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

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 2:57 pm, 1st April 2009

My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point. I am not privy to information on why those convoys, individuals and headquarters were attacked, but they were clearly marked in a way that showed them to be part of the UN family, and I should have thought that anyone who attacked them would know that. But my hon. Friend is absolutely right: the idea that a red crescent, a red cross or a red crystal constitutes some form of armour protecting people from a would-be attacker is wishful thinking and, alas, an erroneous assumption.

I can cite no better example than the bombing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Gaza, which my hon. Friend mentioned earlier, and which is now being subjected to international examination following the visit to Gaza of the head of the UN. Allegedly—I stress the word "allegedly"—white phosphorus was used, in direct contravention of the laws of warfare. I do not know whether white phosphorus was used or not, but UN workers showed me where in the compound it had allegedly been used. I was told that it was white phosphorus and that it had definitely been used. I was also shown the burned out storage facility where medical supplies, in particular, were stored for the people of Gaza. What is worse, the Israeli defence forces knew exactly where that compound was. Of course they did. I had been there myself only the previous year, as had many other Members.

Furthermore, UNRWA had provided the Israeli defence forces with the co-ordinates of that building when it first came under attack. There had been a remote triangular conversation between UNRWA, an Israeli general and Jerusalem, but that did not prevent a sustained attack on the compound, with accompanying damage to UN vehicles and properties which were clearly marked as such.

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is no. It is not possible to say whether the emblem performed the role of litmus paper and attracted an incoming attack like a magnet, but it is certain that in that instance it provided no protection whatsoever.

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