Syria

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th May 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:00 am, 15th May 2018

What steps he is taking to ensure the investigation and prosecution of any breaches of international humanitarian law in Syria.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

What diplomatic steps he is taking with his international counterparts to end the conflict in Syria.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

What diplomatic steps he is taking with his international counterparts to end the conflict in Syria.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We are working closely with the UN, the Syrian opposition and our international partners to encourage a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict. We support the non-governmental organisations and UN mechanisms gathering evidence and preparing future prosecutions for the most serious crimes committed in Syria.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for that response. I think we all want the prosecution of the Assad regime and any other parties responsible for using chemical weapons, but does the Minister agree that for indiscriminately bombing civilians, for targeting medical facilities and for using starvation as a weapon of war, the regime already deserves to be prosecuted for war crimes?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The short answer is yes. It is a question of gathering the evidence and providing the right forum, but undoubtedly war crimes have been committed. We are working continually with authorities to see what mechanisms can be used to hold people to account. I wish we could be certain of the outcome.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

Given the limited impact of the United Nations Security Council to date, does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to resolution by consensus its terms must be adhered to?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Absolutely, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We actually got resolution 2401 through by consensus. It called for a ceasefire and humanitarian access, particularly in relation to eastern Ghouta but it applied all over Syria. The resolution was then not adhered to by some of the parties who had signed up to it. If we are going to make any progress on Syria, UN resolutions have to be adhered to.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Save the Children and the Royal United Services Institute published an excellent report last week on children in conflict, which highlighted in particular the devastating effect of the use of barrel bombs. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with our allies about a joint approach to civilian protection in civilian areas?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this further aspect of the atrocities perpetrated on the Syrian people. As well as calling out such behaviour and considering international mechanisms for holding people to account, the support for civilians is necessary and, at the recent Brussels conference on Syria and the region, working with donors, we pledged to provide at least £450 million this year and £300 million next year to alleviate that extreme suffering.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee)

Although I agree that President Assad should be held accountable, a lot of opposition groups have committed human rights violations and some terrible atrocities. There has to be a very careful and balanced approach. We need to ensure that we focus on those groups, too.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I met the director of the Independent, Impartial and International Mechanism recently, and we have been offering help and technical support through legal services in the United Kingdom. There should be absolutely no distinction between those who have committed such crimes.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

As the Minister and other hon. Members have said, accountability for war crimes in Syria is crucial, but so is prevention. How can we stop the bombing of hospitals?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Again, I wish there were a simple answer to such an honest and direct question. Without physically intervening and without a physical no-fly zone, which has been considered but would be immensely difficult to implement, the best thing we can do at present is to draw attention to such attacks on facilities—sometimes off information that has been given in all good faith to authorities to keep these places safe— support the work of the doctors and those involved in humanitarian expertise, and make clear that this is happening. It has no place in warfare. It has no place in the modern world. Hopefully, those responsible will ultimately be held accountable.