Written submission from Safwaan Zamakda Allison (TFP0010)

UK Parliament

International Trade Committee                                                        11th of February 2022

 

Introduction

  1. This document forms the evidence of Safwaan Zamakda Allison to the UK Parliament’s International Trade Committee, with respect to the inquiry on Trade and Foreign Policy. The evidence is to aid and assist the Committee in forming and furnishing recommendations to Her Majesty’s Government. The author is an academic, researcher and Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. He is an expert on Asian and MENA affairs.
  2. The scope of the inquiry is to ascertain, in essence, how trade should be aligned with and inform foreign policy, and how foreign policy considerations should (or could) be used to bolster the rules-based international order, human rights, just, free, and fair societies, and to promote democratic principles.
  3. It is without doubt the need for Her Majesty’s Government to promote the use of a free, fair, and impartial judiciary, and the rule of law, as well as open societies, based upon democratic principles. It is also necessary for cyber freedoms, freedoms of the media and the absence of internet censorship to be promoted.

 

Obligations

  1. At present, Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) is bound by a multitude of treaties, and memberships of multinational organisations. It is also bound by the Human Rights Act 1998, which stipulates that respect for human rights forms the fundamental basis upon which the UK Government acts. There is a moral and legal duty for the government to act in accordance with the law, and the spirit thereof. HMG is also morally, and to an extent legally, obligated to model best practice with respect to internet, media, social and judicial freedoms within the UK. Dicey’s (1915) conception of the rule of law being of fundamental importance still rings true, and HMG must implement the concepts both within the UK and outwith, especially in relation to diplomatic and trade relations.

 

China

  1. China is a substantial trading partner with the UK, and China is the UK’s third largest trading partner (Department for International Trade, 2022a). The volumes of trade have profound implications on both parties to the relationship. With the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK has greater freedom and flexibility to enter into trade agreements. In the case of China, it is strongly averred that human rights, the rule of law, judicial, internet and media freedom should inform the basis upon which the trade relationship is predicated. On all counts, the Chinese Government grievously fall short of international norms and values.
  2. It is without doubt that the Chinese Government has embarked on serious and profound human rights abuses, enshrined on a systemic level, and approved from the very top of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) state apparatus. Examples of this include the genocide being conducted in Xinjiang (AKA East Turkestan) (Foreign Affairs Committee, 2021), which was found to have been “irrefutable” and that “forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from families and a high-technology surveillance system” is being used against the Uyghur people, most of whom are Muslim. It must be held that without compunction, HMG has an obligation to raise these issues at the highest level, and to take action to ensure that these morally bereft and repugnant actions of the CCP are ended, both diplomatically, and in respect of trade. Widespread abuses are also taking place in Tibet (Miglani & Cadell, 2021) and Inner Mongolia (Graceffo, 2020), as well as in Hong Kong, where China’s international legal obligations are being shirked and Sino-British Treaty broken (FCDO, 2020; Wintour, 2020).
  3. Freedom of religion is a fundamental value to those in the UK, something that China does not act in accordance with, such as banning Muslim civil servants and students from engaging in traditional Ramadan activities (Arbaoui, 2014). Moreover, forced labour and compulsory brainwashing (formally called ‘re-education’ by the Chinese Government) is unacceptable, but endorsed by the Chinese Government (SCMP, 2020). Moreover, the Chief Justice of China has reiterated that China does not adhere to the concept of a free, fair and impartial judicial system, and affirmed that it would solely be used as a tool for the Chinese Communist Party (Forsythe, 2017). Additionally, China is the most prolific abuser of journalists (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2021).
  4. The UK has few shared values with the Chinese regime, and action ought to be taken by HMG to ensure that China respects the human rights of its citizens. It can be said, without compunction, that China is undergoing a monumental ‘Great Leap Backwards’. The UK must use its economic, political and diplomatic heft to ensure compliance and respect for human rights. China’s brazen human rights atrocities, and the fact that China does not abide by its legal obligations means that it is an untrustworthy partner and reducing trade and placing barriers to trade with China is necessary. This is to promote human rights, as well as to protect British diplomacy and standing, as well as to protect British citizens from human rights violations and the adverse effects of the Chinese from failing to abide by legal constraints, especially given that China’s desire to use hostage diplomacy is tangible. A state which ferociously suppresses large segments of their population cannot be rewarded with lucrative trade deals.

