LfUR press release Jan 20th 2021
Lawyers for Uyghur Rights Calls for MP’s Support for New Genocide Amendment
Moves to thwart trade deals with genocidal states were defeated in the UK parliament this week by a hair's breadth.
Following a four-hour spirited debate with strong feelings expressed on both sides, a genocide amendment to the Trade Bill was defeated by just eleven votes, leaving its supporters vowing to continue the fight.
Despite 30 rebel Conservatives crossing the political divide to vote with their conscience, the cross-party amendment to enable the UK High Court, to decide whether a country poised for a trade deal with the UK was guilty of genocide, drew some objections from some members of Parliament.
A new amendment has now been drafted addressing points of contention which will now return to the Lords and could return to the Commons as early as next week.
Michael Polak, Director of Lawyers for Uyghur Rights, has written to Conservative MP's outlining the changes and urging them to reconsider their original vote. The London-based legal team set up to combat the oppression and human rights abuses of Uyghurs under the Chinese Communist Party, in concert with other legal partnerships, human rights advocates and most religious groups, is backing the revised amendment.
Overwhelming support had already been garnered from the Lords earlier this month. But members of the Commons, despite unanimously condemning genocide wherever it might be found, argued strongly for the sanctity of the elected chamber in determining trade deals, rather than an unelected judiciary. Michael Polak addresses this objection by stating that the revised amendment gives the final say on trade deals to Parliament. "Following the High Court's preliminary deliberation on genocide, the matter will be returned to Parliament for its decision," he said.
To the second objection that domestic courts are not qualified to determine genocide and that acts of genocide should be determined by international courts; Mr Polak had pointed out in a previous letter to MP's that such an amendment is vital given that the United Nations Security Council is currently ham strung by Russia and China exercising their Security Council veto powers to prevent the proper investigation and prevention of genocide.
"The crucial part of this amendment is that it will allow our own courts to make a determination as to whether genocide is taking place," he said. "Our courts are amongst the finest in the world and are already empowered to determine genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture in criminal cases. This they have done on a number of occasions. They are fully capable of making a preliminary determination on genocide," he stressed.
Some MP's were worried that UK courts might be besieged by time-wasting claims and that the proposals would be unworkable, but Mr Polak was reassuring. "The Amendment sets the bar at genocide," he said. "Genocide is the most serious international crime committed by a state. We are not simply talking about misbehaviour here. Our courts are fully versed in dealing with vexatious litigation and they do this every day."
Finally, MP's with a legal background questioned whether the High Court's determination would stand up with no respondent. But Mr Polak pointed out that the UK legal system already deals with inquiries and inquests where one party might be absent.
"Parties with an interest in the determination will of course be able to submit evidence," he said. "Our High Court will consider the evidence put before it and make a preliminary determination as to whether genocide is taking place."
In the shadow of Holocaust Memorial Day and in the wake of the US State Department's declaration this week that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people and other minority groups in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, proponents of the "genocide" amendment are rallying support for this crucial legislation.
One of the main drivers of the campaign, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, is demanding a halt to the "wilful ignorance of alleged genocide and grave human rights abuses in China and elsewhere." "We will not sell out our values for trade deals with genocidal states," he said.
"We need to have a global vision about the morality of what we as a country do. The genocide amendment vote is about shining a light of hope to all those who failed to get their day in court. If this country doesn't stand up for that, what will it ever stand up for?" He asked.