Idlib

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 10th September 2018.

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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) 3:39 pm, 10th September 2018

The processes to try to bring about a political transition in Syria are still going on, led by UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura. Talks are continuing, and have been supplemented, to a degree, by talks that have taken place with those outside the formal process—Turkey, Iran and Russia. Efforts have failed because, on the ground, the regime has been successful, and the cost to it has therefore not been sufficient for it to want to make changes that would bring political reconciliation or political change. Those efforts are still being made through the United Nations. It is clear that a reimposition of the regime in its current form after the conflict is unlikely to bring stability to Syria, and to prevent the opportunity either for extremists to act again or for further civil unrest to occur. If the conflict is to come properly to an end, there will indeed have to be a degree of transition and change in the regime, and that will come through political efforts that are ongoing and will continue.

As for the prediction of events and military attacks, what the United Kingdom has been able to supply—the House will understand that I do not want to go into too much detail—is effectively an early warning system, which can be activated by electronic awareness of potential attacks. It can provide information through social media as well as by more conventional means, which enables people to take evasive action and to hide to the extent that they can. Of course, the best way to avoid civilian casualties is not to employ an early warning system, but to stop the bombing.

That leads me to the issue of war crimes. The designation of a war crime is not a political act, but a judicial act. Certain criteria are clearly laid out through international humanitarian law. There is an independent accountability mechanism—the so-called IIIM—that the United Kingdom is supporting in Syria. It is essential that, at some stage, the world is able to see accountability measures working. If there is impunity, there is injustice, and if there is no accountability, there is impunity. We will work with those systems. Whoever may be liable for war crimes, the United Kingdom will seek to ensure—through international and judicial means—that they are appropriately pursued.