord Polak struck a very poignant note about Purim, and the history behind it. I totally appreciate and associate myself with the important principle of survival. It is something to celebrate. Anyone who has met a survivor of an atrocity, as I have had the honour to do in meeting survivors of sexual violence in conflict—as I know other noble Lords have—gains incredible inspiration from their courage not just to survive the most atrocious of ordeals but to have the courage and conviction and become advocates on how change can be effected.

My noble friend Lord Polak was described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, as being from Liverpool. The only claim I can make is that I am a Liverpool fan, although after last weekend’s events I am feeling rather sore, so we will park that one there.

This is a very important debate. The UK Government remain absolutely committed to preventing and responding to genocide and other atrocities taking place around the world. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we should be learning, and that experience is important. While we are doing work, there is so much more to be done.

My noble friend Lord Bourne talked about Srebrenica, and paid tribute to many—apart from himself. Let me put on record the important work that he did when he was the Minister responsible for communities and faith, particularly in relation to the shocking events that took place in Srebrenica—again, on the lack of intervention and prevention. For anyone who has been to Srebrenica, or to Auschwitz-Birkenau, as I have, the chilling effect of what you see remains with you and, I think, strengthens your own conviction in these areas. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about Rwanda. Again, anyone who goes to the memorial in Kigali cannot but be moved by the thousands and thousands of lives that were taken at that time, and have a real conviction to prevent that happening again.

The provisions of this Bill are highly commendable, and many of them are very much aligned with the activities of the Government that we are planning or which are already in place. I agree that we need to be very focused. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, rightly said that there was great care in the Bill being put forward and many doable mechanisms, as she described them. I say at the outset that, in this instance, I would be delighted to meet the noble Baroness to discuss what the UK is currently doing to prevent atrocities and look at the specific provisions of the Bill to see how they can best be taken forward.

I also miss Lord Sacks. Anyone who met him could not but be inspired by his example. Perhaps when we look across the world, and particularly at the Middle East, we are reminded that his engagement and involvement are very much missed at this important time.

The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, said that atrocities do not happen overnight. I give him a reassurance that our relationship with India is such—it is strong and one of friendship—that it allows us, both ways, to bridge issues of importance, as I did recently with Home Secretary Bhalla on the issue of human rights in India. We will continue to do this in a candid, constructive way.

With the challenging outlook we currently face, with conflicts and crises continuing and worsening, my noble friends and all noble Lords will recognise the need for prioritisation and making the best use of resources. So I say from the outset that the Government agree with many of the provisions of the Bill—the question is how best to take them forward. I was scribbling during the debate and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was right to say that, while I cannot give it total endorsement and agreement, I want to very much examine the provisions of the Elie Wiesel Act to see how we can best adapt. I am going to be very up front in saying that there are issues of training and cost within the provisions of the Bill that need to be considered: those are two of the main considerations for the Government.

For example, the Bill proposes to establish a genocide monitoring team. We recognise, as all noble Lords have said, that robust early warning and monitoring mechanisms and early response are key to preventing atrocities. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded us that we cannot stop every atrocity, but we can certainly look to see how we can focus on mitigation. That is why the FCDO has integrated risk analysis into global horizon scanning. We are continuously looking to improve our forecasting capabilities through forging new partnerships and harnessing innovative, data-driven approaches.

The Bill would also provide for training for civil servants. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about the sometimes disjointed nature of this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness when she introduced the Bill. We have got better at the FCDO and it is certainly my intention, as the Minister responsible, to ensure that any diplomats deployed into defined conflict zones are fully versed in the importance of the training they receive. But again, as a way of moving forward constructively, I am very keen to understand how we can strengthen that training. This is an open invitation to the noble Baroness and others to see how we can integrate more professionalised training and more insights that are country-specific, to enhance the training that our civil servants and those being deployed into conflict zones receive, and to ensure that it is tailored to the country in question.

The enhanced offer that we are developing will also enable staff to recognise the very early warning systems that my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about, and understand the levers available when preventing and responding to atrocities, recognising that there is still more to do—I fully recognise that. We need to build further capacity and we intend to explore further training options, both internally and with external experts, as I have said, to ensure that not just diplomats but our most senior officials, who are the key decision-makers and provide advice directly to Ministers, are also versed in this. We will continue to learn from experience.

The Bill also calls for the Government to report to Parliament on atrocity risks. All noble Lords present know that, at times, information can be highly sensitive. That said, we have, based on the contributions I have heard and the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others, defined within our Human Rights and Democracy Report a specific element on atrocity prevention and human rights. It has been expanded to now include the responsibility to protect. Again, I encourage suggestions and recommendations on how we can improve that further, with that ambition.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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I apologise for interrupting, but I asked the noble Lord specifically about the joint assessments on conflict and stability which the Foreign Office undertakes. Why can they not be shared with parliamentarians? Even if it cannot be right across the piece in both Houses, why not to the relevant Select Committees, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of another place and our International Relations and Defence Select Committee? JACS assessments are crucial in recognising what signs are emerging.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Again, I will take that back. The noble Lord and I have had discussions on that. Previous answers we provided related to the sensitivity of that information, but I will certainly take back the practical suggestion he makes on particular committees to the FCDO to see whether there is more we can do in that area.

