HL Deb 12 November 1968 vol 297 cc424-33

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This year, 1968, is Human Rights Year, and it is fitting that we should be introducing legislation to enable this country to accede to one of the earliest and most fundamental of the United Nations Conventions: that relating to the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide.

As the United Nations' own pamphlet on the Convention begins by reminding us, "genocide" is a modern word for an old crime—the deliberate destruction of national, racial, religious or ethnic groups. The history of the world is littered with these bloody episodes, generated by evil motive and justified by specious pretext. Thus we find genocide induced by fear and suspicion, as in Trajan's and Diocletian's persecutions of the Christians in the early centuries after Christ, when hundreds of thousands perished; genocide committed in sheer lust for power, as when Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes reduced China, India and the Ukraine to submission at the cost of millions of lives; and there was the greed, coated with a patina of religious fanaticism, which led to the destruction, by invaders, of the civilisation of the Incas. Other examples in the centuries before and since will, I am sure, readily occur to your Lordships.

It was, however, the appalling atrocities committed, in particular, on the Jews by the Nazi Government of Germany, that shocked the civilised world into outlawing this abominable crime. The price paid for the hatred and envy that gave rise to the loathsome racial dogma that spawned the concentration camps was 6 million lives, and even more broken bodies and broken minds. Small wonder that the world should cry: "Enough!"

One of the first steps taken by the General Assembly of the United Nations, during its first Session in 1946, was therefore to pass a resolution affirming genocide to be a crime under international law and that those guilty of it, whoever they were and for whatever reason they committed it, should be punished. It went on to ask the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations to undertake the necessary studies with a view to drawing up a draft Convention on the crime of genocide. In 1947, the Secretary General, at the request of the Economic and Social Council, prepared a first draft of the Convention and circulated it to member States for their comments. The following year the Economic and Social Council appointed an ad hoc committee of seven members to submit to it a revised draft. This done, the Council decided to transmit the draft to the General Assembly, which adopted it on December 9, 1948, as the Genocide Convention of the United Nations.

The Convection consists of 19 Articles, of which the following three are the most important. Article I confirms that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which the parties undertake to prevent and to punish. Article II, which is reproduced in the Schedule to the Bill, sets out the acts which are regarded as constituting the crime of genocide. Article VII requires genocide to be an extradition crime and that it shall not, in that context, be regarded as a political crime—one, I think, of the most important things in the Bill.

The Convention also provides, in Article VI, for genocide to be dealt with either in the State within whose territory it was committed or by an international penal tribunal. Although, however, the International Law Commission reported that an international criminal court was both possible and desirable, there is as yet no body exercising any international criminal jurisdiction to deal in practice with cases of this kind. In the circumstances, therefore, our legislation is restricted to what is necessary to provide for genocide. eo nomine, to be a crime under the laws of the United Kingdom and to be extraditable.

Genocide within the United Kingdom is in my view barely conceivable. I know that Boadicea's activities against the Roman colonists have been so described, but that was over 1,900 years ago and I do not mean to accept chat as a precedent. Moreover, all, or almost all, the acts defined in the Convention as constituting the offence are already offences under different descriptions under the laws of this country. It is therefore in the extradition field that such benefit as may accrue from this Bill is most likely to be felt. Here again, I should not wish to convey the impression that the passing of this legislation will be the starting gun to set in motion a series of extradition applications for fugitives accused of genocide who are already in our midst, but have hitherto been immune from extradition because genocide, as such, has not been an extradition crime in this country. So far as I know, we are harbouring no one in that category. This Bill will therefore be primarily an insurance for the future—that if this sickening crime should occur here, or be committed elsewhere by an offender who flees here, we shall be able to deal with him.

My Lords, I am aware of the doubts which Ministers of the previous Administration felt about the wisdom of the provision in the Convention that genocide should never, for extradition purposes, he regarded as a crime of political character. I am aware also of the extent to which, by acceding to that provision, we might be derogating from the traditional right of political asylum which this country offers, and on which it justly prides itself. If, however, it is accepted that there are some offences for which it would never be right to grant political asylum—and I recall the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, arguing this point with some force last year when we were considering the Fugitive Offenders Bill—then surely genocide is such a crime.

It may of course be argued that, for the most part, applications for extradition for genocide are likely to be made in the aftermath of conflict, when bitterness is rife, accusations are legion, and any trumped-up charge may be mounted in an attempt to secure the surrender of a fugitive. And in the absence of the political provision, one could ask what safeguard is there for the innocent man who is the subject of a purely vindictive application. The answer lies, I think, in the normal extradition machinery which operates in this country whereby before a person can be surrendered such evidence of his culpability has to be produced as would justify his committal for trial here. Even in the normal course, a substantial proportion of extradition applications fail to surmount this hurdle, and an unsubstantiated charge of genocide would, I am sure, stand little or no chance of success. The Government have therefore come to the view that, in common with the 71 other member countries of the United Nations who are already parties to the Genocide Convention, they need not baulk at accepting Article VII in its entirety.

