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MPs must back the genocide amendment and stand up for the Uyghurs

MPs must back the genocide amendment and stand up for the Uyghurs
4 min read

The government backed Neill amendment has significant flaws and would do nothing to help the systematic abuse and repression of the Uyghurs.

Today the Trade Bill returns again to the House of Commons with one question still to be decided. How will the government respond to allegations brought against countries around the world that may be committing genocide? The Lords have amended the Bill to make a clear answer to that question.

We should all agree that the term genocide should never be used for political reasons and must be fully evidenced. It is a powerful word which describes the crime of all crimes. Our government has stated and re-stated that a declaration of genocide is only for a competent court. A number of countries, including the USA, have said that genocide is now taking place against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang: the UK has not been able to make such a statement. 

This latest Lords amendment is a significant compromise and avoids the government’s red lines. Despite that, the government, to my surprise, has tabled their previous amendment, despite its significant flaws.

First, the government/Neill amendment would do nothing to help the systematic abuse and repression of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Region, as the amendment excludes China on the grounds it is not currently a prospective free trade agreement partner.

If we have learnt anything from the 1930s it is that we must confront genocide as and when it happens

The recent Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report confirmed evidence that the Uyghurs and other minorities have been subject to frequent human rights violations. This follows verified reports of mass internment in ‘re-education camps’, forced sterilisation and an 85 percent decline in population size. Although it seems this has the hallmarks of genocide, this allegation must only be levelled following the correct due process.

Second, the Neill amendment applies to genocides which occur in the territory of a country that is a prospective free trade agreement partner, applying to state and non-state actors alike. This is a very wide definition. Under such guidelines a Select Committee could hold a country accountable for a rebel group operating within its borders.

Third, the government has made clear that establishing state genocide is, and should remain, a very high bar. My concern with the Neill amendment is that a Select Committee does not have the necessary investigatory or legal expertise to analyse whether allegations made against a particular state are credible. This leaves open the strong possibility of vexatious claims coming before Parliament.

With cross-party support, the genocide amendment recently passed in the House of Lords by an overwhelming majority of 153 - including 11 former Conservative Ministers. This amendment incorporates the government/Neill amendment while rectifying its problems.

Importantly it proposes a robust process for carefully determining the evidence of genocide, once a Commons Select Committee has opined. The revised amendment would make provision for a committee, comprised of former judges with legal expertise in the Lords, would also exclude non-state actors and allow the government to set the evidential standards.

75 years ago, we solemnly pledged that we would not look away where the spectre of genocide reared its vile head. I believe this Lords amendment enables us to speak up for those who have no voice. It matters not how powerful or commercially important the offending nation is, if we have learnt anything from the 1930s it is that we must confront genocide as and when it happens. I hope this time we will dismiss our party differences and act together, after all if we would will the end of genocide, we must also will the means.

This latest amendment wills the means, is a significant compromise and meets all the government’s red lines. My hope is that the Lords amendment will pass.

 

Iain Duncan Smith is the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green.

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