Daniel Hannan: Trade sanctions are a counterproductive foreign policy tool – which play into the hands of oppressive regimes

17 Feb

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative Life peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

What can one country practically do to halt crimes against humanity in another? The answer is far from obvious. At one end of the scale, it might decide that it has an absolute duty to intervene against genocide, and that the only choice is therefore to invade the offending state, with or without a coalition of allies, halt the killings or be defeated in the attempt. At the other, it might conclude that there is nothing much it can do beyond moving a condemnatory resolution at the United Nations, offering sanctuary to refugees and possibly withdrawing its ambassador.

Obviously, there is a huge spectrum between those two approaches. But there is surprisingly little discussion of what the optimum point on that spectrum is – the point at which exercising proportionate pressure is likeliest to result in a policy change in the other country. Perhaps inevitably in an age of performative anger, some commentators are more interested in signalling their horror at human rights abuses than in pondering the most effective way to tackle them.

The very first vote I cast in the House of Lords (electronically, under the current lockdown rules) was on this issue. An amendment moved by the crossbench peer, Lord Alton, would effectively have allowed British courts to determine whether any country trading with us was guilty of genocide and, if so, to trigger economic sanctions.

No one has ever accused Alton, a former Lib Dem MP, of performative anger. He is a decent and thoughtful man who manages – a rare thing in politics – to be moral without being moralistic. His amendment has attracted supporters from every party in both chambers – most of them, too, actuated by good and sincere motives. But, in the end, it seems to me that their proposed remedy is misplaced.

Ministers argue that issues of this kind ought not to be referred to courts. The question of whether another country is committing such atrocities within its borders as to constitute crimes against humanity should be one for our elected government. If, as would surely sometimes happen, our judges ruled that there was insufficient evidence to make a determination, the offending regime might seize on that judgment as vindication: “Britain has cleared us of genocide”.

All this is true, as far as it goes. We should be very careful about drawing judges into political questions – and drawing them into issues of foreign policy would be quite a step. But it seems to me that there is a more fundamental objection to the proposal. Put simply, trade sanctions are a terrible foreign policy tool. They are not so much useless as counterproductive, serving to hurt ordinary people in the other country as well as your own while propping up the regime of which you disapprove.

At the very least, trade sanctions – including the suspension of a free trade agreement, which we might consider the softest trade sanction – push people in the targeted state towards their leaders. One reason why Communism survived in Cuba when it fell in most of the world was that American sanctions had created a siege mentality. The embargo allowed Fidel Castro to tell his countrymen that their poverty was caused, not by Marxist economics, but by the yanqui blockade.

Vladimir Putin knows how to exploit the same phenomenon, triggering constant conflicts which are primarily intended, not to absorb bits of Georgia or Ukraine, but to foment confrontation with the West, so keeping Russians in a mood of defensive and angry patriotism – precisely the state of mind that makes them likeliest to rally to Putin.

More than this, though, economic sanctions create lucrative opportunities for elites within the countries at which they are aimed. In an open and competitive market, with low barriers to entry, prices fall – to general benefit. The more restricted or distorted a market becomes, the more opportunities are created for monopolists, especially those who are politically connected. States subject to sanctions – Iran, Russia, Venezuela – form a nexus, doing deals with each other which allow a few brokers to get very rich while doing nothing for the general population.

To see what I mean, think back to the oil-for-food regime that operated during the UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein. Notionally designed to allow food and humanitarian supplies into Iraq, it became a racket, allowing favoured Ba’athists and their allies in other countries to make a fortune.

If trade sanctions don’t work, what does? As I said at the start, that is not an easy question. But it surely makes sense to target sanctions at the guilty, something Western countries have become much more adept at doing over the past 20 years. Micro-sanctions vary in severity: travel bans, asset seizures, arrest warrants – possibly even, in extremis, Eichmann-style judicial kidnappings. As a general proposition, though, keyhole surgery must be more effective than hacking blindly with a cleaver.

I was struck, during that first House of Lords debate, by how many people still see trade in essentially mercantilist terms – as a favour to be bestowed rather than as a growth strategy. That fundamental misunderstanding distorted the coverage of the EU-UK trade talks. (“Why”, asked commentators “should the EU grant us access to their markets?” – as though doing so were an act of kindness.) But, more seriously, it distorts our approach to unfriendly regimes.

