Human Rights and Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia — [Mrs Cheryl Gillan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 8th June 2016.

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Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 9:30 am, 8th June 2016

No, I am sorry; I am not giving way.

The response to the humanitarian crisis by the Department for International Development has been welcome. However, it highlights the complete and total policy incoherence between Government Departments. UK foreign policy is contributing to the disaster, with resources subsequently being used to deal with the consequences. The most worrying report on the crisis is that of the United Nations panel of experts on Yemen. Its recent 259-page report makes very uncomfortable reading. It claims:

“The panel has observed that not a single humanitarian pause to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people has been fully observed by any Yemeni party or by the coalition.”

The special envoy brokered two separate humanitarian pauses, but within two hours of the announced start of the first pause, UN officials witnessed a coalition air strike in Sana’a. According to some press reports, fighting actually intensified during the second pause. The UN report worryingly contains very well documented evidence that the Saudi-led coalition is violating the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in a widespread and systematic manner.

The panel has documented that the coalition had conducted air strikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, again in violation of international humanitarian law, including refugee camps, weddings, civilian buses, medical facilities, schools, mosques and markets, and essential civilian infrastructure. The targeting of seaports, an airport and arterial transit routes has seriously hampered efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in the country. In May, the coalition declared the entire city of Sa’dah a military target, and, soon after, it faced systematic indiscriminate attacks, including on hospitals and schools, by the coalition. The UN report also documents incidents whereby humanitarian assistance is denied: something it overtly says is constitutive of a war crime.

Last November, three trucks, on behalf of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Health Organisation, were unable to reach their final destinations owing to insecurity and delays in receiving security clearances from the coalition. The panel also documented coalition air strikes on five storage facilities for holding food aid, and air strikes on an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the European Union. Annex 47 of the report lists classified totals of many documented international humanitarian law violations from the coalition, including 41 individual air strikes on residential areas and villages, eight attacks on schools, 22 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, and seven attacks on humanitarian organisations and NGOs.

The Prime Minister is on record in the Chamber on 27 January as saying he would look at the report. Has he followed through on this promise, and what assessment has been made of the report by the Foreign Office? Will the Government support the establishment of an international independent investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by all parties engaged in conflict in Yemen? Have the UK Government ever suspended or revoked any arms export licence to Saudi Arabia? Finally, will the Government now, in the light of all this evidence, follow the examples set by Germany and Sweden and impose a ban on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia while an investigation takes place?