The UK Attaches Genocide Amendments to China Trade Bill

UK Parlament.

On February 2, the House of Lords voted by 359 to 188 in favor of its China Trade Bill, which included genocide amendments. (Image: Garethpricegfx via Dreamstime)

On February 2, the House of Lords voted 359 to 188 in favor of its China Trade Bill, which included genocide amendments.

The first amendment by Lord Collins of Highbury will require government ministers to determine whether a signatory to a new trade agreement has committed crimes against humanity before the agreement’s ratification.

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The second amendment moved by Lord Alton, an independent peer, will empower the High Courts of England and Wales or Court of Session in Scotland to establish preliminary rulings on the occurrence of genocide in another country. 

The revised amendment, modified due to the previous government’s objections, does not include automatic termination of trade agreements with the states that, if determined by the High Court, are committing genocide. Instead, the government set out its response to both Houses of Parliament, which could include actions such as the termination of relevant trade agreements.

Lord Alton said he proposed the amendment because the government wouldn’t act without a court’s determination. “This genocide amendment … has its origins in 2016, when despite Parliament passing a motion on genocidal crimes against Yazidis and other minorities, the government refused to accept it, because a court had not made the declaration,” he said. “The all-party genocide amendment remedies a circular argument.”

The “genocide amendment” giving courts a role in determining genocide was first voted for in the House of Lords in December, finding favor with 287 votes to 161.

People attending a Stop Uyghur genocide rally in Canada.
People attending a Stop Uyghur genocide rally in Canada. (Image: Meanderingemu via Dreamstime)

Boris Johnson’s office, represented by the press secretary Allegra Stratton, said: “We recognize the strength of feeling, but the government doesn’t support the amendment.”

On January 12, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spoke to the House of Commons about the UK response to human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China. Raab outlined some measures that could be seen as an alternative to the proposed “genocide amendment,” laying the ground for removing the amendment. 

These measures aim to stop UK-based businesses from any involvement with supply chains using camps in Xinjiang. These will focus on applying due diligence, providing information on the risks of working with companies linked to Xinjiang, implementing financial penalties on businesses that are not transparent, excluding suppliers involved in human rights violations, and using export restrictions. 

On January 19, in one of his very last acts as United States Secretary of State in the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo announced that the Chinese Communist Party’s atrocities against the Uyghurs constitute genocide.

Within an hour after Pompeo’s announcement, the House of Commons MPs voted to remove the “genocide amendment,” however only by a vote of 319 to 308. The amendment was supported by the Labour opposition, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrat parties. Thirty-three rebel Tory MPs almost turned the tide by going against the party line and supporting the amendment. 

James Gray, a North Wiltshire Conservative MP, was among those who rebelled against the three-line party whip and backed the “genocide amendment.” Grey explained that the amendment would proactively allow the UK courts to respond now rather than sitting back and waiting for international courts to rule on the matter. Baroness Deech, a Crossbench peer and prominent barrister, said that “advance action is needed to prevent genocide. Once it is happening, it is too late.”

Grey is concerned that China will apply its Security Council veto blocking any actions by the International Criminal Court against Beijing.

Mims Davis, Conservative MP for Mid Sussex and Minister for Employment, voted against the amendment because of the lack of free trade agreements between the UK and China.

The trade minister, Greg Hands, called the proposed “genocide amendment” that gives the courts powers to revoke trade deals agreed by elected governments an “unprecedented and unacceptable erosion” of parliament’s sovereignty. He argued that because currently, the UK had no free trade deal with China, the amendment would be of no benefit.

The Labour Party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy and international trade spokeswoman Emily Thornberry wrote in a joint letter to lawmakers that voting for the amendment would send a clear message of assistance.

The amendment was backed by numerous NGOs, including Muslims, Anglicans, and Catholic religious groups. The Board of Deputies of British Jews publicly supported the amendment, tweeting: “We applaud the House of Lords for voting in favor of Lord David Alton’s revised genocide amendment to the Government’s Trade Bill, with a huge majority of 171.”

Dorit Oliver Wolff, a Holocaust survivor, called upon MPs to put aside party politics and support the amendment. In a video on social media by Yet Again the UK, a young peoples’ movement to expose modern-day atrocities Woolf said: “You have to recognize that this is a genocide. Please do not trade with those people who are committing genocide.”

Two former Foreign Secretaries, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jeremy Hunt, as well as Bill Browder, the pioneer of Magnitsky sanctions, publicly supported the amendment. 

Dorit Oliver Wolff, a Holocaust survivor, called upon MPs to put aside party politics and support the amendment.
Dorit Oliver Wolff, a Holocaust survivor, called upon MPs to put aside party politics and support the amendment. (Image: Kcho via Dreamstime)

In his speech, Lord Alton cited a number of senior lawyers who have said the UK courts are competent to determine whether genocide is underway under the Genocide Convention.

The urgent need for the legal determination of whether China has committed crimes against humanity triggered the forming of the China Tribunal and, later, the Uyghur Tribunal, both chaired by the renowned barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. Nice led the prosecution of Slobodan Milošević, the former President of Serbia, at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal.

The China Tribunal was set up as a People’s Tribunal to offer independent testimony into forced organ harvesting from prisoners and dissidents in China’s labor camps and to look at criminal acts by Chinese state-run organizations or Party members involved. 

The International Coalition initiated the China Tribunal to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), “a coalition of lawyers, academics, ethicists, medical professionals, researchers, and human rights advocates dedicated to ending forced organ harvesting (a form of organ trafficking) in China.”

Its Final Judgement was delivered in June 2019 and concluded that “forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one — and probably the main — source of organ supply.”

The China Tribunal also reasoned that there was possible evidence involving Uyghurs who have more recently been targeted. 

The Tribunal considered whether the evidence constituted a crime of genocide and decided: “The Falun Gong and the Uyghurs in the PRC each qualify as a ‘group’ for purposes of the crime of genocide.” 

The Tribunal determined that the persecution of Falun Gong was genocide for two out of the three factors, including killing members of the group and inflicting severe harm to individuals of the group. The findings concluded, “bar one element of the crime, genocide is, on the basis of legal advice received, clearly proved to the satisfaction of the Tribunal.”

Falun Gong and the Uyghurs in the PRC each qualify as a ‘group’ for purposes of the crime of genocide. (Image: via

On December 7, 2020, Lord Alton, speaking in the House of Lords to introduce the “genocide amendment,” quoted the China Tribunal’s findings: “The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, says that the ‘organized butchery’ of living people to sell body parts of those from religious minorities and ethnic groups could be compared ‘to the worst atrocities committed in conflicts of the 20th Century’, such as the Nazi gassing of Jews and the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia. The Tribunal recorded its concerns that if nothing were done by the Government in order to protect trade with China, the cost would be to undermine any “other legitimate interests.” 

The Uyghur Tribunal is a similar tribunal to the China Tribunal with similar aims. On September 23, 2020, The House of Lords discussed establishing the Uyghur Tribunal. Lord Alton urged Peers to support the new Tribunal due to the challenges inherent in legally determining crimes against the Uyghur people. The response was: “We intend to attend the inquiry as we did the inquiry on organ harvesting.”

According to the Uyghur Tribunal website, it is anticipated that a final judgment in this matter may be reached by the end of this year if there is sufficient evidence.

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