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8 February 2021

Why MPs must stand up to China and vote for the genocide amendment

Parliament should halt the UK government’s immoral prioritisation of trade over human rights.

By Freddie Hayward

An organised system of rape, gruesome sexual torture with electrified batons and the gang rape of women in front of other inmates. A BBC report last week added to the overwhelming evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s atrocities against the Uighur minority. 

China’s global influence and its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is enabling the Communist Party to abuse the Uighur people with impunity. It is currently not possible to hold the Communist Party to account for its actions in the international courts because China has the power to veto any case. Its disdain for the international system was reaffirmed last week when it blocked the Security Council’s condemnation of the coup in Myanmar.

The UK government’s policy is that genocide is a legal issue and must be determined by a court. Genocide cases are usually referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the ICC declared in December that it could not rule on the Uighurs because China is not party to its governing statute. The only other way for the ICC to hear a case is for China to present itself to the court or for the Security Council to refer the case. China’s Security Council veto means this is never going to happen. The only route for Uighurs is a domestic court.

It is therefore morally imperative that MPs vote for the genocide amendment on Tuesday. The amendment to the Trade Bill gives the High Court the power to determine whether a trading partner with the UK has committed genocide. The new amendment meets the government’s objections to a previous version, which was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons by 11 votes.

Boris Johnson’s administration claims, however, that the amendment would impinge the separation of powers by giving the courts control over trade deals. But this is a misreading of the bill. It clearly states that the High Court makes a preliminary determination and that the government must then respond in parliament – that is all. The government also argues that the amendment isn’t required because ministers wouldn’t wait until a genocide ruling in order to halt trade talks. Well, then it won’t impact the government and why should it oppose the move? 

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We are in the absurd situation where, in the same debate, ministers state that genocide is a matter for the courts while opposing an amendment that reflects just this. 

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In an attempt to assuage the Conservative rebels, the government has proposed that a select committee should be given the power to hear evidence on genocide. But not only do committees already have this power, if they established that there was a genocide the government would simply dismiss the finding and declare that genocide is a matter for the courts – as it has done in the past

The contradictions of the government’s position suggests an ulterior motive and a disingenuous argument. The fact is, as its own documents demonstrate, the government is opposing the amendment because it knows that it couldn’t ignore a genocide determination. It should not be necessary for a court to highlight the government’s own moral duties. There seems to be more concern with striking trade agreements with China than standing up for common humanity.

With the EU bowing to China’s economic might in its new investment deal, this amendment is an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of Brexit. Now that the UK can “strike out on its own” and pursue an independent trade policy, there is no excuse for “Global Britain” not to back this amendment.

For decades, the government’s policy has been that genocide is a matter for the courts, but it knows full well that there won’t be a determination in the current international system until it’s too late – in other words, until the Uighur people no longer exist. Tory MPs must halt the government’s immoral prioritisation of trade over human rights and vote for this amendment.