Yemen

Part of Parliamentary Sovereignty and EU Renegotiations – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 4th February 2016.

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Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South 4:19 pm, 4th February 2016

I thank my hon. Friend because he has just saved me from reading out quite a lot of my speech. I totally agree with him, and I can now move on quickly to the next bit.

The role of the Saudi-led coalition has come under scrutiny because of the alleged human rights violations during their involvement. Those allegations are balanced by equal concerns about the attempts of the Houthis to overthrow a legitimate Government by force. The coalition is in a position of moral authority to call a ceasefire. The Government are securing Aden against al-Qaeda, and are moving towards Sana’a and the Houthis. I am concerned at reports of large casualties already as the push to Sana’a gets under way, with news outlets talking of “dozens” of deaths last night alone. Saudi forces have entered north Yemen for the first time, and I hope that we can get an assurance from the Saudis that their presence on the ground is temporary, and operates under clear rules of engagement.

The role of Iran in this conflict also needs to be addressed. The west has engaged with Iran in the hope that the Iranians will contribute towards pacifying the middle eastern situation, but we have yet to see evidence that they are willing to do so. There are already widespread concerns about human rights breaches, which the Government so far seem to believe are confined to the rebel side. Evidence on the ground suggests that the air campaign has been carried out with little regard for target verification by some coalition pilots. Our allies may well assure us that they do not mean to harm civilian targets, but it is fair to question whether they have operational control over sorties, and the discipline that we expect from our own forces. We are in danger of being found in breach of international law unless the coalitions control its forces.

I hope we will also learn about how breaches of international law by all sides will be independently investigated. We have heard assurances from several Ministers that the Government support investigations, but we have not yet heard any details of how we will support them in practice. In the discussion following the urgent question on 28 January, the Minister indicated that discussions with the Saudis about human rights concerns would take place this week at the Syria donor conference. I hope that those discussions will take place, and given that the Iranian Foreign Minister is also in London, I hope that discussions with him can take place as well. I hope the Minister will update the House on those discussions once they have taken place.

I want to add to hon. Members’ comments on the help of NGOs and others with the humanitarian crisis. I did have a longer speech and have had to take the part relating to this out, but that is not to say it is not incredibly important. I am very pleased that DFID has long had an operational plan for channelling aid to Yemen. I am confident that further stepping up our commitment will be efficient and effective. I am sure other hon. Members will support calls from NGOs and charities for our continued and increased involvement. I agree with them.

Finally, I hope the Syria conference this week will provide the opportunity for meaningful talks. The only way we will ever get a settlement in Yemen is by talking, not fighting. I hope that, with our long history with Yemen, we can be a major contributor to the peace process.