Afghanistan and Progressive Foreign Policy

Paul Thompson and Frederick Harry Pitts

With many in the UK and elsewhere depressed and heartbroken by events in Afghanistan, some quarters of the left have seemingly exulted in the defeat of the US and UK forces and their Afghan allies. For some within the Labour Party and the wider left, there was only one lesson to be drawn – the necessary failure of what the likes of Yanis Varoufakis labelled a “liberal-neocon imperialist” intervention and occupation.

Left commentators like Paul Mason are right to highlight how liberal interventionism has been undermined by the legacy of the Blair and Bush era. Underpinned by overly optimistic fantasies of a new unipolar global order of peace and prosperity, Western governments vastly underestimated the practical, political and military obstacles to creating new, democratic institutions in divided and economically underdeveloped societies, ruled by patriarchal, sectarian political elites. 

It cannot be denied that the experience in Afghanistan confirmed how difficult it is to build up state capacity from scratch. But the kind of failure associated with the likes of Iraq cannot be the sole prism through which every other security or humanitarian intervention is framed. Setting aside the merits and justifications of the original 2001 NATO-backed intervention in response to the 9/11 attacks, the events that followed in no way fit an easy narrative of imperialist occupation and oppression.

There are doubtlessly many things that could and should have been done better or differently. This is particularly true of the period following the cessation of the military campaign in 2014. But any balance sheet would show real advances in women’s rights, democracy, human security, civil society and economic development. It is important for the left to acknowledge these small gains, however piecemeal and imperfect, and their underpinning conditions of possibility and preservation.

However, some left responses to emergent foreign policy issues find themselves overburdened by the longstanding conceptual baggage of ideas like ‘imperialism’, squeezing out room for analysis of these concrete achievements and the threats posed to them. Such responses purport to analyse the world through a historically ‘materialist’ lens focused on how material factors determine foreign policy, but this theoretical framework ironically fails to produce any practical politics matched to the real material specificities of lives in danger, freedoms at risk and the means available to protect them.

In a context where the relatively small Western military presence represented a thin line protecting a fragile set of basic freedoms for the people of Afghanistan, rushing to crow about the defeat of the ‘occupying powers’ runs the risk of affirming a return to fundamentalist rule – as is now laid painfully bare, the only plausible alternative to the emergent and imperfect democratic experiment instituted following the Taliban’s removal from power nearly twenty years ago. The left’s response should be measured against this reality, on the basis of the world as it really is rather than the make-believe world called into being by ill-fitting conceptualisations of ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonialism’.

Mason and others are wrong to argue that because of the failure of a particular model of liberal interventionism, there is nothing that democratic nations can do in situations like Afghanistan. Refracting all foreign policy through the lens of military intervention, the anti-imperialist left imaginary lacks interest in the other diplomatic and humanitarian means at the disposal of democratic nations confronting challenges like that in Afghanistan. Open Labour’s recent statement on what could have been done militarily and politically to prevent a total Taliban victory is a rare exception, emphasising humanitarian intervention to preserve what Mary Kaldor calls ‘human security’.

Low points on the left

Open Labour’s statement was one of the few effective responses to emerge from the left in the last week or so, admirably shorn of apologism and score-settling over the Blair years. Particular lowpoints of the left response included Varoufakis’s condescending call for Afghan women to ‘hang in there sisters’, the Socialist Campaign Group’s proposal for reparations to be paid to the new Taliban-led government, Stop the War’s absurd claim that the intervention had served ‘no purpose’, Young Labour’s conspiracist statement demeaning Afghan attempts at democracy, and Jeremy Corbyn’s call for ‘regional powers’ like China, Russia and Iran to step in and help steer the incoming Taliban regime.

Met by understandable criticism on social media, these salvos exposed to greater scrutiny a longstanding moral and ethical malaise among the left. Indeed, in light of the present situation these abject sentiments may well serve to sway some to abandon the default and ultimately disastrous foreign policy positions that have been par for the course among too many on the left for years.

What stood out, for many, was the complete lack of empathy for those about to lose freedoms and, in some cases, lives. Disavowing any immediate or direct actions, the most the left offered were transactional pledges of ‘solidarity’ and calls on the government to take more refugees. While the latter is of course welcome, the overall response did little to conceal a casual disregard for any practical defence of the small but meaningful gains made by women, minorities and civil society in Afghanistan itself.