 

Occupied Palestinian Territories

  1. The Occupied Palestinian Territories are another cause for concern. It is without doubt that Israel has breached its obligations under international and domestic law on numerous occasions. The breaches are widespread, and range from the abuse of children and detaining them incommunicado, without access to a lawyer and trying them before military courts (UK Parliament: Early Day Motion 1724, 2021), building settlements patently unlawful under international law, even as per the EU Commission (2021), farming on and obtaining the proceeds of produce of illegal settlements and quarrying on Palestinian land (Amnesty International, 2021), and the acceptance that Israel holds the area in belligerent [military] occupation” (Judgment of the Israel Supreme Court, 2004).
  2. There is substantial opinion within the British public that sanctions should be taken against the Israeli government due to the widespread nature of human rights violations that it has committed (Parliament Petitions, 2021). The BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement have also had substantial success, owing to the fact that Israeli atrocities are found to be reprehensible by the British public (FOA, 2021). Moreover, Leicester City Council have joined the boycott movement and are committed not to trade with illegal Israeli settlements, including defending this moral position before the High Court (BBC, 2018).
  3. Trade between the UK and Israel is somewhat small and modest, with Israel being the 42nd largest trade partner with the UK (Department for International Trade, 2022b). However, trade and economic agreement discussions are an ongoing matter (Jozepa, 2022). HMG has an obligation to promote the safety of the Palestinian people, who are manifestly living under belligerent military occupation. Accordingly, this must be factored into trade agreements. The need to boycott, divest from, and sanction trade with illegal Israeli settlements is a necessity. The UK cannot, in good faith, trade with a partner who manifestly breaches international law, nor can the UK reward the theft and destruction of Palestinian land, with the connivance of the Israeli occupation state.
  4. Accordingly, the evidence suggests that it is necessary for HMG to take steps to ensure clarity in respect of the supply chain to ensure that goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements do not enter the UK. The actions of Leicester City Council are to be commended and modelled by HMG. Other countries, such is Ireland, have already looked into this as a matter of best practice. The City of Oslo (Oster, 2019), and the Trondheim, Vaksdal, Hamar, Lillehammer, and the Nordland County Councils (BDS Movement, 2020) and the City of Tromso (Jerusalem Post, 2016) have, as a matter of policy, boycotted trade of goods and services with illegal Israeli settlements. These principled positions ought to be emulated by HMG, and examined to ascertain how the UK might implement such a policy, to promote human rights in countries and territories that the UK trades with.

 

Saudi Arabia

  1. Saudi Arabia has long been a pariah in respect of human rights (Amnesty International UK, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020). Events adumbrating the reprehensible actions of the Saudi regime are too voluminous to mention, however, they include the murder and imprisonment of political dissidents (Safi, 2019) and the fact that Saudi Arabia expressly repudiated the call to become a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Abiad, 2008). Additionally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have vastly contributed to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen (Robinson, 2022).
  2. Notwithstanding the historical position of the Saudi Kingdom on human rights, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary, which was evidently and manifestly lacking in every regard, the Saudi government is now attempting to make changes and progress. With respect to education, women are now taking a more prominent position, and are starting to occupy senior academic and administrative leadership positions (Zamakda Allison, 2021a). However, for the time-being, this may very well be confined to women who already occupy elite positions, such as being members of the royal family. Additionally, women have been granted the right to drive (Al-Khamri, 2018), and to travel independently, without the permission of a male family member (BBC News, 2019). Moreover, women have been granted the right to register a marriage, divorce, or child’s birth and to be issued family legal documents, as well as to be the legal guardian of a child. These positive steps have been attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been credited with modernising Saudi Arabia, and bringing reforms which both respect Saudi culture, as well as ensure the human rights of Saudi citizens (Al Arabiya, 2020).
  3. Unlike China or Israel, Saudi Arabia is evidently making positive changes. Accordingly, trade should be used to ensure further compliance from the Saudi government, and to usher the Saudi people and government into a new age, where democratic principles are valued, where there is the rule of law, and where a fair and impartial judiciary dispense justice. Journalists must also be afforded freedom to report and raise the genuine concerns of the public. Trade can be used with a multitude of other tools to bring Saudi Arabia into line with international norms and values.

