UK Government must recognise genocide in Syria and Iraq

A LEADING Catholic charity has called on the UK Parliament to support a motion calling on the Government to state that Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups in the Middle East are facing genocide. 

Aid to the Church in Need – which is working closely with Church partners in the region – is asking members of the House of Commons to recognise that the ongoing attacks amount to genocide as defined by international law. 

The charity’s UK National Director Neville Kyrke-Smith said: “We strongly urge the Government to put its support behind this important vote – and ask our supporters to contact their MPs to encourage them to vote for the motion.” 

The motion being put forward Wednesday (20th April) is: “That this House believes that Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to make an immediate referral to the United Nations Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.” 

Crossbench peer and ACN UK trustee Lord Alton said: “No one who has heard of the crucifixions, beheadings and torture of children, and mass graves could doubt that genocide is the right word to use. “Words matter but so do deeds. Once a genocide has been named a whole series of actions must follow.” 

Lord Alton, whose amendment to get the genocide recognised in the Lords last month was narrowly defeated, added: “There is abundant evidence that a genocide is underway and Parliament must recognise it in the name of justice and solidarity with our fellow Christians and others who have been targeted. “It is vitally important to persuade MPs to honour Britain’s commitments as a signatory to the Genocide Convention – the duty to prevent, punish and protect.” 

During project trips to the Middle East Aid to the Church in Need has obtained first-hand evidence of attempts to destroy parts of the Christian community. ACN’s John Pontifex, who visited Syria in February this year, described meeting those who had suffered at the hands of Daesh. Among those he met were Christian families who had fled Qaryatyn, Syria when it was seized by the extremist group. The town was only freed from Daesh on 3rd April 2016. 

According to reports, 21 Christians were killed during the occupation, either for making a bid for freedom or for breaking their “dhimmi contracts”, which forced them to submit to aspects of Shari‘a law. Mr Pontifex said: “In Syria I visited the churches that have been torn down, I walked round the ancient Christian quarters where all the faithful had been driven out. 

“I am sure Mr Cameron would not hesitate to call this genocide if, like me, he had met the young Syrian Christian father of five who was kidnapped, told to convert at gunpoint and who watched helpless as icons were smashed on the ground in front of his face.” 

According to Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. 

This includes not only killing members of the group, but “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. 

By John Newton

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