UK Government narrowly avoids defeat on ‘genocide amendment’, makes major concessions

The UK government has narrowly avoided defeat on a ‘Genocide Amendment’ to the Trade Bill that threatened to hand the government its first defeat in the House of Commons. The government compromise Neill Amendment won by 319 to 297 votes, offering major concessions to backers of the Genocide Amendment.

Lord Alton’s Genocide Amendment provided for a Parliamentary Judicial Committee to make preliminary judgements on cases of alleged genocide, which would have led the UK to become the first country in the world to have a domestic route for preliminary genocide determinations. 

The Neill Amendment provides for parliamentary committees to examine genocide claims against states with which the UK is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), with the government having ruled out such an agreement with China. This ends a decades long policy of reserving genocide determination to international courts, which backers of the Genocide Amendment argue are blocked by Russia and China. 

Hours before the vote, the government announced sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for abuses in Xinjiang, a move called for by members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China in a letter to the Foreign Secretary last November.

Sir Iain Duncan-Smith MP, former Conservative Party leader and IPAC co-chair commented:

“Today’s vote marks a step in the right direction. We now have a clear consensus that the current system of genocide determination is broken. 

International courts are hamstrung by authoritarian states such as China and Russia. By bringing these powers to Parliament we have made significant progress towards living up to our promises to prevent, punish and protect against the crime of genocide. 

We will continue working to ensure that the Chinese government is held accountable for gross human rights violations perpetrated against the Uyghurs. The Uyghurs must have their day in court.”

Yasmin Qureshi MP, Labour Shadow International Development Minister and IPAC member commented: 

“Today the Government has rejected an opportunity to allow the UK to play a world leading role in holding the perpetrators of genocide to account for their heinous crimes. 

The House has made clear its intention that trade deals should not take place with genocidal states, but for victims of genocide this is not enough. 

We will continue to fight to give Uyghurs their day in court. The government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to these atrocities in the hope of securing lucrative trade with China.”

Lord David Alton, IPAC member and co-sponsor of the amendment in the Lords commented: 

“Today’s vote moves us a step closer to ensuring that perpetrators of genocide, the crime above all crimes, face scrutiny in our parliamentary committees.

The work doesn’t stop here. We must give Uyghurs and other victims of alleged genocide a route to justice. Failure to do so will risk defaulting on our solemn obligations to prevent, punish and protect against the crime of Genocide. When we say ‘never again’, we must mean it.”

Luke de Pulford, who originated the campaign said:

“By giving parliamentary committees a role in investigating genocide claims, IPAC and the backers of the Genocide Amendment have forced a major change in UK policy.

Today’s amendment excludes those that the UK is not negotiating an FTA with, and so does little to address the worst culprits. China cannot be allowed to escape scrutiny. We will continue to do everything we can to begin legal inquiries into the alleged genocide against Uyghurs.”