The mass slaughter and persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria must be recognised as genocide by the British government, a group of peers has urged.
Led by Lord Alton of Liverpool, vice chair of the
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or belief and a key voice in the argument thus far, a group of prominent legal authorities in the UK have written to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling on him to take a stand.
On February 9, the Earl of Courtown confirmed in the House of Lords that the British government would not classify the actions of ISIS in the Middle East as genocide, because the decision was a matter for the "international judicial system" rather than individual governments.
"Prime Minister, we urge you to revisit this position for the sake of tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities who are currently subject to acts of genocide in the Middle East," the letter, signed by Lord Alton and six others including Baroness Cox, says.
"As a signatory to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the United Kingdom has an obligation under international law to 'prevent and punish' acts of genocide. In order to take decisive action to prevent genocide, the very first step must be recognition that genocide is in fact taking place.
"In the light of horrific and overwhelming evidence emanating from the region, refusing to recognize the current acts as genocide begs the question, for what reason is the United Kingdom a party to the Genocide Convention?"
The peers insist that "there is nothing to prevent Her Majesty's Government forming and acting upon its own view".
"In order for the international judicial system to play its part, Her Majesty's Government must first act," the letter adds.
The European Parliament earlier this month officially classified the situation in the Middle East as genocide, the first time for an ongoing conflict to receive that recognition. Supporters lauded the move as an opportunity for victims "to get their human dignity restored". However, the UK is yet to join the EP in making such a strong statement.
Just before Christmas, 75 parliamentarians from across Parliament and all parties and including the former head of the Armed Forces, the former head of MI5, and former cabinet ministers wrote to Cameron urging him to declare the atrocities to be genocide.
Lord Alton, who was also among the leading signatories of that letter, wrote recently for the Catholic Herald: "We endlessly talk of something vaguely called 'British values'. One value, one belief, that particularly marks us out from the ideology of ISIS is our belief in the rule of law.
"As a signatory to the genocide convention, it is a dereliction of our duty to uphold international law if we do not take the action that should follow our signature, our voice and our military action."