We often stumble into trade sanctions because of the most dangerous sequence in politics: “Something must be done; here’s something; let’s do it”. In fact, commercial restrictions take from the many to give to the few – and the tyrants know it.

Nus Ghani: China and genocide. Our new proposal answers Ministers’ objections. So they should support it.

4 Feb

Nus Ghani is MP for Wealden and a member of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.

In Donald Trump’s last days as President, his outgoing administration did something particularly bold. In determining that China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” in its repression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the eyes of the world are now focusing on the appalling atrocities that have gone on for far too long.

Two million Uighurs and other minorities have been forced into slave labour prisons and camps in Xinjiang’s cotton fields, with state organised violation and abuse of women, as well as forced sterilisations.

But while the US has repeatedly acted decisively – including with its own Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act – and decided that they have enough evidence to act, the UK has found itself languishing on the sidelines. This is not where Global Britain ought to be.

The UK has entered a new era. We have left the EU and taken back control of our laws and our trade policy. We should be using this freedom to make our mark in the world, and to play an active part in the global civic community – not to retreat into isolationism and irrelevance.

With Joe Biden as America’s President and Britain soon to take on the presidency of the G7, now is the time for us to show what post-Brexit Britain is really about.

It’s entirely understandable that the Government wants to be exceptionally cautious about using the term “genocide”. It is the most heinous of crimes, and the term should not be used inaccurately or lightly. But it is maintaining a policy on genocide that is, by its very nature, fundamentally dishonest, and which ensures that Britain will always look the other way when a genocide is ongoing.

The UK position has always been that “genocide is a judicial matter” – as stated once again by the Prime Minister last week in the Commons. And the court we defer to is the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But everybody knows, including Government ministers, that the ICC is in a state of frozen paralysis – held hostage by Russia and China’s veto at the United Nations. The UN is simply incapable of holding genocidal states to account.

So I am suggesting an amendment to the Trade Bill that brings to an end this incoherence, and allows a UK court to be able to play a role in this decision instead, given the ICC’s inability to. And I’m delighted that the Lords has listened to concerns raised by MPs on all sides of the House, and has returned us a New Genocide Amendment which we will be debating next week.

Rather than say that genocide is a matter for international law, knowing full well that it is paralysed by global politics, we must give British courts a role instead. It is the only way to make sure that the Government’s policy on genocide actually does anything.

The Government can’t have it both ways. Ministers can’t come to the despatch box saying genocide is a “judicial decision”, but then ban the courts from making even a preliminary decision.

The so-called “genocide amendment” is so desperately needed because China and Russia are making a mockery of the international legal order. In the 75 years since the Nuremberg trials, the UK and the UN have never succeeded in recognising a genocide whilst it was ongoing. And if we don’t adopt the genocide amendment, China and Russia will continue to make a mockery of our domestic law too, and we will be outsourcing to them all future decisions on genocide.

I know that some of our colleagues were desperate to support it, in both the Lords and Commons, and know it’s the right thing to do. Some were worried about UK courts being clogged up with vexatious or improper claims, despite the fact that British judges are some of the most experienced and respected in the world.

And some were concerned that the courts might be able to strike down trade deals, or that this new law might erode parliamentary sovereignty. That would of course be unconstitutional and improper.

The beauty of the New Genocide Amendment is that it addresses all of these concerns and we have conceded to Government objections. So the only question to ask now is given that the New Genocide Amendment is the compromise, what is the Government’s objection now?

When the Commons comes to debate this one final time, we all have a very simple choice to make. Do we want the UK to be handcuffed by Russia and China when it comes to genocide, or do we want to take back control and empower ourselves to actually do something?

Over 50 years ago the UK signed the UN Genocide Convention, to ensure that atrocities like the Holocaust could ‘never again’ take place. It’s time we stood by the international rule of law, promoted our hard won values and standards across the world and showed what British values are about.

Brexit wasn’t a vote for Britain to pursue isolationist policies, to pull up the drawbridge or to downgrade our values. We are not a country that will ever want to enrich itself on the back of slave labour, or to use its new found freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide. Britain is better than that.

Brexit was a vote, full of hope and optimism, which said that Britain should play its part in leading the global world order, rather than having the EU set our values for us. Unless we shift this cavalier attitude on genocide aside, we will continue to shrink on the world stage and our influence will wane.

