Today, I know that many Iraqi Kurds will be remembering those who were lost – family, friends and loved ones – in the terrible crimes committed against them by Saddam Hussein. They will also remember those who continue to live with the consequences of those crimes, through terrible injuries – both physical and mental. They will not be alone. Many in the UK, and around the world, will join them in marking Anfal Memorial Day.
As UK Minister for the Middle East, I was privileged... to speak at the moving memorial event hosted last week by the KRG Representation in London, and attended by Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir. It was a chance to hear from survivors of the Anfal campaign, and to reflect on the atrocities committed against the Kurds across several decades by Saddam – a tyrant who I too fought against, as a soldier in the British Army in Kuwait during the first Gulf War in 1991.
These events have received increasing attention in the UK over recent years. The KRG Representation, working with a number of committed British MPs, have campaigned tirelessly for these crimes to be recognised as a genocide. Last February, after a passionate debate, the British Parliament voted to do so.
Since then, the British Government has considered whether we too should recognise these crimes as a genocide. After thinking about this carefully, we have concluded that we should not. This is not because we deny that horrific acts took place – it is clear that they did. It is not because we have concluded this was not a genocide. It is simply that we believe governments are not qualified to decide on the complex legal question of whether genocide – a very specific crime – was committed in such instances. This must instead be a decision for judicial bodies.
This does not for a moment detract from our revulsion and condemnation of the attacks against Iraq’s Kurds. Indeed, I sympathise with the UK Parliament’s decision to recognise the Anfal as genocide, and I am pleased that the issue is receiving greater attention. The Assad regime’s appalling and senseless use of chemical weapons in Syria is a stark reminder of the abhorrence of both chemical and biological weapons, and of the importance of drawing attention to the terrible effects they have caused. The UK, like other responsible countries, is of the firm view that the ongoing production, stockpiling or use of these weapons is completely unacceptable. And we will continue to call for the full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
As part of this, it is vital that all of us remember the horrific events experienced during the Anfal, and reaffirm our belief that no group should be allowed to suffer such a fate again. Today, on Anfal Memorial Day, the British Government joins Iraq’s Kurds in remembering.
* Hugh Robertson is UK Minister for the Middle East