The House

State Responses to Crimes of Genocide What Went Wrong and How to Change It

Setting out a roll call of shame, Lord Alton and Ewelina Ochab’s important new book details what concrete steps government­s must undertake in order to prevent future genocides By Ewelina U Ochab and David Alton Publisher Palgrave Macmillan


“Liz Truss, then foreign secretary, promised to reform the UK genocide responses”

“Never again!”… “Never again!”… I’ve lost count of the number of times, particular­ly in my role as SNP spokespers­on on internatio­nal human rights, I have heard a foreign secretary or minister make that earnest and heartfelt declaratio­n when referencin­g a past genocide or commenting on an ongoing atrocity.

And while never doubting their personal sincerity in condemning these appalling human rights abuses and genocide, I have come to learn that when a government minister says, “Never again!” what they are actually saying is that they hope a genocide won’t happen, but they will not take any meaningful steps to ensure that such atrocities never happen again.

Hope, however, is no substitute for a clear and comprehens­ive strategy – one that this government is still lacking.

In their important new book, State Responses to Crimes of Genocide, Dr Ewelina Ochab and Lord Alton accuse the United Kingdom government – and most of the internatio­nal community – of ignoring their legal obligation to prevent genocide occurring, and where it does occur, to then bring the perpetrato­rs to justice.

Even the contents pages of this book read like a roll call of shame for government­s around the world, with chapters devoted to the Uyghurs, the Rohingya Muslims and the Yazidis – and the chilling parallels between what Alton witnessed 20 years ago in Darfur and what could be unfolding in Nigeria today. The authors give a clear warning that if we continue to turn a blind eye to what we know is happening – and pursue the politicall­y convenient but morally bankrupt policy of inaction and impunity – we will see more cases of genocide in the future.

In my capacity as chair of the All-Party Parliament­ary Group on the Yazidis, I have continuall­y raised the plight of the Yazidi people at the hands of Islamic State, and I have been astonished at the lack of action in supporting a community that has, even by the narrow definition of the word, been victims of genocide.

In the case of the Yazidi genocide, Ochab and Alton argue that the risk factors and early warning signs of the genocide to come were obvious for months, if not years, before it began. The UK government knew it. The UK Parliament knew it. Yet the necessary preventati­ve action did not follow, and hundreds of British citizens were able to travel to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State.

Many of these terrorists are back in the UK, but not one of them has faced charges for their involvemen­t in the genocide. To this day, the UK government still refuses to recognise the Islamic State atrocities as genocide, claiming, absurdly, that it is for the courts, not government­s, to determine genocide. It will be fascinatin­g to see how much longer this ridiculous line of defence holds, particular­ly if the conviction­s of two Islamic State terrorists for genocide are upheld by the German appeal court.

A few months ago, during a meeting with parliament­arians who had been sanctioned by China, Liz Truss, then foreign secretary, promised to reform the UK genocide responses. She repeated that promise during hustings.

We’ll soon discover whether she was serious and the UK government is committed to helping the victims of genocide – or whether it was just part of an election campaign.

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