It’s time for Britain to be on the right side of history.

The 33 Conservative MPs who rebelled over the Genocide Amendment

19 Jan
  • Ahmad Khan, Imran
  • Amess, David
  • Blackman, Bob
  • Blunt, Crispin
  • Bridgen, Andrew

 

  • Crouch, Tracey
  • Davis, David
  • Djanogly, Jonathan
  • Duncan Smith, Iain
  • Ellwood, Tobias

 

  • Francois, Mark
  • Ghani, Nusrat
  • Gillan, Cheryl
  • Gray, James
  • Green, Damian

 

  • Hart, Sally-Anne (pictured)
  • Hoare, Simon
  • Hollobone, Philip
  • Jenkin, Bernard
  • Latham, Pauline

 

  • Lewer, Andrew
  • Lewis, Julian
  • Loughton, Tim
  • Mackinlay, Craig
  • Nokes, Caroline

 

  • Richards, Nicola
  • Rossindell, Andrew
  • Seely, Bob
  • Tugendhat, Tom
  • Wakeford, Christian

 

  • Walker, Charles
  • Warburton, David
  • Wragg, William

Today’s genocide amendment had no relation whatsoever to recent votes on Covid – or other major rebellions that this site has been chronicling.

But there is considerable overlap between the rebels on those lists and on this one.  And even newcomers to our records such as Sally-Ann Hart and Nicola Richards have voted against the Government previously (though rarely).

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the amendment, lists of those defying the whips now have a certain predictability.

The China genocide amendment. Our politicians should decide our trade policy – not our judges.

18 Jan

There is no trade deal negotiation between the UK and China.  And the way the world is changing, there isn’t going to be one.

That being so, why has an amendment been tabled to the Trade Bill, which will be considered in the Commons tomorrow, that would empower our courts to consider claims of genocide and revoke trade deals with countries found guilty of it?  The amendment is aimed fairly and squarely at China over its treatment of the Uighurs.

The answer is that campaigners against genocide, or the Chinese Communist regime (or both) are frustrated twice over.

First, there is no way that a case against China would be heard by an international court.  It can block hearings both by the International Court of Justice, since these need the consent of the parties concerned, and to the International Criminal Court, as a member of the UN Security Council.  And it would smother any special tribunal plan at birth.

The second is that, when campaigners seek to evade that obstacle by finding ways of taking cases to domestic courts, the Government replies that these shouldn’t rule on them…adding that they must therefore be considered by international courts, such as the International Criminal Court of the International Court of Justice.

This circular logic infuriates campaigners, and their anger, as expressed by David Alton recently during the Lords’ consideration of the Bill, is understandable.  However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the Government’s position is wrong.  What are its main arguments?  Essentially, there are three.

First, that our own courts are unwilling to hear genocide cases, being nervous of rushing in where international ones are wary of treading.  (Only some of the Rwandan and Bosnian killings during the 1990s have been so designated.)  But it may well be that our judges have a duty to consider such cases whether they want to or not.

Second, that UK courts are not in a position to act as international ones would: in other words, gather and consider evidence. Perhaps – though there is video evidence; there are witness statements.  Furthermore, if the co-operation of China’s regime with genocide claims against it is considered indispensable, there will never be any trials at all.

Third, that it is for the Executive and the Legislature, not the Judiciary, to determine the conditions for trade deals: that these are a matter for politics – not the courts. This is a more powerful point.  Furthermore, as Ministers point out, if judges were to be empowered to rule on such deals, why set a bar for investigation as high as genocide?

Why not also allow our courts to rule on claims involving war crimes, torture, slavery, imprisonment without trial – and other offences that, while heinous, nonetheless fall short of attempts to elimate a national, ethnic, racial or religious group?  And what of positive as well as negative rights?

What about countries that allow the segregation of students based on disability, or discrimination against gay people at work, or suppress information about abortion?  Ministers worry that this amendment suggests a further extension of judical power, as dramatically highlighted last year by the Supreme Court’s ruling on prorogation.

When the Trade Bill was considered in the Lords, anti-genocide campaigners made it clear that they aren’t opposed to our courts ruling, if necessary, on those other major human rights abuses: as good and humane people, why would they be?  And amendments had indeed been tabled which sought to allow our judges to hear such cases.

