18 January 2021, The Tablet

Move to block trade deals with countries committing genocide 

Move to block trade deals with countries committing genocide 

The House of Commons last week.
House of Commons/PA

MPs are to vote tomorrow on an amendment moved by Catholic crossbench peer Lord Alton that would prevent the Government from signing new trade deals with states that are committing genocide. 

The “anti-genocide amendment” to the trade bill is being debated in the House of Commons and calls for the UK not to strike bilateral trade deals if the British high court makes a preliminary assessment that the other country is committing genocide.

The amendment, tabled by Lord Alton and Conservative peer Lord Forsyth, passed in the Lords last month with 287 to 161 votes. It is also backed by Labour peer and human rights barrister Lady Kennedy. In the Commons, it has the support of the Opposition parties and notable Conservatives including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith. 

If it became law it would provide a hurdle to new trade deals with countries such as China, because of the mounting allegations of human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims, and Myanmar, for its treatment of Rohingya Muslims. 

Campaigners have expressed frustration with the government’s refusal to designate atrocities as genocide, which the Government says is for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to determine. But the ICC can only act following a referral from UN Security Council, and campaigners say this is unlikely because two members are likely to object – China and Russia – if the atrocities take place in countries where they wield influence. 

Luke de Pulford, who has worked with Lord Alton on the amendment, told The Tablet it aimed to hold the British Government to its obligations under the UN Convention on Genocide. “The whole point is to call out the Government, because the reason that … we’ve never succeeded in recognising a genocide while it was ongoing is because our policy is that it’s a matter for judges, not politicians.” But he added: “You can’t say that, knowing that the prospect of [suspected genocide being examined by the ICC] is slim to none because of China’s veto.” 

Last week the Coalition for Genocide Response, of which Alton is a patron, urged members of the public to email their MPs to back the amendment, and highlighted the alleged abuses taking place in China. 

Nusrat Ghani MP, who is collaborating with Duncan Smith on promoting the amendment in the Commons, wrote in The Times’ Red Box column on Monday: “[The amendment] wouldn’t tie the hands of the government — that would be unconstitutional. The government could, if it wished, choose to ignore it, and the courts wouldn’t be able to strike down trade deals or laws. But why on earth wouldn’t the government want to know if a genocide is being committed in a state it was discussing trade with?”  

Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party’s human rights commission and East Asia team leader for the religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide, told The Tablet that the amendment “could well serve as an example” to other nations, adding: “Even if it doesn’t pass, it does push the Government to look seriously at what it can do.” 


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