Fiona speaks on 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention

Fiona spoke at an event in Speaker's House on 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention on 27th November. Fiona said:

"It is my privilege on behalf of myself and my co-sponsor of this event, Lord Alton, to welcome you here today

To an event at which we mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention

This Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide codified genocide as a crime under International Law and was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948.

Yet today, 70 years on, there are still many questions to ask and concerns to be raised about its implementation, hence this event today.

An event at which we will be privileged to hear from several expert and eminent speakers, who will be introduced to you shortly to you by Ewelina Ochab, a legal researcher and international human rights advocate, (all too often, Parliamentarians receive plaudits when in fact we could not even begin to do our job without the work of people like Ewelina), and so I am pleased to have this opportunity to publicly express my thanks to Ewelina today. She is an invaluable source of reliable briefings for Parliamentarians, and shows indefatigable energy and intellectual application for the cause of the persecuted – as demonstrated in her book ‘Never Again’, which I highly recommend as providing a coherent and comprehensive guide to the law on genocide, marshalling evidence, and making a case for the importance of the international community recognising this evil for what it is, for the need to bring such slaughters, happening even today, to an end, and for holding perpetrators to account. Thank you Ewelina for putting together today’s event, together with the co-sponsoring organisations, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, and Yazda.

I would also like to thank the Speaker of the House for his generosity in hosting us this afternoon. His interest in topics such as freedom of religion or belief and genocide have been consistent over many years. I also thank him for agreeing to our request to mark Red Wednesday tomorrow, 28th November, by illuminating the exterior of the Houses of Parliament building red, to highlight concerns about those who do not experience freedom of faith or belief across the world.

It is also, on this occasion, in these prestigious surroundings of Speaker’s House, in the building of the UK Parliament, right and proper that we recognise the tireless, wholehearted and courageous work that my co-host, Lord Alton has done on behalf of persecuted minorities across the world, of all faiths and none. And might I add, this work, over decades, in both houses, hasn’t been only when such issues are fashionable, but often when his voice was the only voice. Lord Alton, can I express my appreciation to you for inspiring so many Parliamentarians to engage on these issues. In doing so, I echo the appreciation of my colleague MP for Stafford, Jeremy Lefroy, who said exactly that only this morning when he indicated that he was inspired by you, as I was, as a student, long before entering this place.

To our Speakers, we very much appreciate you giving your time and expertise in what are, I know, very busy diaries. We hope that your remarks today will be transformed into working groups, and action.

And action is needed, both by our Government and the wider international community, as was stated only this morning in a debate in the House of Commons highlighting the unfolding atrocities in northern and central Nigeria, declared as genocide by the Nigerian House of Representatives in July this year, and by General Danjuma, former head of the Nigerian Armed Forces, when he can to meet UK Parliamentarians earlier this year.

This was highlighted in the excellent report published this month by Baroness Cox and her organisation HART, entitled Hidden Atrocities: The escalating persecution and displacement of Christians in northern and central Nigeria, states ‘this situation fulfils the criteria of genocide and should be recognised as such, with the responsibility of the international community to respond accordingly.’ It was also underlined in Aid to the Church in Need’s latest report, Religious Freedom in the World, published last week, which I also recommend.

There can be no doubt that major issues such as these remain unresolved when we scan the international community’s consistent failures to implement the Genocide Convention over many years.

Governments have often rendered the paper the convention is written on worthless, through consistent failure to name genocides when they happen. In the case of Daesh and their persecution of millions in the Middle East, it couldn’t have been clearer. They themselves told us through every available media channel that what they intended was to destroy people, cultures and minority ways of living. In that case, a self-defined genocide, the UK government still refused to call the crimes committed by their name. I am thankful that in response, so many colleagues responded to my invitation to unambiguously name that genocide in the House of Commons.

Since then, Lord Alton tabled his Private Members Bill, The Genocide Determination Bill, in the House of Lords, which it was my privilege also to present in the House of Commons. This Bill aims at bypassing the lack of political will regarding genocidal atrocities. It invites competent courts to determine such activities. This is especially relevant in the UK, as the UK government has, quite wrongly, has relied on the excuse that only a competent international court can declare a genocide. We disagree.

Meanwhile, we see an International Criminal Court that is not given the mandate to investigate when it is urgently needed. Because of these consistent failures, the very existence and purpose of such a court is being called into question, especially while the USA questions its legitimacy. And now we see renewed calls for ad-hoc tribunals that bypass the ICC altogether.

Lastly, and in some ways most importantly, we have seen important evidence destroyed or lost because investigations into genocidal activities are delayed, often for years after which they need to happen. The recent UN Security Council Resolution on investigating Daesh in Iraq is a case in point. The resolution appeared years after the conflict began, and now, many months after being ratified, it is yet to begin its important work. Only long-term structural commitment by national states and civil society, to resource and develop evidence collection systems can solve this.

I do hope our discussion today can consider these essential points and invite Parliamentary colleagues here to join Lord Alton, Baroness Cox, and myself to challenge our Government to do so – and to act accordingly."