Whilst for some the dogmatic and tone-deaf response of the anti-imperialist left has been brought into sharp relief by recent events, it is no aberration. Last year we co-authored a pamphlet on progressive foreign policy for the Labour Campaign for International Development and Open Labour, critically reconstructing the worldview that drives the dominant left approach to conflict and violence beyond our immediate national borders.

Mischaracterised on the hard left as ‘warmonger internationalism’ and the hard right as a work of ‘wokery’, the pamphlet focused on the outdated and binary ‘campism’ of a substantial, though by no means all-encompassing, portion of the contemporary left. This campist mentality grants agency solely to a Western bogeyman seen as responsible for all the ills of the world. Meanwhile, it excuses the actions of any actor opposed to the West as an automatic and inevitable reflex. This ‘resistance’, no matter how authoritarian or reactionary, is understood as the unthinking consequence of material determination. At the same time, this dehumanising perspective patronises local forces and mobilisations that actively resist these authoritarians and reactionaries, portraying movements for democracy and human rights as the unwitting dupes or complicit stooges of Western hegemony.

Ironically, this campist worldview rhetorically deprives its favoured counterhegemonic forces of agency, preserving the West as the only significant global actor. The ‘rest’, meanwhile – an amorphous amalgam of rising powers, subordinate states and liberation movements – can only limply respond to its evil deeds. This denial of agency does little to advance the cause of self-determination and democracy, and leaves the left bereft of an intellectual basis to plausibly account for the repressive, destabilising and even genocidal actions of states and movements perceived as opposing ‘the West’. Moreover, by solipsistically seeing the West as the centre of the world, the campist left seeks a nationalistic ‘peace in one country’ at any cost, demanding the UK, US and allies wipe their hands of the war and violence that will continue to be experienced by civilians elsewhere.

This orientation extends to Afghanistan, where the left recognises only the Western intervention and overlooks the role of other powers in the Afghan conflict, aswell as its centrality to geopolitical contests between them. The left lays responsibility for the failure of this ‘unwinnable conflict’ solely at the door of the US, UK and NATO forces. Yet the Taliban is no marginal, ragtag militia. It has been armed and supported in various ways not only by factions in Pakistan, but also buttressed to some extent by other regional powers and Gulf states, few of whom had an interest in a democratic Afghanistan. In other words, there was a lot more than one ‘intervention’ going on and those who armed and backed one of the most repressive and reactionary political forces on earth bear the primary responsibility for what we are now seeing unfolding, rather than those who, until recently, sought to combat it.

Tilting at windmills

The campist approach also obscures the role of other global and regional powers like China, Russia and Iran – the importance of which to contemporary geopolitics also seems lost on the US and the UK. In this way, the disastrous and avoidable denouement of the coalition’s exit from Afghanistan is a matter of profound regret not only for Afghans, but also for its wider strategic consequences. Whilst governmental and public weariness with so-called ‘forever wars’ is understandable, seeking to shape foreign policy primarily in line with the contingencies of internal political calculations has limitations. Regardless of whether we wish to turn and look away, persistent diplomatic and foreign policy challenges will continue to face democratic nations and shape their domestic politics.

President Biden will feel this more than most. In our Open Labour pamphlet and elsewhere, we cautiously evaluated the extent to which Biden would represent continuity with presidents Obama and Trump on the role of the US in the wider world, including in the Middle East and other conflict zones like Afghanistan. We documented how the US had ceded ground to Russia in shoring up the Assad regime in Syria, and how Iran had manifested its regional aspirations unchallenged through the proliferation of proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the centrality of Afghanistan to broader global rivalries seems lost on Biden, aswell as his UK allies. Together they aspire to leave behind commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria as part of an ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ in support of systemic competition with China.

But this is a mistaken way to wage a ‘new cold war’ where China itself is flexing its muscles diplomatically and militarily beyond its Pacific backyard – including in Afghanistan, with which it shares a border. China’s likely recognition of the Taliban regime paves the way for investment in reconstruction and rare earth mineral extraction characteristic of a growing network of client states and dependent economies. The failure of both the Trump and Biden administrations to anticipate these consequences exhibits precisely the lack of joined-up thinking weakening liberal democracy worldwide at a time of crisis.

