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18 January 2021

What will it take for the UK to recognise an ongoing genocide?

The question for MPs is: do our foreign policy objectives extend to more than just after-the-fact condemnation? 

By Stephen Bush

In the 75 years since the world first recognised the crime of genocide, the UK and the US have never managed to recognise an ongoing genocide. Recognition has come after the fact and after the atrocity. All too often, “never again” has been the grim backdrop to inaction, be it in Rwanda, the Balkans or elsewhere.

That grim statistic is frequently deployed by the Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani, who has assembled a political coalition comprising every opposition party, the major community organisations of most British faith communities, and the former leader of her own elparty, Iain Duncan Smith. It may – hopefully – be enough to vote through an amendment to the Trade Bill, which would allow British courts to make a declaration that they believe a genocide is ongoing for parliament and for ministers to consider. (Ghani explains how it would work at greater length for the Telegraph here.)

The treatment of the Uighurs is one of the world’s most horrific ongoing crimes but it is not the only one. The eyes of the world are rightly fixed on the plight of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who has been arrested and detained. But they should also be on Bobi Wine, the Ugandan opposition leader, whose supporters have been attacked and in some cases killed, and now fears for his own life and is under virtual house arrest. 

Ghani’s amendment wouldn’t bind a future government. It would simply ensure that ministers and parliament had to acknowledge that a genocide was ongoing and to justify government policy in that light. It’s a moderate, rational and limited piece of legislation.

The question for the government is, if not Ghani’s amendment, then what? British ministers have become adept at putting on a sad face and talking about how terrible the plight of Hong Kong is. They have been less good at talking seriously about what to do to secure Taiwan’s future. The Foreign and Development Office still cheerily identifies Uganda as a strategic partner due to its regional “influence and relative stability”. The question when the amendment is voted on tomorrow is simple: do our foreign policy objectives extend to more than just after-the-fact condemnation and the prioritisation of stability and British economic interests over everything else?

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