The House of Lords has adopted two amendments to require assessment of compliance with international agreements and human rights.
On 7 December 2020, the UK House of Lords voted on and passed four amendments to the Trade Bill (the Bill), including two amendments referring to human rights obligations. These amendments propose requiring a mandatory assessment of human rights performance in future trade agreements, as well as an obligation on the UK to revoke trade agreements with countries found to have committed genocide.
The Bill was first introduced in Parliament in March 2020, with a view to implementing international trade agreements following the end of the Brexit transition period. The Bill also includes provisions establishing the Trade Remedies Authority, an institution intended to administer the new trade framework. The current human rights amendments were introduced during the report stage of the legislative process in the House of Lords.
The current bill aims to ensure that the UK continues to champion human rights globally and does not apply special rules to certain countries based on financial considerations.
The First Amendment
The first amendment would oblige the government to “conduct a risk assessment which considers whether the agreement would comply with the United Kingdom’s international treaties and other obligations, with particular reference to human rights”, and examine serious human rights violations. The amendment’s text subsequently defines serious violations as violations of an individual’s human rights and fundamental freedoms, including life, freedom from torture or cruel or inhumane treatment, and freedom from slavery.
The amendment would require that the aforementioned risk assessment be presented to the relevant Committees in both Houses of Parliament. The government would also need to present an annual report on the continuing compliance of trade agreements with the UK’s international obligations.
The Second Amendment
The second amendment would revoke any international bilateral trade agreement concluded with states that are later found to have committed genocide. The High Court of England is conferred the powers to determine whether a country is found guilty of having committed genocide under Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Following the report stage, the Bill will be reprinted to include all the agreed amendments. The Bill will then undergo a third reading in the House of Lords, during which the Lords will have a further opportunity to amend the draft legislation, before being returned to the House of Commons. The first House can either reject, revise, or suggest alternatives to the amendments. Until this process is completed, the final text under which the Bill will be promulgated remains to be seen.
Latham & Watkins will continue to monitor developments in this area.
This post was written with the assistance of Sabina Aionesei in the London office of Latham & Watkins.