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 Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central 3:36 pm, 5th September 2016

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he knows, there have been many reports by the UN and others of breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen by both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition, which uses British military equipment. Ministers have been repeatedly questioned about that and the Government told the House that they

“have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”

Then, as we have just been told, on 21 July—by chance, the day on which the House rose—a written ministerial statement corrected that and other answers, stating that the Government have

“been unable to assess that there has been a breach of IHL by the Saudi-led Coalition.”

That is the very opposite of what the House had been repeatedly told. I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say, but he offered no satisfactory explanation of why that happened. First, will he do so now? It was not a minor correction but a consistent failure to provide Members with accurate answers.

Secondly, the mistakes were identified on 24 June, as I understand it, but they were not reported to the House until 27 days later, even though the “Ministerial Code” says that Ministers must correct

“any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”

Why did it take so long?

Thirdly, after months of the Government being apparently incapable of doing an assessment of international humanitarian law, they have managed to undertake one during the recess in relation to the arms export tests, which state that a licence should not be granted

“if there is a clear risk... of a serious violation” of IHL. The Foreign Secretary said in a written statement only this morning:

“Having regard to all the information available to us, we assess that this test has not been met.”

When is an assessment not an assessment? Will the Minister now tell us what detailed assessment preceded the conclusion that was reported to the House today and what information it drew upon? Will he publish both?

Finally, will the Government now suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia until they are able to assure the House that they have done a proper assessment and can explain why they believe that international humanitarian law has not been breached in Yemen when the UN clearly says that it has?