Sale of Arms: War in Yemen

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 13th July 2020.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 3:36 pm, 13th July 2020

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, although I am sorry the Secretary of State cannot be dragged here to explain her own decisions. There is certainly much explaining to do. In my limited time, I have five questions for the Minister and one specific request.

First, we welcome the Secretary of State’s assessment of possible violations of international law in Yemen, but can the Minister explain why his brother Ministers have been telling the House for the last five years that such an assessment was impossible for Britain to make, and that it could be made only by Saudi Arabia itself? Were those Ministers simply wrong?

Secondly, the Secretary of State has concluded that where international law was broken in Yemen these were “isolated incidents”. Can the Minister tell us how many such incidents were identified, so that we can understand how they define the word “isolated”?

Thirdly, the Government say they have found no patterns of civilian infrastructure being targeted. Can the Minister therefore explain why, for 17 months at the start of the war, Saudi planes systematically destroyed Yemen’s means of food production, bombing farmland, markets, milk plants and fishing boats? If that is not a pattern, what is?

Fourthly, as well as deliberate targeting, the Minister will know that the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas is in itself a war crime, but the Government say the Saudis could not have meant to break international law because their violations

“occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2020;
Vol. 678, c. 339WS.]

Does the Minister not agree that that sounds like the very definition of the word “indiscriminate”?

Fifthly, the Government have concluded that Saudi Arabia has both the intent and capacity to comply with international law, but if that is the case, will the Minister explain the cause of the occasions on which it has failed to do that?

Finally, it would help all of us to understand the Government’s decision if they would agree to publish the full assessment that underpinned it, including the analysis of each so-called isolated incident. If the Minister believes this decision is not just moral and lawful but correct, then surely he has nothing to fear from publishing that assessment and letting us all decide for ourselves.