We were hopeful, at the time of Biden’s inauguration, that he would realise the promise of his pitch to reassert American power on the world stage as a guarantor of free societies, human rights and liberal democracy, as well as spark a wave of industrial, economic and social renewal capable of providing a progressive and competitive alternative to the authoritarianism of China. Unfortunately, events of the past weeks may fatally undermine his plans, including for a ‘summit of democracies’ to bypass the weakness and complicity of UN bodies.

Labour’s response

With the left some distance from power and influence, then, the Afghanistan debacle is primarily a story of the complacency of the centre and right. But it is particularly incumbent on the left, in its historical specificity as an emancipatory force, to recognise and confront the consequences of an eroding liberal world order for the preservation of local and global spaces for radical or reformist politics. Recent events in Afghanistan expose some of the major intellectual and ideological faultlines in the Labour Party. Given impetus by the fresh approach to foreign policy introduced by Lisa Nandy in the Shadow Foreign Affairs brief, the leadership’s response to the Afghanistan crisis shows that the mainstream of the party has overcome the severe limitations of the Corbyn years.

It is a common refrain that foreign policy does not fly on the doorstep, but occasionally a crisis emerges that resonates with a public, whose understanding has been aided by excellent on-the-ground journalism. As Tom Hinchcliffe notes, Afghanistan is one such example. Labour have adeptly occupied some of the terrain this has opened up to advance critiques of the government’s handling of the crisis. Aswell as chiming with the public mood, the party’s response has ably highlighted the incapacity of the conservative and populist right to live up to the defence of liberal democracy projected in the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda.

The unfolding human tragedy in Afghanistan transcends political calculations, but the party’s positioning on recent events has had the effect of turning what has been a serious weakness in recent years – defence and foreign policy – into an emerging strength. As the Biden presidency continues Trump’s isolationism in the US, and the Johnson government exposes the empty reality of Global Britain, Labour has the opportunity to repair trust and confidence around defence and foreign policy at a time it is slipping away elsewhere on the political spectrum.

Whilst representing a vital step in Labour’s moral, political and electoral renewal, this will be small solace to those subject to Taliban tyranny and Islamic State terrorism in Afghanistan. There are hopeful signs that allies will step into the space the US vacated to carve out an island of human security amidst the crisis. Echoing calls made by Open Labour and others, the French government were leading efforts at a UN level to guarantee military provision of safe passage to civilians in Afghanistan. Sadly and somewhat typically, the UN Security Council left the proposals in a significantly watered-down state. Nonetheless, humanitarian corridors or safe zones are just one example of what can be done beyond outdated dogma and craven calculation.

Kachin Conflict

The Kachin are a people that inhabit the eponymous Kachin State within Burma. They are a majority Christian people in a majority Buddhist area. The Kachin state is a mountainous area and historically the Kachin have been separate from the majority of Burma. Under the British Empire the Kachin were given a large degree of autonomy. Many Kachin fought for the UK in World War One and World War Two, it was British colonial policy to preference minorities such at the Kachin, Karen and Shan over the majority ethnic Burmese.

Many ethnic Burmese supported the Japanese invasion during World War Two. Whilst most Kachin supported the British. In return for this support the Kachin were promised that they would have autonomy and a right to govern their own affairs after the war ended. To this day many Kachin feel a strong sense of solidarity with Britain.

To repay this promise; Clement Attlee, insisted to Burmese Nationalist leader Aung San that Britain would not support his attempts to lead an independent Burma unless he guaranteed protections for ethnic minorities such as the Kachin. Attlee went further and insisted that Aung San gain the consent of the Kachin, Karen, and Shan. This was achieved at the Panglong Conference in 1947 when the Kachin agreed to become part of an independent Union of Burma. Aung San however was assassinated six months after independence. After this, successive Burmese leaders sought to undermine the federalist principles of the Panglong Conference and centralise power. Furthermore, during the 50s Prime Minister U Nu signed away several traditionally Kachin areas to China and in 1961 he declared that Buddhism was the state religion – which further alienated the Christian Kachin.

In 1962 U Nu was deposed in a military coup by General Ne Win. Ne Win officially ended the 1947 Constitution, further centralising control in Yangon. Most ethnic Kachin in the Burmese military defected on masse and formed the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) – intending to defend the Kachin State from Burmese oppression. From 1962-1994 the KIA controlled much of the Kachin State, they were particularly powerful in the rural areas, whilst the cities were the subject of urban warfare comparable to the troubles in Northern Ireland. A ceasefire signed in 1994 ended open hostilities temporarily.