Mull the implications for a moment.  No country in the world is incapable of being dragged before the bar of a human rights claim – including, by the way, the UK itself: for example, Human Rights Watch says that “the government refused in 2019 to order a fresh public inquiry into alleged UK complicity in rendition and torture”.

If you think that example is what a lawyer would call argumentative, return to the matter at hand: trade deals.  Liz Truss has rolled over more than 60 of these (it is hard to keep up).  More or less off the top of our heads, we zoom in on three of the trading partners involved: Egypt, Peru and Vietnam.

“Security officers routinely commit serious human rights violations, including torture, disappearances and extra-judicial executions, in near-absolute impunity,” Human Rights Watch says of Egypt.  “Under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government…it has been experiencing its worst human rights crisis in many decades”.

Of Peru, it writes that “threats to freedom of expression, violence against women, and abuses by security forces are …major concerns”.  “Vietnam’s human rights record remains dire in all areas,” it says. “The Communist Party maintains a monopoly on political power and allows no challenge to its leadership.”

It isn’t hard to see grounds on which a British court might wish to strike down all three of these deals, were it empowered to do so.  Would the UK be a hero or a mug to put itself in such a position?  A hero, blazing a trail for justice worldwide?  Or a mug, handing over jobs to less sentimental competitors at the bang of a judge’s gavel?

The more one thinks about it, the more one sees that anti-genocide campaigners, in search of a vehicle to take them to their destination, have boarded the only one available, suitable or not – the Trade Bill.  But empowering our courts to make a determination of genocide is one thing; giving them the right to rule on trade deals in so doing is another.

For once that say is granted in principle, why deny it in practice? If China really is inflicting genocide on the Uighars – and so it seems to be – why not let our courts rule on whether UK firms should be trading with it at all?  Do our present exports to China really come with cleaner hands than the future ones that would follow a putative trade deal?

MPs’ assessments of how to vote on China, genocide and the courts will be influenced as much by Parliamentary tactics as by political principle.  Would opposing the amendment send a signal of weakness to China?  Maybe.  But what will happen next if enough MPs make that calculation, back the amendment, and it passes?

A Government concession could be on the cards.  In the Lords debates on the Bill, Ministers argued that they agree with action on trade deals over human rights, and that they are already acting anyway – “we seek to ensure that human rights are recognised and protected in all our free trade agreements,” as Lord Grimstone, the Minister, put it.

With the China Research Group on the case – plus the Board of Deputies of British Jews, ever-active when genocide claims are concerned – the scene may be set for Ministers tightening up their human rights’ tests for trade deals.

If so, they will try to balance justice concerns, British business interests and Parliamentary accountability in such a way as to persuade Tory supporters of the amendment to abstain, and those MPs who are preparing to abstain to go through the Government lobby instead.

Looking wider than the context of a trade deal that won’t happen anyway, Dominic Raab says that China’s treatment of the Uighars amounts to torture, and that companies profiting from it should be barred from business in the UK.

Ministers also have the option of discouraging investment in China, cracking down on its subversion, influence-peddling and espionage here – and even imposing sanctions, if that’s a route voters and MPs are willing to pursue. Unlikely?  Perhaps.  But less problematic than extending judicial power to trade policy.

Rehman Chishti and Knox Thames: Freedom of religion is under threat. Trans-Atlantic efforts can combat that.

12 Oct

Rehman Chishti is an MP and the former UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB. Knox Thames served as the US Special Advisor on Religious Minorities at the State Department for both the Obama and Trump administrations.  

The United States and the United Kingdom have worked closely on joint efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) worldwide. It’s a reflection of our shared values, and the partnership presents a unique opportunity for joint action. And the time to act is now.

Religious repression is at all-time highs, with the Pew Forum reporting 84 per cent of the global community lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on faith practices. That’s not to say everyone is persecuted, but that the space for freedom of conscience is shrinking. People of all faiths and worldviews are affected by these trends, which have implications beyond human rights, including international security and the growth of violent religious extremism.

Solving a problem this large requires diverse coalitions. Through our work, we recognised the substantial advantages of partnerships with like-minded governments. Thankfully, there is unprecedented interest in a new trans-Atlantic effort to promote this fundamental freedom.

