Equality, House of Lords, Human Rights, Parliament, Racism, Speeches, United States

Trade Bill

Posted by Lord Sheikh

My Lords, it is imperative that we support Amendment 68, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. I commend him on his excellent speech; he did indeed speak from the heart.

At the outset, I would like to say that in 1972 my family and thousands of Asians were expelled from Uganda by General Amin. I have personal experience of ill treatment being imposed on innocent people by a tyrant. I have spoken previously about crimes against humanity in your Lordships’ House. I would like to declare that I am the co-chair of the APPG for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on this amendment, which sends a clear message that the UK will not be associated in any way with regimes found by law to be committing genocide. The amendment would mean that regulations made under this Bill to authorise the implementation of trade agreements would be revoked if the High Court of England decides that they should be, on the grounds that a signatory to a relevant trade agreement has committed genocide.

The amendment would also grant the right to persons or groups of persons belonging to national, ethnic, racial or religious groups that have been subjected to ?genocide to oblige the UK courts to request that a trade agreement be revoked. It is right that the High Court decides, as the court will be impartial and decisions will be arrived at logically.

In 2017, the Conservative Party published the Kigali declaration affirming our commitment to prevent and punish genocide. The declaration states:

“Whether at home or abroad we will seek to protect individuals and groups who are targeted because of their identity, from hate crime to genocide to violent extremism. Our responsibility to protect begins at home but extends around the world.”

This requires us to ensure that any potential violation of human rights is considered before doing business with any country. If the United Kingdom maintains trade agreements with states committing genocide, we risk being seen as complicit in these crimes and we send a message that our trading partners may commit genocide without any consequence.

This amendment must be accepted, because the UK is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the 2005 Responsibility to Protect commitment. Furthermore, the International Criminal Court in 2001 incorporated the Rome statute into English law. These commitments mean that we have a legal and moral obligation to act against genocide.

I and other Members of your Lordships’ House spoke on Second Reading of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill about the treatment of Uighurs and Falun Gong in China. Evidence of the Uighur genocide is growing. The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders has estimated that 1 million Uighurs have been detained and organs are being harvested on a massive scale. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute report suggested that 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019, and they are likely working under forced labour conditions while supplying global brands.

The proposed amendment is modest. The United States has gone much further to condemn and punish those responsible for those human rights abuses. Earlier this year, Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which places sanctions on officials responsible for oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang. US companies with operations in Xinjiang have been compelled to ensure that their supply chains are free from forced labour.

Furthermore, US Customs and Border Protection has issued five withhold release orders barring imports from such producers of cotton, apples, hair products, computer parts and other goods in the Xinjiang region. The House of Representatives recently passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with almost unanimous support from both main parties. If this law, which now has to go to the Senate, is passed, it will ensure that goods made with forced labour in the Xinjiang region will not enter the US market.

Through these Acts, the United States holds the Chinese Government accountable and ensures that Americans do not benefit from goods created by forced labour or under potential genocide. This amendment goes some way towards this, by giving UK courts the ?option to remove trade co-operation with states found to be perpetrating genocide, establishing a principle that may be taken further in future legislation.

This is a modest amendment, but it has limits in practice. By its referral to Sections 1(1) and 2(1) of the Bill, which concern the implementation of the UK’s obligations in the Agreement on Government Procurement—the GPA—the powers that it would grant to the High Court would not pertain to all trade agreements but would only apply to the 48 members of the GPA, to which China is currently acceding. Furthermore, the amendment would mean that any successful application in the High Court would not prevent trade with a genocidal regime but would only mean that the existing trade agreement was revoked. This power is an important symbolic gesture to demonstrate the United Kingdom’s condemnation of genocide and our refusal to co-operate with those who perpetrate it.

It is important that we accept this modest amendment, to ensure that the UK is never seen to condone acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. We must establish a precedent, which must be built on, as there is nothing currently in UK legislation to ensure that trading is aligned with obligations on the prevention or punishment of genocide.

Lord Alton of Liverpool noted:

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said that the amendment would send a clear message. He talked about its symbolic importance and the creation of precedence. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us of the manipulation of international bodies. She specifically referred to the Human Rights Council, where even today more votes are taking place on its membership. It seems rather like the burglar and the watchdog becoming one and the same thing when China has such a leading role in an organisation of that kind.


See the full debate on Hansard. 

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