The outstanding provisions would also appoint a Minister for genocide prevention and response. I like that idea, specifically as it is described, rather than encompassed within my current role as Human Rights Minister. That is something to be thought through again in the discussion that I hope I will be able to have with the noble Baroness. This is very much cross-government. I have been discussing with officials—in preparation not just for this debate but generally on the issue—how to make it cross-government. The Ministry of Justice, for example, would have a key role. We have worked well together in this respect.

With my experience as the Minister for Human Rights and as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, I assure your Lordships’ House that preventing and responding to atrocity remains a priority for me and for the Government. Prompted by this Bill, we will also look at how we can make that specific element, as suggested by the noble Baroness’s Bill, a key ministerial responsibility.

On the provision of funds, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others, this is always a challenge for government. There are provisions in the Bill on this which are probably my key reservation—if I can put it that way—and would need to be considered. However, it is my clear view that we need to ensure that by addressing the prevention element, we will have a medium- to long-term impact on the costs of dealing with the end product of these awful, abhorrent atrocities.

A number of noble Lords made points about our embassies and high commissions across the globe. I can assure the House that—based on some of the central initiatives that we are taking—they have been implementing programmes to target the risk factors that can lead to atrocities, as well as to strengthen reporting and improve accountability mechanisms. These will be a critical part of our commitment to atrocity prevention.

On specific actions, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for recognising the work that we are doing with the ICC. UK funding amounting to £6.2 million since the invasion of Ukraine has helped to train more than 100 judges and deploy 30,000 forensic medical kits for police officers. In respect of this shocking and illegal invasion, the core group that we are part of to ensure criminal accountability for Russia’s aggression is also adding to the mechanisms that we are putting in place, not for after the conflict but during it, to deal with this.

On Myanmar, as has been recognised, we have now joined with Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The UK has also filed a declaration of intervention at the International Court of Justice in Gambia’s case against Myanmar. The UK is clear that there must be accountability for atrocities committed. Again, we have put money behind this, providing over £600,000 to the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. We have also established Myanmar Witness, a programme to collect and preserve evidence of human rights violations for future prosecutions. The culture of impunity in Myanmar must end. I have seen this directly during my visits to meet survivors of those atrocities in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

The Sudan was mentioned, most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Atrocity prevention is one of the key pillars of our Sudan strategy. We have enhanced our atrocity risk monitoring work in Sudan, including on conflict-related sexual violence. Our work with open-source investigations—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about civil society in this regard—continues to play a vital role in amplifying the voices of victims and survivors. Again, however, I accept that we need to do more.

We are supporting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sudan in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations. As part of these actions, marking one year since the start of the current conflict, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Development and Africa will be visiting the region shortly.

I am conscious of time. China was also raised. In this regard, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, will know of the long-standing work that has been done. The OHCHR’s assessment found possible crimes against humanity. We should take robust action. As noble Lords will know, the UK has led international efforts to hold China to account for its human rights violations in Xinjiang. Indeed, we were the first country to lead the joint statement on China’s human rights in Xinjiang at the UN. We continued to advocate during the recent UPR in January as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked for an update on the situation in Gaza. I assure the House that our priorities remain that the fighting must stop now. This is the only way that we will get the return of the hostages. I met the families of the hostages again this week, as did the Foreign Secretary. Irrespective of their view on this conflict, no one can fail to be moved by the devastating nature of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

The latest update is that there has been a lot of diplomacy. Secretary Blinken has embarked on a tour of the Middle East, partly in conjunction and in parallel with UN Security Council resolutions. As I came into this Chamber, a lot of work had been done overnight to get countries in the right place. Unfortunately, the resolution by the United States calling for an immediate ceasefire was vetoed by Russia and China. We must continue to find a way to get agreement in this space. Noble Lords will be aware of Secretary Blinken being in Cairo. He is in Israel today. I will be travelling to Egypt next week as part of our continuing diplomatic efforts not only to bring an end to the immediate conflict but for a resolution based on peace, justice and equity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. All noble Lords have expressed views on the importance of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine side by side in peace and justice.

