HL Deb 10 February 1948 vol 153 cc909-11

My Lords, I beg to ask the question standing on the Order Paper in my name.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government the reasons which have led them to withdraw the support for a Genocide Convention which they had previously given at the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 11, 1946, and to inquire whether the Government consider these reasons sufficient to prevent their joining with the United States and thirty-eight member nations in supporting the Convention at the meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in February.]


My Lords, there has been no fundamental change of attitude on the part of His Majesty's Government, who regard the crime of genocide with as much detestation as ever. Admittedly, their support was given in December, 1946, to the conception of an International Convention on Genocide; and a draft of such a Convention was in due course prepared by the United Nations Secretariat. A study of this draft, however, convinced His Majesty's Government that any such Convention would inevitably prove to be a difficult and highly controversial document, to which many Governments might be unable to adhere.

In those circumstances His Majesty's Government formed the opinion that such an abortive Convention might weaken, rather than strengthen, the principle which it set out to establish, and might throw doubt on the proposition, at present universally accepted, that genocide is an international crime. At the second session of the General Assembly last autumn, therefore, the United Kingdom delegation expressed the view that a better approach would be for the Assembly to confine itself to a resolution that genocide was a crime entailing national and international responsibilities, and to refer the question of a Convention to the International Law Commission, which is to be elected at the Assembly meeting later this year, for further study. This Commission, His Majesty's Government feel, would conduct its work on genocide in connexion with the codification of the relevant decisions of the Nuremberg tribunal, another task which it has to perform. Many problems of racial and other animosities manifested against individuals and groups, which the original draft Convention sought to cover, are in the view of His Majesty's Government more properly the concern of the Human Rights Commission which operates under the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

The resolution adopted by the Assembly last November recognized to some extent the merits of this approach to the matter, though admittedly it did not endorse in full the attitude of the United Kingdom delegation. That attitude will be maintained by the United Kingdom delegation to the current meeting of the Economic and Social Council, on whose agenda the crime of genocide figures.

With regard to the second part of the question, the fact that His Majesty's Government were in a minority on this question at the last Assembly meeting has not persuaded them that their view was wrong. On the contrary, they hope that it will become more widely held. An honest difference of opinion as to the best means of moving towards a goal common to all of them divided Governments on that occasion. The support expressed by the majority, I should point out, was in any case not for the Convention as originally drafted, but for the idea of having a comprehensive Convention. In His Majesty's Government's view, based on the deficiencies and difficulties of the first Draft Convention prepared, it is unlikely to prove possible to draft a comprehensive Convention on this subject to which the majority of Governments will be prepared to adhere.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble and learned Viscount sincerely for his full reply.