 

Morocco

  1. On the other end of the spectrum, trade relations between the UK and Morocco have been ramped up in recent years (Department for International Trade, 2022c). Morocco has made substantial steps to improve its human rights record, and Morocco has had substantial success in this regard (Chennani 2018). The Kingdom of Morocco takes the issues raised by human rights organisations seriously, as evidenced by the introduction of the new Family Code in 2004, which is a serious and compelling piece of legislation that creates gender equality, and respects the national culture and religious values of the people. Moreover, Morocco enacted a new constitution in 2011, bringing about sweeping reforms to enshrine human rights in legislation, protect the independence of the judiciary, safeguard journalists, as well as safeguard the traditions and national identity of Morocco (Ottaway, 2011). 
  2. Accordingly, owing to the impressive reforms of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, the increase in trade, corresponding with human rights reforms is very much justified. Given the close proximity of the UK to Morocco, and the long and shared history, with over 800 years of diplomatic relations, it is necessary for trade to be used to cement a strong bilateral relationship. Moreover, the UK is supporting Morocco’s ongoing reform process, in partnership with the Moroccan government and civil society. The British Embassy’s project funding of £1m per year is focused on encouraging political participation and supporting the fight against corruption (British Embassy Rabat, 2013). This is to be commended.
  3. Accordingly, it has been shown that it is possible for trade to be used to foster a close bilateral relationship, as well as to assist in bringing about lasting, sustainable and positive change, especially in relation to human rights and personal freedoms. In respect of the British – Moroccan relationship, it is imperative for the UK to accept Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara region of the Kingdom, which has already been acknowledged by numerous countries, including the USA (Donald J. Trump: The White House, 2021) and Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Kasraoui, 2021). The need to do this cannot be underestimated and is demonstrated by the strength of feelings of the Moroccan general public towards the need to accept Moroccan sovereignty (Zamakda Allison, 2021b).
  4. Therefore, Morocco, whilst a work in progress, is a success-story, which can be modelled by others. Significant improvements have been made, and will continue to be made (Fautre, 2018). HMG must appreciate the value of the strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco, and take steps to stimulate further improvements and an even closer relationship, underpinned by trade and diplomacy.

 

Recommendations

  1. HMG is in a position whereby it is responsible for ensuring free trade and improving the UK economy, as well conducting diplomacy, promoting the principles of fairness, equality, democracy, freedom of the judiciary and of the press. In numerous instances, it is an unenviable position. Notwithstanding this, it must be the position of Her Majesty’s Government that the obligation to safeguard human rights cannot be abandoned in favour of lucrative trade deals. Moreover, human rights abuses cannot be condoned or rewarded by economic incentives, and the opposite must be the case. Those who cannot respect human rights should not be able to trade with UK individuals and businesses, and the UK should not aid and abet the economic activities of human rights abusers.
  2. The above evidence has shown instances where impediments to trade are both necessary to promote adherence to international law and to safeguard human rights, as well as to protect British citizens and companies from unfair trade practices, hostage diplomacy, and to prevent British citizens and companies from dealing with those operating from within illegally annexed territories. Human rights abuses cannot be rewarded in any way whatsoever. Conversely, the above evidence shows that it is possible to use trade to bring about tangible and lasting change.

 

  1. HMG must establish processes, procedures and protocols whereby large trade deals are examined, scrutinised, and assessed, to ensure that they are acceptable as a matter of public policy.
  2. HMG must promote the lauded ‘British values’ both within the UK and abroad, and use its ‘soft power’ to encourage other countries to act in a lawful manner, and in line with human rights considerations.
  3. HMG should make it manifestly clear that trade should be discouraged with pariah states, and the potential dangers are abundantly clear. 
  4. HMG must take steps to ensure that international trade policies are in accordance with the UK’s obligation to protect and promote human rights across the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

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Al Arabiya English. (2020). Saudi women no longer need permission of male guardian to travel. https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2019/08/01/Saudi-women-no-longer-need-their-guardian-s-permission-to-issue-a-passport-Okaz

 

Al-Khamri, H. (2018). Why did Saudi Arabia lift the driving ban on women only now? Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2018/6/24/why-did-saudi-arabia-lift-the-driving-ban-on-women-only-now

 

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February 2022