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Why did UK government and Tory majority parliamentarians block prevention of genocide clause to Trade Bill?

On 19 January and 9 February, ministers and Tory majority parliamentarians repeatedly blocked the prevention of genocide clause to the Trade Bill. What is the origin of the clause? Why is it significant? Why did the UK government and Tory majority parliamentarians oppose this clause?

After Brexit, responsibility for amending the Trade and Investment Bill returned to the UK Parliament. Some human rights organisations (such as Liberties and "Amnesty International) have begun to promote the inclusion of human rights provisions in trade bills, increased transparency, public participation in the development of trade agreements, and a greater role for Parliament in the negotiation process of international trade agreements. The Genocide Amendment Clause emerged from this context.

The amendment to the trade bill will empower the High Court of England and Wales to hear trade and investment agreements entered into by the British government with countries accused of committing genocide. The clause is based on a key international convention ratified by the UK in 1970, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). The genocide amendment clause invokes the definition of "genocide" in Article II of this international convention. The amendment would apply to all countries where genocide is taking place and is intended to prevent the British government from becoming an accomplice to genocide. If passed by the British House of Commons, the High Court of England and Wales would be able to hear lawsuits from victims and lawyers representing them in genocide cases in the countries concerned. The courts would also have the power to rule that the British government must delay or withdraw trade agreements with countries where genocide is being committed.

The clause gives Uighurs in exile in Britain a glimmer of hope. Since the end of 2016, more than one million Uyghurs and other Turks have been detained in re-education camps, forced to abandon their national identity, language, and religious culture, and forced to accept the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda and sinicisation in their own homeland. Many Uighurs are still missing. Uyghur women were forced to sterilize, and many children of Uyghurs who were imprisoned or missing were also forced to separate from their parents. Stopping the CCP’s policy of genocide is an urgent issue facing all democratic countries.

Since 2019, exiled Uighurs and lawyers have submitted documents accusing the Chinese government of genocide and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court and many democratic countries. Since China is not a party to the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court established by this statute cannot directly try genocide and crimes against humanity in areas controlled by the CCP. In July 2020, the British Parliament passed the Global Human Rights Sanctions Act. However, due to the obstruction of the British Conservative Government, officials in China and Hong Kong who seriously violated human rights were not included in the sanctions list.

In the second half of 2020, the lawyers representing Uyghur exiles were supported by the British Jewish Council, the Muslim Council, humanitarian organizations and the International Bar Association, Hong Kong exile groups, all MPs from the opposition parties, and around 30 Conservative MPs. The amendment was initially proposed in the House of Lords last December.

Before the House of Commons voted, the Conservative Party government strongly opposed the amendment and put pressure on Conservative MPs to vote against it. Prior to this, the Conservative Party government had repeatedly opposed the inclusion of accountability deliberations on human rights issues by the Parliament in trade agreements and even opposed the independent trial of serious crimes against humanity by the courts. Although the British government claims under pressure that it will impose restrictions on British companies buying goods in Xinjiang and raise concerns about the forced labour of Uighurs, these are limited to rhetoric. The import of slave labour products is not only a company transaction issue but also an institutional issue. Without social and institutional supervision and accountability of the government, the end result is that the British political and business elite group prioritizes its own interests, treats trade and investment as political and business privileges, and continues profit orientation in its diplomacy with China for 70 years.

Sure enough, the day after the genocide amendment was rejected, the British Chamber of Commerce in China couldn't wait to translate into English the latest news on the use of foreign investment in China published by the Ministry of Commerce that day. According to China's Ministry of Commerce, China's use of foreign investment in 2020 increased by 6.2%, while the UK grew by 30.7% over the same period, making it the second-fastest-growing country, second only to the Netherlands. This is the real reason why the British government and most Conservative MPs rejected the genocide amendment.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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