In thanking the noble Baroness, I have not given a ringing endorsement—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, I think the Minister is coming to an end, but I just wanted to raise one point that he has not covered. He covered extremely fully the ground which has been covered by the noble Baroness in her Bill, but I heard nothing about making an annual or regular report to Parliament specifically about genocide and the risk of genocide. It is quite important. The FCDO does an annual report on human rights, but it is all too easy for things to become somewhat fuzzy in such a report as to whether what you are talking about are the many breaches of human rights or specifically a precursor to, or a risk of, genocide.

Some countries will be shameless, but if the Foreign Office produced a report about the risk of genocide and the precursors, some countries would do an awful lot not to get into it. I think the FCDO would find that report quite a useful tool.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his prompt. Two lines down I was going to address that issue as my penultimate comment, but I will take it now.

I mentioned the human rights report. I have asked officials to see what our options are to cover the aspects that the noble Lord highlights—for example, a quarterly statement or a WMS. I cannot give a definitive answer because those options are being worked up. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that it will be helpful to have this level of engagement to ensure that we get something which is acceptable and the right product for Parliament to allow for the analysis that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has once again highlighted.

I hope that in the qualified support for the provisions of the Bill the noble Baroness recognises that we respect and appreciate her constant advocacy on these important issues. As she rightly acknowledged, there is support for many of the principles within this Private Member’s Bill. It is ambitious, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, but the Government believe in the priorities stated in the Bill. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated today. The UK is working with other partners in preventing and responding to human rights violations and atrocity risk. I look forward to listening to, learning from and working with noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House to further strengthen our aspirations and our delivery on these important issues and mitigations. If I was to provide a sense of where I am on this, whenever I talk to anyone, I say that we must put humanity at the heart of our policy-making.

14:54
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for such a comprehensive response to the Bill and for being generally supportive to it. I know that, when it comes to Private Members’ Bills, there is a reticence about wholehearted support, but I feel that he has dealt with so many of the issues that are of concern here. Again, I pay tribute to the way in which the Minister has such a complete and deep understanding of these issues. He is a great champion of human rights and his command of his brief is exemplary. Our shadow Foreign Minister does a pretty good job as well, in that he too is so knowledgeable about all these issues, and I pay tribute to my noble friend for all that he does and advances in relation to human rights.

I am always in awe of this House when it comes to discussions on these issues of genocide, atrocity crimes and human rights globally. There are so many voices of people with such great and deep experience; I always come away having learned things. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, whose many years of experience enrich this House in what he can contribute. My dear friend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the voice of a great conscience in this House about the horrors that take place in our world. His advocacy for steps to be taken in relation to genocide have been without comparison.

All the people who have spoken today, including the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Bourne, are those whose experience—here and in other debates, too—has always left me with a strong sense that, by coming together, we can make a difference. We could reclaim our position as the nation that has the loudest and clearest voice when it comes to the rule of law and respect for human rights. I want that to be reclaimed, as we have gone through a rather low period recently with regard to our commitment to international law. This is really important. Britain is respected around the world and, with leadership, we can make an enormous difference.

I felt the general sense about the Bill was that putting this on a statutory footing has support. I think it would have support in our political parties, so I am going to press on with it because it is so important. One thing that was mentioned repeatedly was that whole business of the logjam that there was about genocide—of always saying that it is a matter for courts and not for Parliaments to decide whether a genocide is happening. One of the refrains which people must become tired with is that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and myself in saying that it is not about waiting until a genocide happens; it is about what has to be done to prevent genocide, which is so embedded in the genocide convention.

The noble Lord, Lord Polak, described so well, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, the way in which atrocity crimes start with lesser horrors and then rise in the significance and then the gravity of what takes place. That takes us along the road of atrocity crime on a trajectory that goes towards genocide, and a full understanding of that within our embassies and those who assess our security internationally is so important.

It was great to see a hub on atrocity crimes created within the Foreign Office, and they are wonderful people, but it is not properly resourced and it is beleaguered in the efforts it has to make. I know there is great pride in the standards of our diplomats, but it is not enough for us to say that every diplomat has his eye on this ball; there are too many other things to consider. I reinforce what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Collins: that because everyone has responsibility for this, sometimes nobody has responsibility for it. That is why it is so important that the hub is looking; not only should it deal with atrocity crimes but genocide should be named on it as part of its remit.

I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, because I see that she is at the Bar. She has been one of my heroines in her great advocacy for human rights over many years, and having her participate in the debate today was so important to me.

Members on all Benches, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, were in support of this Bill. I know that a Bill will follow from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, where he will seek to create a way in which it could be a court of law that helps us decide whether a genocide is in the offing and for it to be evidentially based.

I am grateful to the Minister for all that he has said about the things that can be taken out of the Bill. I hope that he might at some point be able to persuade his colleagues in the Foreign Office that it would be an advantage to have this legislation and that it would be strengthened by having the hub and this work placed on a statutory basis. I was very interested in his acceptance of many of the suggestions made in the Bill, and I hope to take up his invitation to go and see him.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 3.02 pm.

Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

Order of Commitment discharged
Monday 29th April 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Order of Commitment
15:20
Moved by
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
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That the order of commitment be discharged.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or indeed to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

3rd reading
Friday 17th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Third Reading
10:06
Motion
Moved by
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I would like the opportunity, with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to speak briefly to the purpose of this Bill and the stage we have now reached. Noble Lords will remember that the Bill came into being because of the horrifying global events we have all witnessed over recent years. The levels of violence and degradation are not new, but we thought that the experience of the Holocaust had taught the world lessons that might have enabled early intervention, possible diversion and maybe even prevention.

Genocides do not come from nowhere. They are invariably preceded by terrible atrocity crimes, and even before that there is a long trajectory. The whole point of this Bill is that, in retrospect, we should be responding to early displays of hostility, land grabs and the many different ways in which there are red flags as to trouble ahead. The Holocaust did not start with concentration camps. It started with evictions, sackings, trumped-up prosecutions, assaults by extremist thugs, humiliations and so on—for example, the whole business of cleaning streets with toothbrushes.

The events which led to this Bill were the horrors of what happened to the Yazidis under ISIS: the enslavement of so many women; the slaughtering of men and boys. Similar horrible atrocities happened to the Rohingya, with killings and rapes in Myanmar. There is also the case of the Uighurs in China. There are the horrors of what happened, and is still happening, in Sudan in Darfur. We hear, of course, the language of genocide being discussed by Ukrainians about their current experience, and in the Middle East by both sides who perceive existential threat.

The Bill is designed to strengthen a very small atrocity unit created 18 months ago in the Foreign Office. It consists of three people, working on identifying and working around atrocity crimes. We need to strengthen this work going forward, and that is the purpose of the Bill.

The Bill has five key elements. First, it establishes that we monitor closely, as the Elie Wiesel Act does in the United States of America, the red flags of potential genocides. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, promoted that. Secondly, it establishes that a Commons Minister will respond to genocide prevention issues, have that as part of their remit and be directly responsible and accountable in Parliament. Thirdly, it establishes training for people entering the Foreign Office—good, extensive training that will continue at different stages of people’s careers, particularly in respect of the hotspots where such things might happen. Fourthly, it establishes that that Minister will report regularly to Parliament. Fifthly, it establishes a small fund to assist particular victims. That would not deal with this issue to a large extent, but it would, for example, help some of the women who fled enslavement and were unable to return to their homes in northern Iraq to re-establish their lives elsewhere.

That is the nature of this Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who met with me, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and another colleague. The Minister gave a very positive response to the Bill. It is very important in the next months and years that we have a much more effective team working on this, specifically within the Foreign Office. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the comments of my noble friend and thank everyone who has engaged on this. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said at Second Reading that many elements of the Bill were commendable and aligned with the Government’s own activities. I hope that, following the meeting my noble friend had with others, the noble Lord will also meet with me to look at how we can progress these things strongly. I welcome the comments and what the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has said.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Alton—who is not in his place—and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for a constructive meeting recently. The Bill has been an extremely important tool to bring focus to this important issue of atrocity prevention. As I have reminded the noble Baroness a number of times, I am the Minister responsible for this, but I work alongside other colleagues in this respect.

As I have said, there are many elements within the Bill that we are already undertaking and have committed to take forward. It proposes to establish a “genocide monitoring team”—we agree with that, and a dedicated unit is following this issue directly at the FCDO. Following the meeting we had with noble Lords earlier this week, I have asked officials directly to schedule a private briefing on how we compile, for example, the sharing of areas around early warning systems.

The Bill would provide for training for civil servants; again, it has been a useful tool for focusing on that issue. As I outlined to noble Lords, both at Second Reading and during the meeting, we have already invested in diplomats who have benefited from atrocity-prevention training. I am exploring options for making atrocity prevention training a requirement in the training provided directly to diplomats prior to their being deployed to conflict zones or areas with a high risk of atrocities. I recognise that there is more to do on building capacity, but, as I said, we do not believe in the primary legislation route here; much is already being done.

The Bill calls for the Government to report to Parliament. We have the human rights report, but we are also looking to see how we can be more specific on the elements raised in the Bill.

As ever, I am grateful to all noble Lords who participated in the important debates on the Bill. We are all at one on trying to prevent atrocities. Sadly, and tragically, we are not succeeding in that objective around the world today. But this means that we need to be more focused. As the Minister with responsibility for such matters, I assure all noble Lords that we at the FCDO are very seized of this.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I meet regularly to discuss a raft of issues, and I say to him that I am keen to ensure that this becomes embedded in FCDO policy. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others who have once again drawn attention to this important issue. I look forward to working with noble Lords across the House on strengthening our atrocity prevention response.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.