After 17 years hostilities erupted again in 2011. Many Kachin had become increasingly disenchanted at what they saw as a poor leadership in Yangon, with an inability to deal with the rampant poverty and crime across Burma. The 2008 Constitution was also interpreted as threatening because it cemented the Burmese Army’s control over civilian affairs. But the final straw was the insistence that the KIA integrate into the regular Army, this was seen as a power grab that would effectively cripple the Kachin’s ability to resist the central government.

Since 2011 there has been intense fighting between the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) and the KIA. Over 100,000 people have become internally displaced people (IDP’s). Many Kachin sought refuge behind the KIA lines on the border with China, but many more are kept in temporary accommodations in Burmese Government controlled areas. These temporary accommodations are kept separate from ethnic Burmese areas and are essentially shanty towns that are overcrowded, with little to no privacy and disease and drug problems rampant.

Whilst Burma made efforts to return to civilian control in 2015, in 2021 the Tatmadaw reasserted their authority and removed the Burmese civilian government. The KIA however were able to take advantage of this chaos to regain control of the city of Alawpum that was lost in 2016. The Burmese Government has been launching air strikes since 2021; whilst the KIA lack an air force they have had some success are repelling these assaults.

The KIA are a popular group that are seen as the defenders of the Kachin people. The Kachin feel that over the last 60 years they have been subjected to a policy of “Burmanisation” whereby all ethnic minorities are having their cultures degraded with the intent of homogenising the populace inline with the majority Burmese, Buddhist, culture. Some Kachin see this as colonisation on the part of the Burmese, for example the Burmese government often erect Buddhist Pagoda’s in majority Christian or Islamic areas. This attempt to degrade and destroy Kachin culture, as with the treatment of the Karen, Shan and Rohingya, is in line with the UN’s position on genocide. This has the effect of increasing ethnic tensions between the Burmese and Kachin and is part of a general populist divide and rule policy the Tatmadaw have used.

There is however cause for hope. Since the February 2021 coup, many young Burmese have taken to the streets to oppose the Tatmadaw. Many more have begun to recognise the shared oppression they experience with ethnic minorities in Burma, and it is hoped that a new generation of Burmese and Kachin can work together to fix the mistakes of the past. For most Kachin, the long-term aspiration is of an independent state. Before the British, they were never ruled by China or Burma, and largely managed their own affairs. However in the short term the goal is that the promises made to the British and Kachin in 1947 are honoured by the Burmese government.

As with the Rohingya, the persecution of the Kachin by the Burmese Government is wholesale and ongoing. The British Government must insist that as with the people of Hong Kong the promise made by the Burmese Government at the end of colonialism are honoured. We have a responsibility to protect and support the Kachin people’s aspirations for freedom and sovereignty. Since February 2021 there have been sanctions against coup-leader Min Aung Hlaing, these include a travel ban and asset seizure. Under Magnitsky legislation these sanctions must extend to all members of the Tatmadaw who have carried out attacks on the Kachin, Rohingya, Shan, Karen and all ethnic minorities in Burma.

With thanks to Hkanhpa Sadan and the Kachin Relief Fund for their help on researching this article.

Jonathan Wallcroft – NEC Member Labour Campaign for International Development

The Time For UK Leadership on Climate Change is Now

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up by the United Nations, with the mandate from governments around the globe to carry out reviews of climate science, which would become the basis for policy and decision making. Thousands of scientists each year contribute to the review and provide a comprehensive overview of the drivers of climate change. This month the IPCC published part of it’s sixth report, with a condensed summary of 14,000 scientific papers. The report acts as a benchmark, providing world leaders with the scientific grounding and guidance as to whether their policies and actions are going far enough, and quick enough. The last time the IPCC produced a report of this scale was in 2013. Each iteration of the IPCC report is more stark than the last, leaving no room to question the ever looming reality of climate change, and the evidence being clear that developing countries are feeling the effects the hardest.

The wildfires across Libya, Algeria and Tunisia have reinforced the IPCC findings on Africa. What we are witnessing now – the floods, heat waves and wildfires – are just a foretaste of what’s to come if governments don’t take urgent action. Over the past week I have been watching the news and following the wildfires across North Africa with great despair. I’m proud to be of dual heritage, namely Algerian and Irish, and that only solidified when I finally had the privilege of meeting my Algerian family for the first time three years ago. I felt instantly at home and loved exploring the beautiful country for the first time. I messaged family members immediately after hearing of the wildfires that were devastating the lives and landscapes in Algeria. I felt hopeless as my aunt cried down the phone, “my country is burning down in front of me”.  Whilst these wildfires in Northern Algeria appear to have originated by arson, their scale and unfathomable strength is undoubtedly fuelled by the arid conditions that have become progressively worse due to climate change.

