Like many of you, I have watched with mounting horror the atrocities committed by ISIS/Daesh in the Middle East. These fanatics do not care for the value of human life. Blinded by their corrupted worldview, they would rather kill than engage in meaningful dialogue. Violence and oppression is their oxygen. Caught up in the middle of their brutal quest to create a radical Islamic state are ethnic minorities, Yardizis, religious minorities and Christians. The evidence that exists points to one conclusion: what is happening is an act of genocide.
Under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the act of genocide is defined as the systematic killing or harming of people because they are part of a recognisable group. According to the Convention, the group may be 'national, ethnic, racial or religious'. I believe what is happening now in the Middle East qualifies as genocide. Now we need the UK government to accept this fact and publicly call it like it is.
The rationale for urging this definition be applied is simple: it would inject greater international urgency in dealing with the problem and helping and providing support for victims. This is not simply a matter of semantics. It would also send a very clear message, stronger than those already signalled, that what is happening in Syria and Iraq is utterly unacceptable. There are some who also believe an international recognition that genocide is happening will deter new recruits from joining up. The key point is if the UK government officially recognises that genocide is happening, it should lead to concrete action being taken.
At the moment the UK government is stalling. They have argued that it is primarily up to the international judicial system, not governments, to recognise what is happening as genocide. But the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, made a clear statement on April 8 last year that the only way the ICC could prosecute and investigate is if there is a referral either from Syria and Iraq, which is not very likely, or from the UN Security Council. Because the UK is a permanent member of the Security Council, they have influence there. The UK government can use that influence to persuade the Security Council to confer immediate jurisdiction on the ICC so that the process of bringing perpetrators to justice can begin. It is worth noting that the US State Department has labelled the persecution of minorities in Syria and Iraq as genocide already. So has the EU.
Thinking specifically about the plight of Christians, the figures from the region are truly shocking. In Syria right now, since the conflict began the number of Christians has dropped from 2 million to 1 million and from 1.4 million to under 260,000 in Iraq. Church leaders have been brutally murdered or tortured and all because they are believers in the Lord Jesus. There have been multiple incidents of violence, abuse, molestation, people trafficking, murders, kidnapping, sexual enslavement and systematic rape. Young and old have been caught up in this devastating whirlwind of evil. Official Daesh propaganda has revealed the regime's intent to persecute and destroy those who do not want to convert.
Of course, applying the term genocide to the atrocities will not alleviate the pain, trauma and grief of Christians and others in the region. But it will help to kick-start the international community's response. It carries huge symbolic value, as well as prompting action from the UK and other nations. Calling it genocide will send a message to those advocating this assault of violence that there will come a time when they are brought to justice. There are 127 countries signed up to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide and if the UK government takes the right approach, these nations will be encouraged to take the action required to publish those guilty of perpetrating these crimes.
If you are reading this and wondering what you can do, there is a way you can play your part. Aside from diligently praying, there is a debate taking place on Wednesday in the House of Commons. Organised by Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, the motion would real pressure on the government to accept genocide is happening in the Middle East. I would encourage you to write to your MP to urge them to support this motion. This is a chance to let our elected representatives know that the government's stalling on this issue is unacceptable. The human dignity of so many people in that region is under threat. This is not simply about words or semantics. This is about speaking out in favour of justice and standing up for those who are being attacked because they are Christian or because they are a minority. It is time to say it how it is. Daesh are committing genocide and the UK government should admit it.
Nola Leach is Chief Executive of CARE