22 March 2016, The Tablet

Conservative peers accused of sabotaging Islamic State genocide debate

The amendment was defeated yesterday with 148 votes to 111

The Catholic Labour MP Rob Flello has called on Baroness (Elizabeth) Berridge to resign as Chairwoman of the All-Party Group on religious freedom, claiming that she sabotaged an amendment that would have compelled the Government to describe IS atrocities in the Middle East as genocide.

Mr Flello said on Tuesday that he was deeply shocked that Monday’s debate about the amendment, which was tabled by Lord (David) Alton, and which was defeated by 148 votes to 111, was “effectively sabotaged” by the Conservative peer’s speech and advanced lobbying.

During the debate Baroness Berridge said that she could not support the amendment because the legal process around recognising a genocide risked taking too long and would not help the most vulnerable and because it was restricted to terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria. In addition, she said that it risked diluting the crime by politicising it and devolving responsibility for naming genocide to domestic courts.

“It is a complete betrayal, almost certainly for party political reasons, of everything the Group stands for,” Mr Flello said. “I recently stood down as an officer of the Group because of concerns I had about the way in which it was run but I am truly staggered that the Chair would so actively campaign against this amendment which had such widespread support from the Members of the Group. Baroness Berridge’s position is untenable,” he said.

During yesterday’s debate Lord Alton, a Crossbench peer, reminded the House that last week the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on behalf of the White House said that IS’ actions constituted genocide.

Of the Government’s refusal to do the same, he argued: “In these circumstances, the genocide convention becomes nothing more than window dressing, which is an insult to the original drafters and ratifiers, as ‘never again’ becomes a hollow slogan devoid of meaning.”

Recognising the deaths as genocide would not oblige the Government to take in any more refugees, he explained, rather it would mean that those recognised as victims of genocide would be prioritised.

Baroness (Helena) Kennedy of the Shaws, Chairwoman of the EU Justice Sub-Committee, who also spoke in support of the amendment, said none of its supporters invoked the term genocide readily.

“For most of us, this term will be forever associated with the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps and the deliberate effort to exterminate the Jews during the Second World War. It is a word that carries incredible weight, and its importance cannot be diluted. We are talking about something of great seriousness when we talk about genocide,” she said.

Speaking to The Tablet, Baroness Berridge said: "I am disappointed that Rob Flello has chosen to issue a public statement and to call my motivations into question rather than seeking to speak to me about this amendment, on which his own party chose to abstain.

"All-Party Groups by their nature include members with shared passions but different views on how best to achieve our shared goals. While our views on the best way forward will sometimes differ, as in this case, we all have the goal of ensuring that we give as much help as possible to those persecuted by IS, and bring those responsible to justice.

"As I have made clear not only in the debate last night, but in private and in public over recent weeks, I was concerned that while this amendment's motivations were right, it would not have the desired effect in practice. This is why I have urged the Government to expand the criteria of the Syrian vulnerable people scheme, to ensure that Iraqis threatened by IS, as well as Syrians, can be offered protection by the UK, and to increase the number of those we help. I intend to continue to work tirelessly to keep up the momentum on this issue."



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