As the report makes clear, weather events such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more likely as a result of the climate crisis. There is no time for delay. We need immediate action to avoid worsening impacts. The UN Climate Summit COP26, hosted by the UK, is the perfect opportunity for the government to put its climate leadership rhetoric to the test, centering negotiations around the world’s poorest and the support they require to keep their countries alive. As the main drivers of climate emissions, developed countries have a responsibility to provide financial resources to poorer countries desperately in need of adaptation strategies. Currently only half of the finance handed out to developing countries is in the form of grants, the rest is loans with returns expected from the donor. We must not worsen the debt crisis with loans to poorer countries that cannot afford to pay them back. We have a duty to provide them with condition free grants.

Whilst supporting those that need it the most, the time is also now for the UK to step up their leadership on the international stage and set the agenda for ambitious targets for the years ahead. Transformational change is possible, but only with a joined up radical new approach.

Leila Bousbaa: Senior Events Officer – Coalition for Global Prosperity

0.7% Vote on Monday: Please contact your MP today – it’s now or never to save UK aid

On Monday there will be a crucial vote which would restore UK aid spending to 0.7%. 

Make no mistake – winning this vote will save lives.

Please contact your MP, by phone or email, to urge them to support the vote. You can find their contact details here:

Urge your MP to support the amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, tabled by Andrew Mitchell MP on Monday.

Here are some points you can make:

  • UK aid has a life changing impact, and with the COVID pandemic increasing poverty around the world, is needed now more than ever
  • Yes, eventually we will need to address the UK deficit, but not yet, and it should not be done by cutting support for some of the world’s poorest people
  • The UK public still support aid – recent polling shows 53% of the public support aid, compared to only 22% against
  • As the UK hosts the G7 and the COP26 climate talks this year, this vote will encourage a race to the top among other wealthy countries to do more

If you do one thing this year to help LCID, please make it this.

A message from Anna McMorrin on her time as Shadow DFID Minister

by Anna McMorrin MP

On Friday I was appointed as the new Shadow Minister for Victims and Youth Justice. As a result, I will be moving on from my current role as Shadow Minister for International Development.

Over the past year we have faced a time of unprecedented circumstances, from COVID to conflict to climate. We have seen how the scale of these challenges has exacerbated injustices and humanitarian crises facing the most vulnerable and marginalised across the world. The UK Government’s short-sighted and ill-judged cuts to lifesaving aid will further entrench those challenges and inequalities, as well as reverse any progress and resilience that UK aid has proudly helped to achieve and build.  From ensuring more girls receive a formal education, providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation, vaccinating infants and children from preventable diseases, and tackling food insecurity caused by climate-related disasters and conflict. The cuts also significantly impact your ability to effect change for the better and deliver programming which really does save lives and programmes which shape the future for the better – that is a terrible loss, the cost of shameful cuts will be increasingly felt in the decade ahead.

I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to advocate for those who need our support and cooperation, to have been able to call out injustice, and to fight for the values which should?define Global Britain but which are disturbingly threatened. I am proud to have fought the reduction in cross border aid access in northwest and northeast Syria and regime impunity, to have stood against the illegal seizure and demolition of Palestinians land and property and continued?de facto?annexation, to have been a vocal champion for innocent and vulnerable Yemenis caught in the gravest humanitarian emergency, and to have been leading the charge on support and outcomes that must be delivered for developing nations at COP26. I will continue to speak up about these issues and to be a strong advocate wherever possible.?

Thank you for your support and collaboration!

Watch: Understanding the Integrated Review

The Government have now released their ‘Integrated Review‘ of the UK’s defence, and diplomacy and development policy. Except development barely featured. You can read our reactions to it on both development and civilian protection issues?here.

In response to the review’s publication, we hosted a special event with our friends at Labour Friends of the Forces and the Labour Foreign Policy Group.

The event explored the key elements and gaps in the?Integrated Review as well as how Labour should respond,?building upon the IR to articulate its own ambition for Britain in the World.

