House of Lords vote for anti-genocide amendments

3 February, 2021

On Tuesday evening, peers voted in favour of two amendments to the Trade Bill to strengthen the UK’s approach to preventing genocide, defeating the Government. Humanists UK, which briefed All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) peers in support of these amendments ahead of these votes, has welcomed their inclusion in the Bill, which will now be returned to the House of Commons to be considered by MPs.

The first of these amendments will require Government ministers to determine whether another signatory to a new trade agreement has committed crimes against humanity before the agreement can be laid before Parliament for ratification, and to publish that determination at the same time as requesting Parliament to ratify the agreement. The second will allow the High Court or Court of Session in Scotland to make a preliminary determination that another signatory to a bilateral trade agreement with the UK has committed genocide. Where such a determination is reached, the Government must set out its course of action with respect to the agreement, and that course of action must be debated in Parliament.

The first amendment was moved by APPHG member Lord Collins of Highbury, while the second was moved by Lord Alton. In his speech, Lord Alton commented on the broad range of support his amendment received, noting it ‘has received important support from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbi, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, Humanists UK, Anglican and Catholic bishops, the Bar Council, the International Bar Association and a range of human rights organisations.’ APPHG member Lord Stevenson of Balmacara was also among those speaking in support.

In December, the House of Lords first voted in favour of an amendment to give the courts a role in determining genocide by a majority of 126. This was subsequently removed from the Trade Bill by a narrow margin vote in the House of Commons. It is hoped that these new amendments will now be supported by MPs.

In September 2020, Humanists UK, jointly with British Muslims for Secular Democracy, intervened at the UN Human Rights Council to call on the UN to take stronger action against the treatment of the Uighur people in China, after evidence emerged of mass detention and other human rights abuses, and asked if such treatment reached the threshold of genocide.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘As the UK enters a new era of negotiating its own trade agreements, there is a major risk that we could find ourselves in bilateral agreements with states committing genocide, with no mechanism to revoke such agreements for this reason. These amendments if passed into law would provide such a mechanism. In so doing, they would significantly strengthen the UK Government’s ability to oppose genocide wherever it occurs, however powerful the country that is committing it is.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the Lords debate.

Read our intervention at the UN Human Rights Council on the persecution of Uighurs in September.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

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