Government moves towards declaring ISIS atrocities in Middle East 'genocide'

The government has moved towards admitting ISIS has committed genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

Foreign office minister Tobias Ellwood said it was clear Christians and others were persecuted on account of their religion and called for parliament to vote on the issue.

Millions of refugees have fled the conflict which the US and European Parliament have labelled a genocideReuters

The remarks came after peers narrowly voted against an amendment to the Immigration Bill in the House of Lords on Monday which would have labelled ISIS' actions against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities including Shi'ite Muslims as genocide.

Christian Tory MP Fiona Bruce called a debate in parliament's secondary chamber, Westminster Hall, on Tuesday afternoon on the persecution of religious minorities under Daesh (a derogatory Arabic term for Islamic State).

Ellwood told MPs at the debate: "We are witnessing systematic horrific attacks on Christians and others on account of their religious belief."

Ellwood stopped short of declaring the persecution a genocide but he would "encourage further time for a debate and vote" in the House of Commons.

"I very much believe we are not doing justice to this question and we are just skimming the surface," he said.

"This is very much the direction of travel we would like to take," he said, speaking on behalf of the government.

However Ellwood said the foreign office was "not in a position" to make a declaration. Instead he reaffirmed the government's position which has been that it is the role of courts and judges, not governments to declare a conflict genocide.

If MPs did vote in the House of Commons to recognise the atrocities as genocide, it would not become official UK position but would put significant pressure on the Prime Minister to make an announcement.

David Cameron has until now refrained from using the term and last week told the Christian peer Lord Alton there was "no need" to reconsider the position.

Tuesday's debate comes less than a week after US Secretary of State John Kerry declared the conflict a genocide after a unanimous vote in Congress. The European Parliament has also collectively passed a similar motion in February.

It is unusual for a state to label an ongoing conflict genocide. The term places an obligation on states to intervene and do everything in its power to prevent the violence and protect victims.

Bruce told Christian Today she was "extremely encouraged" by Ellwood's response to her plea.

"He is saying this subject merits more parliamentary time," she said.

"He clearly believes we should debate and consider whether the acts of Islamic State or Daesh should be classified as genocide."