Speakers included Wayne David MP, Shadow FCO Minister,?Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee;?Lord Robertson, former NATO Secretary General; and?Rt Hon Jack Straw, former Foreign Secretary.

LCID Reaction to Integrated Review


The Integrated Review is weak on civilian protection, whilst development is barely mentioned at all. LCID’s reaction:

  • The PM spinning that he’ll use the review to make a ‘personal commitment’ to restoring the 0.7% aid target doesn’t cut it. The wording of the review says it’ll return ‘when fiscal situation allows’ – not a firm commitment, another promise to be broken
  • Even if he were to be believed, that’s still a year at 0.5%. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Aid to Yemen and Syria cut by nearly 2/3.
  • It’s not a necessary cut, and in any case it comes as they announce increasing spending on *more* nuclear weapons.
  • Development barely gets mentioned at all. Not a single chapter or even chapter section on it, just a tiny little box. Only new commitment (is it new?) is to help get 40m girls into school, which is welcome, but that seems to be it
  • Good to see continued funding for WHO but where is the mention of universal health care? We should be building back better from the pandemic by supporting #UHC globally On civilian protection it is also weak. No mention of upholding the UN Responsibility to Protect. Civilian protection should be at the heart of our approach to responding to conflict, yet barely gets mention. A reference to atrocity prevention, that’s it.
  • If the ‘integrated approach’ or new conflict centre they mention do put civilian protection at the centre, that would be good.
  • A focus on political approaches to conflict resolution is welcome but what happens when that fails as in Syria, Rwanda etc?
  • No mention of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which the UK helped establish. No change in our relationship with Saudi Arabia, arms sales to continue. The same re the dictatorship in Egypt
  • It talks tough on China and talks of protecting human rights – yet they continue to block the Genocide Amendment in Parliament!

Why this World Social Justice Day Labour must make the case for internationalism

by Libby Smith, LCID Executive member and COO at Coalition for Global Prosperity

With Covid, conflict and disaster splashed across our TV screens, it’s easy to forget the human beings behind the headlines, behind the statistics. It’s as easy to forget the huge progress being made. The capacity that an effective international development strategy has to transform lives around the world. It protects the rights of people to love who they love, it tackles climate change, and rebuilds communities torn apart by conflict. As we mark this year’s World Day of Social Justice, these are but a few of the reasons why Labour must remain a proud champion for development.

This is also integral to our values as a party, which is why I’m pleased that Preet Gill continues to do such incredible work as Shadow International Development Secretary. At a time when we face growing challenges both at home and abroad, the merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has already seen the loss of a permanent voice for development in the Cabinet. Keir Starmer, in his commitment to keeping a Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, has signalled that Labour will remain compassionate and outward-looking. It’s a move which demonstrates we are still an internationalist party at heart, and have not forgotten the plight of the world’s poorest.

In Labour, we have a strong and proud tradition of internationalism. A tradition of working with our neighbours to stand up for our shared values. It was a Labour government who helped to found the United Nations at the end of the second world war, to bring together nations, divided by years of war, to collectively deal with threats to international peace and security. From fighting international terrorism, to working towards a COVID-19 vaccine, it is clear that we achieve the best results and help the most people when we work together on the global challenges of our time.

Today, with the international system experiencing profound geopolitical change, a global pandemic and the UK looking to make its own place on the world stage, there is a heightened need for global cooperation. In this complex picture, it’s clear that trade, defence, diplomacy and development are increasingly intertwined. By helping some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, we in turn help to secure our own national interest by helping to protect us from new threats emerging. Take the Ebola crisis in 2014, the work of our world class development, healthcare and armed forces personnel helped bring the crisis under control and prevented the disease spreading close to our shores.

Not only does this work change lives, it also flies the flag for Britain worldwide, helping to foster deeper ties with our global partners. This is especially important now as we deal with the fallout of COVID-19, which has been a stark reminder of the need to work together to tackle global challenges. We know the virus doesn’t respect country borders, which means we are only as strong as our weakest health system. It is a global crisis that requires global, coordinated action, of which the aid budget is key.

An independent aid budget has long been an invaluable soft power asset, helping to put the UK at the top diplomatic table. And whether you voted for or against Brexit, we must use this as an opportunity to create a strong and outward looking Britain. Today, we have a unique chance to decide what kind of country we want to be – one that makes a positive difference for those in need, one that stands up against tyrants and oppressors, and one that creates a fairer, safer and more prosperous future for all or one that retreats. The UK’s aid budget will be central to this vision.