There is one respect in which the Bill goes beyond the strict requirements of the Convention. That is, in providing that genocide shall be a returnable offence for extradition purposes, notwithstanding that it might not have been punishable under the law of the place where it was committed at the time when it was committed. It is no good turning a blind eye to the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that a Power—a country—which initiates the crime of genocide will have taken care to legitimate its actions under its own domestic law. It was the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal which first recognised that war criminals were not only those who had violated the customs of war but those who had carried out crimes against humanity, whether or not those crimes violated the domestic law of the country in which they took place. Later, Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in providing that no-one should be held guilty of any criminal offence which did not constitute an offence at the time of its commission, specifically excluded from the scope of that safeguard, acts which were criminal according to the general principles of law recognised by civilised nations". That clearly applies to genocide, and since it would be so obviously wrong that justice should be rendered impotent by the expedient of legitimating this vile crime the Government have thought it right to follow the precedent of the Euro- pean Human Rights Convention and to provide for an act of genocide to be a returnable offence whatever its legal standing when and where it was committed.

Your Lordships may find it helpful if, following these general comments, I rapidly run through the individual provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 provides for acts falling within the definition of "genocide" in the United Nations Genocide Convention to be offences both under the domestic criminal laws and the military law of the United Kingdom and specifies the penalties. An offence of genocide involving killing will be punishable by the fixed penalty of life imprisonment. Other offences will be punishable by up to fourteen years' imprisonment. Clause 2 makes such offences returnable offences, for the purposes of extradition to both foreign and Commonwealth countries, and removes from them the safeguards applicable to offences of a political character. It also provides that, for the purpose of these offences, return shall not be dependent upon the act concerned having been an offence under the law of the other country when committed. Clause 3 extends the extradition provisions of the Bill to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the dependencies, and enables the domestic provisions to be similarly extended by Order in Council.

The Schedule sets out the terms of Article II of the Genocide Convention, specifying the acts comprising the offence of genocide.

My Lords, as I said at the outset, this is Human Rights Year. The record of the United Kingdom in the field of human rights is an outstanding one. We played a full part in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed in 1948, and the United Nations Convenants which, after eighteen years, were opened for signature in December, 1966. These Covenants, which are designed to give international effect to the Universal Declaration, were signed by the United Kingdom on September 16 this year. The United Kingdom was also the first country to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights (in March 1951), and in January, 1966, we accepted the right of individual petition and the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court of Human Rights. Other international instruments which we have ratified include the Geneva Conventions, the Slavery Conventions, the Convention on the Political Rights of Women and a number of I.L.O. Conventions. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is right and timely that we should now place ourselves in a position to add the Genocide Convention to that list. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Stonham.)

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by saying how glad we on these Benches are to see the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, back in his place and looking so fit and well.



The noble Lord has returned to us in top form and has dealt so thoroughly with this Bill and the reasons behind it that there is little left for me to say. The Bill is necessary to carry out our international obligations. All I need add is that we on this side of the House welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy and easy passage through Parliament.


My Lords, I should like from this side of the House to join with the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in welcoming back my noble friend Lord Stonham, and also to say how grateful we are to him for introducing this Bill. As my noble friend has said, this is the International Year for Human Rights and it seems particularly appropriate that a Bill of this kind should be introduced in 1968. Genocide must surely be one of the most terrible of all crimes, and one which, as my noble friend has reminded us has tragically occured throughout history; but during the lifetime of most of us it has been conducted on a scale of horror unknown in previous centuries. To my mind it is even worse than political persecution, since the victims are given no choice: they are doomed from birth, and for reasons beyond their control. Therefore it is only through international cooperation that, in the words of the Convention, mankind can be liberated from this odious scourge.

I welcome particularly Clause 2 which makes genocide an extraditable offence as required by Article VII of the Convention. I welcome also the fact that genocide is not to be treated as an offence of a political character by means of which a demand for extradition may be resisted. As my noble friend has said, this must be one of the most important parts of the Bill. I do not wish in principle to see any weakening of the extradition law, but nevertheless I think that the Government are absolutely right to make an exception in the case of genocide.

