The bill would provide for the High Courts in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland, and the Court of Session in Scotland, to make preliminary determinations as to what constitutes genocide in accordance with the UK’s obligations under the genocide convention. It would also introduce a referral mechanism for such determinations to be referred to international courts.

Lord Alton has raised the subject of genocide, and the UK’s duties to address it as a signatory to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the genocide convention), more than 300 times in the House of Lords. He has also introduced similar private member’s bills in previous parliamentary sessions, none of which progressed to their second reading.

However, recent legislative changes have been made on the subject of genocide following amendments tabled by Lord Alton and others to the Trade Bill 2019–21, now the Trade Act 2021. Following debate at various stages of the bill, the Houses of Commons and Lords agreed a compromise amendment meaning that a House of Commons committee will henceforth be able to identify credible reports of genocide and insist on a parliamentary debate if the committee is not satisfied with the government’s response to its report.

The provisions in Lord Alton’s bill and the debate on the amendments tabled to the Trade Bill are examined in this briefing, alongside the difficulties in defining and acting against genocide under the terms of the genocide convention.

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