On Tuesday, the 9th of February, the Genocide Amendment on the Trade Bill was defeated for a second time in the House of Commons by 318 to 303, after it had been grouped with another amendment. Thus, the MPs could only vote once on two amendments on completely different matters. The Genocide Amendment, proposed by the House of Lords, would enable the High Court to determine whether or not a country is engaging in genocidal behaviour. While this court ruling would not be able to legally restrict the governments’ decisions over trade partnerships, being seen as trading with a genocidal regime would make it politically difficult for the government to continue in those circumstances.
The UK government is so afraid of no longer being able to conduct preferential trade with China that it is willing to ignore its duty of punishing those countries committing genocide under the UN Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The debate and vote on the 9th of February came only days after senior barristers at Essex Court Chambers in London have stated that there is a ‘very credible case’ that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. This assessment of the situation in China is based on comprehensive legal research, looking at the evidence that has come to surface about the human rights abuses, torture and sterilization of the Uyghur people. The legal definition of genocide includes both forced sterilization and the forceful removal of children from their traditional communities and there is evidence to suggest that the Chinese government is using both of these methods and more to ensure the destruction of the Uyghur people.
The government’s decision to couple the two amendments, so that neither of them would pass, has been met with widespread criticism from those advocating for the rights of the Uyghur people and their supporters. Sir Ian Duncan Smith referenced the viral video of the dispute in Handforth Parish Council, urging MPs to ‘read the standing orders’, which reveal that ‘the government has deliberately blocked’ a vote on the Genocide Amendment, by bundling it together with another amendment backed by Labour, that was bound to fail in getting enough support. This second amendment would have seen the imposition of human rights audits before a trade deal was signed. Emily Thornberry also accused the government whips of ‘shameful, shabby and shifty’ behaviour because of their attempt to prevent a clear vote on the Genocide Amendment from taking place. The fact that political games are being played over such a serious issue as genocide, the crime of crimes, have left many disappointed, but this does not mean that the fight is over. Those is support of the amendment will pressure the government into having a real debate on the issue, whilst those opposed to the amendment will probably continue to come up with further strategies of evading their international responsibilities. The bill is to return to the House of Lords on the 23rd of February and the parliamentary ping-pong will continue.
Written by Diana Jalea