Yemen

Part of Concentrix – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 26th October 2016.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 6:01 pm, 26th October 2016

I thank the official Opposition for securing the debate. I also thank Keith Vaz, who is not in his place—he is by your Chair, Mr Speaker—for rightly putting the focus on the ceasefire, which is what we in the House would all like to see, although we will not be debating his amendment this evening, or indeed voting on it.

I shall focus briefly on the international investigation. Clearly, there are precedents for the UK Government pushing for international investigations—Sri Lanka, for instance, springs to mind. In the right circumstances, we would all support an investigation that covers both sides, because human rights abuses are potentially being committed on both sides. The Government’s position is that they are not opposing calls for an international, independent investigation, but I would like to press the Minister on the circumstances in which they would actually support such an investigation. He has referred to allowing the Saudis to conduct their own investigations, but at what point—using what test, what criteria and what timetable—do our Government turn round and say, “Actually, we think we’ve reached the point where we need an international, independent investigation”? I am sure the Minister is aware that the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 93% of casualties from air-launched explosives are civilians. It is difficult to see, with such statistics, how civilians are not being targeted, certainly through the use of air-launched explosives.

An inquiry might also consider whether the use of cluster munitions is in breach of international humanitarian law. I know that the Minister’s view—or the legal advice that he has received—is that, provided those munitions are used in a way that does not contravene international law, and particularly international humanitarian law, their use per se is not necessarily unlawful. I hope that he will be able to set out on what legal judgments he bases that view that the use of cluster munitions in civilian areas is, on occasions, legal.

I certainly think that the Americans would be in favour of an international investigation. The Minister may be aware that US officials have looked at whether the United States might be a co-belligerent and could be pursued under international law for war crimes. I hope that our Government have investigated that.

I welcome the visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister. I agree that he was very open and frank, which is a good start in what is, perhaps, a developing relationship. He said that changes would be made to how the Saudis handle these issues as a result of the incident, or mistake, that they accept what happened in relation to the funeral bombing. We have heard that the Saudis will take action against those directly responsible, but what else does our Minister expect them to do? What additional measures does he expect them to put in place to ensure that such incidents do not happen again? Perhaps he will say something about double-tapping, which we have heard is a war crime in Russia, but does not appear to be so in relation to Yemen.

There is, I am afraid, overwhelming evidence that breaches of international humanitarian law are taking place in Yemen, and that is why I shall support the motion tonight.