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UK Government to Enhance Monitoring of Genocide as Lords Bill Progresses to 2nd Reading

A Foreign Office minister stated that the government is in agreement with much of Baroness Kennedy’s bill and will explore ways to implement the proposals moving forward.

The government has committed to enhancing its genocide monitoring mechanism as the Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill underwent a second reading on Friday.

The private member’s bill, inspired by the United States’ genocide prevention frameworks such as the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, aims to set up a statutory genocide monitoring team within the government.

In September 2022, the Foreign Office inaugurated a three-person Mass Atrocity Prevention Hub in its Conflict and Atrocity Prevention Department.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, KC, who introduced the bill and serves as the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, expressed her intention to provide a statutory basis for the team, which she believes is lacking adequate support.

The bill also calls for the appointment of a minister to lead the government’s efforts on genocide and atrocity crime prevention and response, submitting annual reports on the risks of and responses to genocide and atrocity crimes, training civil servants on the issue, and establishing a dedicated fund with a ring-fenced budget.

Although only a few private members’ bills are enacted into law, Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon acknowledged that the government supports many of the bill’s provisions and is committed to collaborating with peers to advance the proposals.

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In her support for the bill, Baroness Kennedy highlighted that incidents of mass atrocity violence, encompassing war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing, are escalating globally. She pointed out that numerous foreign policy crises stem from violent targeting of civilian groups based on their identities in regions such as Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Israel, Gaza, Burma (Myanmar), and China’s Xinjiang province.

Criticizing the government for what she called a strategic and moral deficiency in its genocide response policy, Baroness Kennedy emphasized that her bill aims to address this gap.

Backing the bill, Lord Alton of Liverpool asserted that the obligation to prevent genocide is one of the most neglected duties under international law. He mentioned that parliamentary committees and groups had uncovered evidence of atrocities and genocide risks in regions like Tigray, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Darfur in western Sudan, with little response from the government.

Lord Alton stressed the necessity of the bill, noting that monitoring early warning signs of atrocities cannot solely rely on parliamentarians and ad hoc inquiries, and the FCDO possesses the necessary capacity and resources for this crucial task.

According to the U.N.’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signatories are tasked with preventing and punishing genocide perpetrators.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, KC, who spearheaded the prosecution of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and chaired the China Tribunal and the Uyghur Tribunal, stated last year that no country has intervened to halt genocide since the treaty’s ratification.
Labour peer Lord Adonis previously remarked that no British government to date has acknowledged a genocide while it was ongoing due to the long-standing stance of successive UK governments that only a competent court can rule on genocide, despite international courts being paralyzed by Russia and China’s veto power.

In 2021, the non-statutory Uyghur Tribunal ruled that the Chinese Communist regime had perpetrated torture, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Prior to and post the ruling, several legislatures worldwide, including in the UK, have passed non-binding motions declaring instances of genocide or risks of genocide in Xinjiang. However, since January 2021, only the U.S. government has officially termed the situation as such.

Commenting on the government’s policy, Lord Hannay of Chiswick suggested that the government had deviated from its policy against naming genocide by joining the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case initiated by Gambia against Burma concerning the Rohingya Muslims before a court ruling.

“In the case of the Yazidis targeted in a genocide by [The ISIS terrorist group], even though there was a court ruling, the government rightly recognized it as a genocide, notwithstanding that the ruling came from a German court and not an international one; it was essentially what the government might consider a foreign court,” Lord Hannay explained.

Lord Ahmad refrained from commenting on whether there had been any policy alterations.

Addressing peers, the minister noted the UK’s positive contributions to international efforts in gathering evidence of alleged genocide and war crimes, citing the ICJ case against Burma as an illustration.

He commended the bill, stating that its provisions are commendable and closely align with the government’s objectives. He invited peers to engage with him in discussions on implementing specific provisions and enhancing training for civil servants and personnel deployed in conflict areas.

“The government supports many provisions of the bill—the key now is how to progress them,” Lord Ahmad remarked. “While full endorsement isn’t immediate, we aim to examine the provisions of the Elie Wiesel Act to determine the best way forward.”

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