Uighur campaigners 'disgusted' after government 'blocks' vote on genocide bill

Experts believe China's Uighur population could be subject to genocide. Credit: AP

Uighur campaigners are “sickened” after a vote on a bill that could prevent trade with countries engaged in genocide was apparently "blocked".

Rebel Tories are threatening to back a House of Lords amendment potentially forcing ministers to withdraw from any free trade agreement with a country the High Court rules is guilty of genocide.

Ministers are seeking to overturn the measure – on which MPs were expecting to vote on Tuesday – arguing that trade deals should be a matter for Parliament rather than the courts.

They face opposition from a band of Tory MPs, led by former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who accused ministers of being “desperate” to avoid anything that might upset China.

It comes amid renewed international scrutiny of Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur minority population in China’s Xinjiang province.

Uighur exile and leading campaigner, Rahima Mahmut, said: “We are sickened to find out that the government has moved to prevent Parliament voting on the Genocide Amendment.

“We have campaigned tirelessly to try and secure our day in court. To not even allow this to proceed to a vote is most shameful indeed.”

Sir Iain Duncan Smith is leading the rebellion. Credit: PA

The UK government has a longstanding policy that genocide is a matter for the courts and is not a political decision – but campaigners say allegations are rarely heard in international courts.

Many fear it will be too late for a genocide ruling to be made on China’s treatment of its Uighur population.

Should this bill, known as the Genocide Amendment, be approved by the Commons, the High Court could then make a ruling based on given evidence – which could pressure Parliament to cease trade.

Ministers are hoping to defuse the revolt by supporting a compromise proposal tabled by the chairman of the Commons Justice Committee Sir Bob Neill, which would allow MPs, rather than the courts, to consider allegations of atrocities.

The government is backing Sir Bob’s bill, which would prevent a straight up and down vote on the Lords genocide amendment, instead seeking to disagree with that and one other and replace it with the compromise proposal.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is leading the rebellion, dismissed the plan.

He said it did not give Parliament the power to do anything MPs and peers cannot already do – while Tory MPs predicted the result was likely to be “tight”.

“The government has constantly stated that only a court can decide on genocide and call it genocide and yet they are blocking any access to the UK courts,” Sir Iain said.

“The Foreign Office particularly doesn’t want to do this because they are worried it will upset the Chinese.”

Conservative former minister Nusrat Ghani accused the government of using “every tactic and trick in the book to prevent a vote on the New Genocide Amendment”.

“The government first says that genocide is a ‘judicial matter’ and then attempts to outlaw the courts from getting involved, and now they’re banning Parliament from playing a role and voting as well. Is this really how we want our country to behave in the face of genocide?”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday: “The government shares the grave concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang behind Lord Alton’s amendment and understands the strength of feeling on this issue.

“However, that amendment could embroil the courts in the formulation of trade policy and conduct of international relations and risks undermining the separation of powers.

“The amendment put forward by the chair of the select committee, which the government will be supporting, addresses the concerns raised by the parliamentarians to take a stand on credible reports of genocide by a prospective trade partner while ensuring a specific duty on government to act.”