In a final attempt to give legal backing to the recognition of state genocide in relation to trade, the UK’s House of Lords on Tuesday passed a “genocide amendment” for the third time.
The amendment to the UK’s post-Brexit Trade Bill, proposed by Lord Alton of Liverpool, seeks to establish an ad-hoc Parliamentary Judicial Committee (PJC) that could make a preliminary determination on whether a partner in a relevant bilateral trade agreement with the UK has committed genocide.
If such a determination is made, the Secretary of State must give a satisfactory statement on the actions the government will take, or the committee will set out the wording of a motion for Parliament to debate and vote on.
Lord Alton’s amendment was passed on Tuesday by 367 votes to 214. It’s the only amendment to the Trade Bill that will go back in the House of Commons for a final vote—the last step of a bill’s amendments consideration stage, known as “ping pong.”
The Ping-Pong Process
During the legislation process of the Trade Bill, which is to make provisions for Britain’s international trade agreements after Brexit, peers have insisted on inserting clauses that would prevent the UK from entering into trade deals with genocidal countries.
Lord Alton’s amendment, which has gone back and forth between the two houses of Parliament twice, initially proposed an automatic revocation of trade deals once the high court in England had determined that a trade partner has committed genocide.
This initial amendment was passed in the House of Lords on Dec. 7, 2020, but rejected by the House of Commons on Jan. 19 by only 11 votes, despite the fact that the government—which objects to the amendment—enjoys an 80-seat majority in the Commons.
An updated version of the amendment, which still requires the UK’s high courts to make a determination on genocide, but leaves the power to determine subsequent actions regarding trade with Parliament, was passed in the House of Lords on Feb. 3 by a landslide victory. However, it was never put before the House of Commons.
The government bundled Lord Alton’s amendment with another amendment by Lord Collins of Highbury, and proposed a compromise amendment in lieu of the Lords’. The government’s amendment was passed in the House of Commons by 15 votes on Feb. 9.
Lord Alton told The Epoch Times that the support for his amendment was so overwhelming in the House of Commons that “the government knew that it was going to pass” if MPs were able to vote on it.
Lord Collins’s amendment, which had gone through the ping pong process the same way as Lord Alton’s, would require the government to conduct a risk assessment to consider if a trade agreement would comply with the UK’s international treaties and obligations, including genocide and other human rights violations.
The government’s compromise amendment gives the power to determine genocide to a select committee of either house of Parliament, which Lord Alton and supporters of his amendment say already had that power.
Putting Teeth Back
The inception of Lord Alton’s genocide amendment was when the government refused to declare what happened to the Yazidis in Northern Iraq as a genocide, after Parliament voted to support the declaration.
“And the government said, no, only a court can decide [on genocide]; it’s not the government, not the House of Commons of Parliament, only a court,” Lord Alton said.
He said that the government made the amendment a “toothless tiger” by removing the judicial determination, and his new amendment was to “put some teeth into the tiger.”
An ad-hoc PJC comprising former judges “makes use of the tremendous legal expertise of this house in providing a credible analysis, which no existing select committee could hope to emulate or achieve,” he told Parliament during the debate ahead of the vote on Tuesday.
Lord Alton said the government’s amendment has two other “serious defects.”
“First, it applies only to prospective Free Trade Agreement [FTA] counter signatories, which excludes China. And therefore, as the government well knows, would do nothing to help Uyghurs,” he said.
The other defect is that it applies to both state and non-state actors.
“Conceivably, the select committee could hold accountable an FTA counter signatory state for the actions of a group or even a single individual within that territory. That’s a very serious defect, which our new amendment corrects,” Lord Alton said.
The government still opposes Lord Alton’s new amendment, insisting the government’s version is a “reasonable, proportionate, and substantive compromise on the part of government.”
Although Lord Alton’s amendment doesn’t mention any particular country, the debates around it in Parliament have been centred around the Chinese regime, since there has been growing evidence that its treatment of the Uyghur people amounts to crimes against humanity and genocide.
The Canadian Parliament on Monday voted in favour of declaring Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China a genocide.
On Jan. 19, the last day of the Trump administration, the United States government announced that the Chinese regime had committed “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against Uyghur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang.
On Feb. 18, two Belgian lawmakers submitted a resolution calling on the Belgian government to declare what’s happening in Xinjiang as a genocide.
Isaac Teo and Cathy He contributed to this report.