HC Deb 15 November 1965 vol 720 cc679-80
41. Sir B. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will announce Her Majesty's Government's decision concerning the question of United Kingdom accession to the Genocide Convention; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. George Thomson

I am glad to be able to inform my hon. Friend that Her Majesty's Government have now decided that the United Kingdom should accede to the United Nations Genocide Convention. Since this Question raises very complex issues I will, with permission, arrange for a full statement to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Sir B. Janner

May I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend for having now made this declaration, which is of considerable interest to the whole civilised world and in particular to the Jewish communities of the world? May I ask my hon. Friend whether he realises that this is an endorsement of lifelong steps which were taken by Professor Lemkin, the whole of whose family were exterminated in concentration camps? All of us are extremely grateful for the Answer my hon. Friend has given.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I welcome the announcement made by the Minister of State and fully realise that he is to publish a statement on this matter. However, in view of the great technical problems involved in this matter, problems which exercised his Department over a considerable time, could he give us an assurance that these difficulties are now completely removed?

Mr. Thomson

Yes. As the noble Lady has said, the difficulty here was, in effect, a conflict of principles between our tradition of granting asylum to political fugitives and our desire to accede to this Convention, which the former Government said that they had accepted in principle. We believe after a fresh examination of these difficulties that they are not overriding. I think that when the noble Lady has studied the statement she will feel reassured that the traditional right of asylum for the genuine political fugitive is not prejudiced.

Following is the Statement: As the House is aware the principal difficulty faced by successive Governments in this matter has stemmed from Article VII of the Convention which provides that offences of genocide should not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. It was felt that this provision together with the wide definition of genocide in Article II, as extended by the list of related offences in Article III, might place unacceptable limits on the right to grant political asylum. Her Majesty's Government have, however, now reached the conclusion that this difficulty is not overriding. Accession to the Convention need not involve depriving the Home Secretary of the power which he has under existing legislation to refuse to order surrender in any case where the charge has been clearly fabricated in order to secure the return of an offender who is in reality wanted for political offences for which extradition would not otherwise be granted. On the other hand, in cases where a person has in fact committed an offence of genocide of the kind which the Convention requires to be punished, even if he can be shown to have been inspired by political motives, it would in our view be wrong in principle that he should be able to claim asylum on these grounds. Her Majesty's Government desire to do all in their power to prevent the abominable crime of genocide, to ensure that those who commit this crime are brought to justice, and to co-operate with the United Nations in its struggle to secure universal respect for human rights. They therefore intend at a suitable opportunity to introduce legislation to bring our domestic law into line with the Convention, in particular by ensuring that all the offences described in the Convention are covered by our criminal law, and to ensure that accession to it takes place as soon thereafter as possible.