In the UK, the Truro report, launched the day after Christmas in 2018 by Jeremy Hunt, the then UK Foreign Secretary, specifically examined persecuted Christians. The report found troubling examples of Christian persecution, but noted that other communities also suffer, and recommended Her Majesty’s government do more to assist all persons persecuted for their beliefs. I (Chishti) was tasked with setting the 22 recommendations into policy, getting 17 into place before leaving office.

In the US, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 created a special ambassador at large on the issue and office, as well as required the annual reporting on religious freedom conditions worldwide. During the Trump administration, the State Department convened two ministerial-level summits that elevated the issue and launched a new Alliance to bring together the most committed countries on advancing religious freedom for all.

We both believe that holistically advocating for everyone’s right, as opposed to singularly focused on just one community, is the best approach. We grounded our activities in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of conscience, the right to change faith or have no faith, meet alone or with others for worship, and share one’s religious views. While, of course, we should speak out when individual groups face persecution, we must do so in the context of advocating for the right of religious freedom for all. A balanced approach focused on the right will ensure space for all beliefs.

Why? We’ve seen that it’s the most durable path to guaranteeing the right over the long haul. Environments where every individual is free to seek truth as their conscience leads is one where every community can thrive. In contrast, narrowly focused efforts, such as Christian persecution by Hungary or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s concentration on Muslim persecution, will most likely fall short of their long-term goals. It’s not that Christian and Muslim persecution isn’t happening – it most definitely is, and we must speak out.

But an environment providing freedom of conscience for all will ensure that individual communities can survive in the future. Otherwise, we risk creating religious Bantustans of special exemptions or carve-outs benefiting specific groups.

Working closely with Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, we instilled this approach into the new International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance and its founding charter. Alongside our Dutch and Brazilian counterparts, the UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, and key civil society experts, we helped build an organisation of 30+ nations from different regional, political, and religious backgrounds. Of course, none of these countries are perfect, but they all agreed to uphold their Article 18 commitments at home and abroad, including contentious issues like conversion and free speech.

Working together with those committed to the same principles can meet the challenges of today. For instance, the Alliance devised new strategies to advocate for all, such as a statement on Covid to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t become a pretext to limit religious freedom. Another vital network we participated in with Canada – the International Contact Group for FoRB – was also grounded in this religious-freedom-for-all approach.

In the face of new challenges and opportunities, progress will depend on North American and European leadership. The challenges facing religious freedom are beyond the capabilities or influence of any one government or organisation. Fortunately, our common understanding creates a platform for coordinated and elevated activity. Now, in addition to the US and UK envoys, others exist in several countries and organisations: Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, EU, the Netherlands, Norway, OSCE, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Nations.

The time is right for a more assertive trans-Atlantic approach, but parliamentarians and governments must demonstrate a lasting commitment to the right. Freedom of thought, conscience, and belief isn’t a conservative or liberal value or some sideshow to other issues, but a fundamental human right relevant to people of all faiths and none worldwide. It deserves the full attention of the international community.

Pressing repressive governments toward reform will not be easy or costless. China is playing hardball, with its persecution of UighursTibetansChristians, and the pressuring of countries daring to speak out. Pakistan’s abusive blasphemy law is in overdrive, while India is taking a wrong turn against minorities. Burma’s genocide against the Rohingya grinds on, while Christians in Nigeria suffer from Boko Haram.

In response, networking efforts among like-minded allies can share the burden and multiply the effectiveness of bilateral engagements. For instance, sanctions and other corrective measures like the Magnitsky act, which our countries have implemented, can create political leverage to encourage change. Hopefully, others in Europe will follow. Speaking out on specific cases is another example, such as on Yemen or blasphemy laws. To further elevate, our countries can use our UN Security Council seats to press for reforms. We can share data and train diplomats. All European and North American countries can immediately response to atrocity crimes, including genocide, or establish early warning systems.

More action is desperately needed. Governments must take this human right seriously and incorporate concerns across their policies. People of faith must speak up for persecuted believers (and non-believers) from other communities, to stand in solidarity with the repressed. Religious leaders should tackle this issue head-on, using their pulpits to advocate for soul freedom of all.

Everyone speaking up for everyone, even outside their belief system, is most impactful for the global effort. By working together, as rights-respecting communities on each side of the Atlantic, we can make a difference.