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

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:17 pm, 1st April 2009

My hon. Friend is right. However, all that should not stop members of the ICRC making the sacrifice, taking the risk and putting themselves in danger to deliver humanitarian aid because that is what they do, and we should support them. It is sad that whatever we say and do here is unlikely to have an impact. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear I am not.

We must do what we can to ensure that vital aid and resources get to innocent civilians who need it. In Afghanistan, our aid workers and those who wear the respective red cross, red crescent and red crystal emblems would have their safety and the security in which to operate and carry on with their tremendous work strengthened if the Taliban were further weakened. That means that our military personnel must receive the right equipment to ensure that they can do their job to the best of their abilities. It also means that the many other countries that have an interest in peace and security in Afghanistan, including members of NATO and the EU, commit their fair share of military resources to that conflict zone. By improving the security situation on the ground for aid and humanitarian workers, we can reduce the dangers posed to them and the threats and brutal actions of those who show no regard for the emblems that we are debating today.

When my constituents donate money to the Red Cross or to Oxfam, they expect their aid workers and the operations that they fund with their contributions to be protected. When our constituents decide to become aid workers, often as volunteers, while aware of the risks, they nevertheless expect that the purpose for their presence in conflict zones affords them some protection. People support aid agencies because they want to see them bring kindness and good to parts of the world where conflict has turned lives upside down and left innocent civilians—men, women and children—with little or nothing.

Whether in Palestine, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia or Iraq the work that humanitarian workers and aid agencies undertake needs to be supported. I therefore press on the Under-Secretary the importance of taking the appropriate steps to ensure that those who disregard the laws of war and deliberately bring harm to aid workers are brought to justice and do not undermine the great efforts taken to support civilian populations.

We also need to know from the Government that, aside from the introduction of the red crystal, more is being done to protect aid workers. How can we guarantee protection for our aid workers and humanitarian personnel when there are people in conflict areas prepared to disregard the rules of warfare, morality and decency? In lawless Somalia and large parts of Afghanistan, the conventions may carry little force or protection. Delivering further measures to protect humanitarian workers through the amendments to protocols and introducing a new emblem may look adequate on paper, but their true test will be seen in the conflict areas.

The Geneva conventions and the protocols relating to UN personnel are not only designed to protect aid and humanitarian workers and civilians. The Geneva conventions were originally established to provide protection to wounded soldiers and military personnel—to ensure that those who need help and medical aid are given it.

My constituency is home to the finest soldiers anywhere in the world. Their record of achievement and their skills are unparalleled anywhere in the world. They are the bravest and they are the best. As with aid workers, however, when our soldiers are wounded in battle, there are those in some conflict areas who will not abide by international conventions. How confident can we be that our injured soldiers will be afforded the same rights, the same dignity and the same care by the enemy as those whom we capture are? When the Taliban or the insurgency in Iraq capture our soldiers, abiding by international law and those conventions does not appear to be at the forefront of their thoughts. The best way we can protect our military personnel in some conflict zones is not necessarily by relying on the enemy to observe international law, but by providing our personnel with the equipment and resources they need to protect themselves.

Our efforts to promote international law and those conventions are, however, undermined by some of the actions in which this Government may have been involved. The Government's alleged complicity in acts of extraordinary rendition and the recent allegations made concerning torture are deeply worrying. We cannot go around lecturing others about international law and protecting civilians when there are questions that the Government may have to answer about not upholding such rules themselves. Such matters must be resolved to restore this country's credibility. The UK has a proud tradition of upholding and promoting international law. This Government must not be allowed to undermine it.

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