Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 1:56 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 1:56 pm, 1st April 2009

I understand that it has already been used in several war zones where it was felt that the red cross or the red crescent might be perceived as religious symbols rather than neutral medical symbols. Although that might be regrettable, it is sensible that we ensure that an alternative symbol can be used. There has been discussion about who should make that decision, and the Minister has already stated that the default would be the Red Cross, but that decision has to be made by those on the ground who are able properly to assess the situation and any sensitivities.

Clause 2 calls for additional protection for those who do vital and dangerous work. We should salute those who courageously do an incredibly difficult job in providing a service to us and to the whole international community. Legal protection for UN personnel on peacebuilding and emergency humanitarian work is long overdue. Unfortunately, with the deliberate targeting of humanitarian and UN personnel in recent conflicts, it is more needed than ever.

I should like the Minister to clarify a point that was made today, and in the other place. My noble Friend Baroness Northover asked whether missions of sister organisations—the World Health Organisation or the Food and Agriculture Organisation—in conflict areas would be included. The Minister's summing up in the other place suggests that any UN agency would be included and that any agency undertaking work with the UN under that umbrella would be included, but that humanitarian agencies would not. The hon. Member for Aylesbury suggested that the WHO and FAO would not be included, so clarity from the Minister would be helpful.

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