We can be proud of what Labour achieved in setting up the Department for International Development and the party’s refusal to balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest. Right now the world is crying out for the same values which led to its creation – of compassion and internationalism. Values echoed by Biden in his inauguration speech. So let’s show the world what we stand for. We can do this by continuing to be a strong voice for the world’s poorest in Parliament, and by supporting a strong Shadow International Development team to hold the Government to account.

Urge your MP to support the Genocide amendment next Tuesday!

Last week, in the biggest back-bench rebellion in recent times, thirty-four Conservative MPs broke the whip on a cross-party amendment to the trade bill, which lost by only 11 votes. The amendment comes back to the Commons next week, and your MP is one a few who are identified as key to which way the final vote will fall.

The amendment gives the right to an individual or group whose people are targeted by genocide to appeal to the UK High Courts to formally determine that genocide is occurring, whereon parliament will vote to revoke any trade agreements with the state found to be perpetrating genocide. Formally recognising that a genocide is occurring would also require the UK to meet its obligations under the Genocide Conventions and Responsibility to Protect.

The world’s historic failures to prevent genocide is closely linked to our failure to determine that genocide is occurring in a timely manner. In the last three decades, Bosnia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Darfur, Iraq, Myanmar, Rwanda and Syria to name but some, have all experienced large-scale organised killing of civilians, much of which was preventable. Indeed, since 1945 genocides and politicides around the world have claimed the lives of more than 80 million victims. Many multiples of this number have also suffered torture, sexual violence, deprivation of liberty, displacement, forced starvation and disease, which always accompany such crimes.

The government is putting a lot of pressure on its MPs to vote against the amendment when it returns to the house next week, so it is vital we also apply people pressure and call upon our MPs to vote with their consciences and not with the whip.

You can help – please write to your MP today.

We have drafted a letter below which you can adapt and send to your MP. It includes rebuttals to some of the weak arguments the government is using against the amendment.

You can send your MP an email by clicking here.

Thank you, we really appreciate the support!

Draft Letter:

Dear (insert MP name),

Please vote to support the revised anti-genocide amendment to the Trade Bill.

Since 1945 genocides and politicides around the world have claimed the lives of more than 80 million victims. Many multiples of this number have also suffered torture, sexual violence, deprivation of liberty, displacement, forced starvation and disease, which always accompany such crimes. Much of this was preventable, and one of the biggest barriers to preventative action has been a failure of countries like the UK to formally determine that genocide was occurring.

Please note that the government’s case that the courts should not have power to revoke trade deals agreed by a sovereign parliament has been listened to, and after a very narrow defeat in the House of Commons, the amendment has been revised to make explicit that action on trade deals (after a court judgment) is a matter for Parliament.

I am aware that the government claims to be offering a concession that a Parliamentary Select Committee may raise concerns of genocide with the Government and request a response, but, as I am sure you are aware, this is not a compromise at all because (a) the power to do this already exists; (b) where this option has been used, notably in respect of the genocide against the Yazidis, the Government has ignored select committee requests; (c) it has been longstanding Government policy that genocide determination is not a political decision, but a judicial one

Indeed, Boris Johnson himself said on 20 January 2021 that, “the attribution of genocide is a matter for judicial decision”. Therefore, if the UK does not wish to offer trade deals with genocidal states, the courts must have a role in establishing whether or not genocide has, in fact, occurred. That is UK policy.

Noting the government’s policy that only a court may rule on genocide, Rahima Mahmut, UK Director of the World Uyghur Congress said of this amendment: “UK policy is clear: the government won’t act unless the court has ruled genocide. So, we Uyghurs need our day in court, and we need it now. Please do not deny us this opportunity.”

Where international courts are barred from making determinations of genocide, only UK courts are available venues. In the case of the Uyghur, knowing that the UN route to genocide recognition is closed owing to China’s veto, the UK government cannot claim to be serious about preventing genocide if it refuses an opportunity to allow UK courts to examine the evidence and rule whether or not genocide is occurring.

Our UK courts are the finest in the world and they already have the competency to make a prelimary determination as set out in the amendment.

Please support this amendment when it comes before the House of Commons.


