This morning in Parliament Fiona spoke in a debate on the humanitarian situation in Tigray.
Fiona's full speech can be read below.
"Thank you for calling me, Mr Davies. I declare my interest as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Eritrea. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) not only for securing the debate today and her graphic speech, but for chairing the pre-briefing, which the APPG on Eritrea co-hosted yesterday.
We must do all that we can to fulfil our international obligations to prevent mass atrocities of the nature occurring in Tigray. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports on worrying indications that atrocity crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible genocide—may have occurred and could still be under way in Tigray. In the words of a priest from the Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat, interviewed at the height of the occupation,
“They want to annihilate Tigray. By killing the men and boys, they are trying to destroy any future resistance…They are raping and destroying women to ensure that they cannot raise a community in the future. They are using rape and food as weapons of war.”
By June 2021, researchers at Belgium’s University of Ghent had documented 10,000 deaths and 230 massacres, with many more incidents yet to be fully investigated. No one, anywhere, should be targeted on account of their religion or beliefs, yet in Tigray clergy and worshippers have been targeted and killed in large numbers.
According to a statement in February from the employees of Mekelle diocese and the administrators of 45 monasteries and churches, almost every monastery and church and religious school in Tigray has been bombed by drones or heavy weapons.
“A lot of clergymen, deacons, congregation members of Sunday schools, religious students and children, especially those clergymen who were on religious service, were massacred like animals.”
The indiscriminate bombing and destruction of ancient churches, mosques and other religious institutions, and the extensive looting of irreplaceable historical artefacts and manuscripts, appear to be part of a multifaceted campaign that involves cultural cleansing. Not only do those actions violate international humanitarian law but, according to the Rome statute, intentionally directing attacks against religious buildings and historic monuments can also constitute a war crime.
In 2019, the Government published a good policy paper, “UK approach to preventing mass atrocities”. In places such as Tigray now we need to see actions to match the strong words from that document, such as:
“The UK supports the deployment of all appropriate tools available to the UN in dealing with potential atrocities and conflict such as sanctions (diplomatic, travel bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes, and commodity interdiction), and is a strong advocate for securing accountability and justice for atrocities committed.”
“Development/programmatic support aims to foster environments where atrocities are less likely to take place—by addressing the root causes of conflict and drivers of instability, through tackling corruption, promoting good governance, improving access to security and justice, and inclusive economic development.”
I hope that in his closing remarks the Minister will elaborate on how those words are being applied now to the UK’s approach to the conflict in Tigray and the wider region, not least to help de-escalate tensions.
I also note the recommendation of the Select Committee on International Development for atrocity prevention training. In addition, the Truro review, a manifesto commitment of this Government, states at recommendation 7:
“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. Recognising that the ultimate determination of genocide must be legal not political and respecting the UK’s long-held policy in this area, the FCO should nonetheless determine its policy in accordance with the legal framework and should be willing to make public statements condemning such atrocities.”
Colleagues can be assured that, as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, I am working closely—indeed, daily—with the FCDO in order to ensure that we implement this and all 22 recommendations of the Truro review in full by their required completion date of July 2022.