Humanitarian Law (Yemen)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 5th September 2016.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 3:36 pm, 5th September 2016

I should like to thank Hilary Benn for raising this important matter and to pay tribute to him for his work on keeping the House up to date on these matters and providing the scrutiny we need. Recognising the importance of the issue, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary issued a written ministerial statement today to update Parliament on the situation in Yemen, and this update specifically includes references to international humanitarian law.

We are aware of reports of alleged violations of international humanitarian law by parties to the conflict. As I have said on many occasions, we take these allegations very seriously. The Government regularly raise the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law with the Saudi Arabian Government and other members of the Saudi Arabian-led military coalition. The Foreign Secretary raised the issue of international humanitarian law compliance most recently with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, on 22 August. I also did so in Jeddah on 25 August, at the Yemen conference chaired by Secretary John Kerry.

It is important that, in the first instance, the Saudi Arabian-led coalition conducts thorough and conclusive investigations into incidents where it is alleged that international humanitarian law has been breached. This follows international practice. The coalition has the best insight into its own military procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations. This will also allow the coalition forces to understand what went wrong and to apply the lessons learned in the best possible way. This is the standard that we set for ourselves and our allies. In this respect, Saudi Arabia announced more detail of how incidents of concern involving coalition forces are investigated on 31 January. The Saudi Arabian-led coalition joint investigations assessment team publicly announced the outcome of eight investigations on 4 August, and further publications will follow.

I also want to reiterate that clarifications made in the 21 July written ministerial statement do not reflect a change in position. The changes were made to ensure that the parliamentary record is consistent and that it accurately reflects policy. The statement of 21 July outlines that it is

“important to make clear that neither the MOD nor the FCO reaches a conclusion as to whether or not an IHL violation has taken place in relation to each and every incident of potential concern that comes to its attention. This would simply not be possible in conflicts to which the UK is not a party, as is the case in Yemen.”

The MOD monitors incidents of alleged international humanitarian law violations using the available information. This has been used to form an overall view on Saudi Arabia’s approach and attitude to international humanitarian law. In turn, that informs the risk assessment made under the consolidated criteria on whether there is a risk that something might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. We are not acting to determine whether a sovereign state has or has not acted in the breach of international humanitarian law. Instead, as criterion 2(c) requires, we are acting to make an overall judgment.

I am sorry that there has been confusion. We are responding to two written ministerial statements that were in error. After trawling through other such statements, of which there are more than 90, four more were seen to be in error. I came to the House today in order to clarify that, but as soon as I became aware of it I made a statement and wrote to the right hon. Gentleman and the Chairs of the International Development Committee, the Committees on Arms Export Controls, and the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope that that has clarified the situation.