I am also glad to see the inclusion of subsection (3) of Clause 2, which makes genocide an extraditable offence even if the act was legal in the particular country at the time it was committed there. We are all familiar with examples from recent years where the most terrible crimes were committed and made legitimate by the domestic laws of the country concerned; but, my Lords, genocide, since that terrible and tragic period in history, which will for ever be a blot on the 20th century, has now been recognised as a crime against humanity and punishable under International Law. My Lords, I welcome this Bill. It is an important Bill, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, before we pass the Second Reading I should like very timidly to offer a word of caution, having been, with a very large number of friends whom I have lost, busily engaged in genocide, according to the definition of this Bill, between the years 1914 and 1918. Also having watched the same thing over twenty years ago, may I say that if trying to kill Germans is not genocide under the definition of the Bill, I do not know what is. We have to remember not only the six million people Hitler so barbarously executed but also the way in which our Russian allies stole countless children from occupied Germany, while we sat making no protest at all. We have to remember that when we handed over India we gave the opportunity for enormous mass genocide; I think it has been estimated that it involved two million persons there alone.

I think we have to watch very carefully what we are now doing. Moreover, I am bound to say that I do not think it is at all impossible that, by means of this Act, people will be able to pursue their enemies to this country, and they may manage to convince a court, quite falsely, that by means of extradition their victim must be handed back to them. I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said about the Bill, and I have read the Bill, but I think we should be rather careful what we are doing now because we may, out of the goodness of our hearts, be doing something that may be found to be very unwise in the future.


My Lords, I certainly shall not delay beyond a moment this Bill's Second Reading, but I should regard it as unfortunate if a Bill with this Title received a Second Reading without anybody making a protest against the illiteracy of the word "genocide". I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—whose return to the House we all so much welcome—that there is nothing that we can do about it. It is the name that has been given to the crime in the Convention, but it does not prevent it from being wholly illiterate. I think in the brief allusion the noble Lord made to the word he said it was invented for the purpose; he did not saddle with infamy whoever had in fact invented it, but I believe it was not, in fact, an Englishman.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies I wonder whether he could answer one or two questions. Perhaps I missed the answers in his speech. How does this particular Bill apply in respect of rebellions? Secondly, who has signed this particular Convention and who has passed the necessary legislation to implement it? So far as I can see, virtually all the warfare at the moment and in the last few years, in Nigeria and in Africa in general, would appear to come under the heading of "genocide", because inter-tribal warfare involving the Watutsi, the Sudan, Nigeria, the Congo, and indeed in India the war against the Nagas, is a kind of genocide. Have all these people signed the Convention and do they claim to implement it by legislation?

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I had hoped that this debate might well have concluded with the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, because that would have left me with the simple task of thanking them and congratulating them on striking what I thought was not only the right but the only possible note. Naturally I am grateful for the characteristic contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. This is a collective responsibility. Seventy-one nations—if this Bill becomes law, 72 nations—will have accepted not only the principle embodied in the Convention but, with it, the word. Therefore there is a collective responsibility; and if the noble Lord proceeded against them, then I think he would be guilty of the crime which this Bill describes, even though his action was taken in the very worthy name of literacy.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord does not imagine that these other countries do not contain hundreds of thousands of people who have the same objection to this illiteracy as I have. After all, knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages is not confined to this country.


My Lords, I was not suggesting that it was, nor indeed that it was confined to the noble Lord. I was merely following up his remark about the infamy of the word "genocide" and the fact that he who invented it—presumably that was one person—should be one of the first victims. I can only take that as a characteristic contribution from the noble Lord which we all welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, referred to his own activities. The same applies to other noble Lords in this House, and millions of other honest men in two world wars. He used the expression that if that was not genocide he did not know what is. My Lords, I could not disagree with him more flatly or more completely. The crime of genocide, by whatever title he called it, the crime which we are here trying to prevent or, if we cannot prevent it, to punish, means the deliberate destruction of national, racial, religious, or ethnic groups. If the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is suggesting that either in the last war or the First World War any one of us in this country set out to do any of those things, then I utterly reject his suggestion. I hope we shall never do such things. War is horrible, and sometimes—in fact always, I suppose—if we have to defend ourselves it involves slaughter on an awful scale; but there is a difference between that and deliberately setting out to destroy a race for any of the reasons in the definition.

The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, asked me about the 71 countries. The present position, as I have said, is that 71 countries are party to the Convention; 38 have ratified it. I have the names of the 38 here. I do not know whether your Lordships wish me to read them out.


No. Could the noble Lord just say whether it contains the Sudan?


My Lords, the Sudan is not among the 38 who have ratified. The United Arab Republic is among the 38 who have ratified. There are also 33 who have acceded to the Convention, and this again does not include the Sudan.

I am grateful for the contributions which have been made. I feel that your Lordships will join with me in hoping that we shall never in the future history of this country have to have recourse to this Bill, when it becomes an Act, in respect of any act of genocide by a British citizen.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.