Pass a motion in your CLP in support of UK Aid, and in solidarity with the Uyghur people

LCID has two campaigns – in defence of UK aid, and for the protection people from mass atrocities. To raise awareness of both these issues amongst Labour members, and to help ensure Labour puts forward strong policies on them,?we would welcome your support in passing two CLP motions.

The first, on UK Aid, calls on the Party to continue to support reinstating DFID and?spending 0.7% of GNI on aid when we are next in government.

The second, which we have drafted with our friends at the?Labour Campaign for Human Rights, calls on Labour to?show solidarity with the Uyghur peoples against their persecution by the Chinese State.?

You can submit CLP motions directly to your CLP Secretary (their email is on your membership card) if you have an all-member structure or LCID is affiliated to your CLP, or via your branch if you have a delegate structure.

Below are the two motions:

A) Independence of DfID and cuts to UK aid budget

This branch/CLP notes:  

1. The government’s decision to merge the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to form the Department for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

2. The cut to the aid budget by 5 billion, from the 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI.

This branch/CLP believes: 

3. That these decisions put UK aid in jeopardy. When development agencies sit under the Foreign Office, its focus gets subverted. This will impact the UK’s ability to reduce global poverty.?

4. That having the Secretary of State for International Development at the Cabinet table is essential, because it is means that development issues are discussed at the highest levels of government. When the Cabinet discusses the UK’s approach to current and future global crises it is the job of the DfID Secretary of State to push for development issues to be part of the agenda.

5. That the timing of the government’s merger and cut to the aid budget is reckless. The global crisis caused by COVID-19 will be exacerbated in the world’s poorest countries without the support and expertise that DfID can provide.?

6. That the government decisions will reduce the UK’s standing in the world. The UK is a global leader in international development and by singling a retreat into narrow self-interest undermines the emergence of a “Global Britain” that the government claim to support.?This will directly impact the UK’s ‘soft power’ capabilities.

This branch/CLP welcomes:

7. Keir Starmer’s support to reinstate DfID and commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid.

8. The retention of a Shadow Secretary of State for International Development as a position in the Shadow Cabinet.

This branch/CLP resolves: 

9. That the Labour Party commits to reinstate DfID and the 0.7% aid commitment on day 1 of a Labour Government

10. That the Labour Party continues to support the retention of the International Development Committee (IDC) to ensure transparency and accountability for aid spending.??

11. The aid spending target is enshrined in law. In the event this requires a vote in parliament we urge the Parliamentary Labour Party to vote against it.

12. To invite a speaker from LCID’s Speakers Network to attend a CLP meeting to discuss LCID’s campaign for the protection of international development.

B) Solidarity with the Uyghur peoples

This branch/ CLP notes:  

1. The persecution of the Uyghur peoples by the Chinese State.

This branch/CLP believes: 

2. The government of China is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect and is perpetrating crimes against humanity.

3. That under the guise of combatting religious extremism and terrorism the Chinese state is carrying out mass persecution of the Uyghur peoples and other Muslim minorities in NW China. This includes:

  • The internment of more than a million Uyghurs and other minorities in concentration camps, where torture, abuse, forced sterilisation, and systematic gang rape are reported.
  • The forced labour in factories and cotton fields supplying major global brands.
  • Extreme and intrusive surveillance in operation in Xinjiang with the assistance of big tech companies.
  • Tyrannical restrictions on linguistic, religious and cultural freedom including the destruction of thousands of mosques.
  • The mass separation of children from their parents.

4. The Chinese State is in breach of International law:

  • This includes customary international law, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and acts prohibited under Article II of the Genocide Convention.

This branch/ CLP resolves: 

5. To uphold the motion passed at the 2019 Labour conference that committed our party to “stand proudly and unequivocally with the Uyghur people against oppression and persecution by the Chinese State” and “support and mobilise for protests and demonstrations in support”.

6. To push Labour, our campaign organisations and our unions into ongoing action on this issue, such as calling for the following:

  • Urge China to grant unfettered access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • Support the UK Uyghur Tribunal and give it official backing.
  • Apply Magnitsky-style sanctions on the CCP officials involved in human rights abuses in Xingjiang.
  • Introduce a Human Rights Due Diligence law on UK companies requiring them to investigate their value chains to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights abuses.
  • Work with Central Asian and other Muslim majority countries, such as Turkey, to ensure protection to Uyghur refugees.

7. To invite a Uyghur activist from LCID’s Speakers Network to a future CLP meeting of this local party.