Yemen: Political and Humanitarian Situation

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:14 pm on 5th July 2017.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:14 pm, 5th July 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty. He has been a powerful advocate for immediate action in this terrible and appalling conflict, which reduces many of us to tears when we hear its shocking details. Because time is limited I shall not be able to go through some of the brilliant contributions that we have heard this afternoon, but I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s disappointment in the lack of action by the Government. He is, of course, angry with the parties themselves, who have perpetrated and continue the appalling conflict.

My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz made an important intervention about how vital and urgently needed the UN resolution is, and said that Britain’s role on the Security Council could enable us to secure it. I hope that the Minister will address that. My right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd mentioned the Committees on Arms Export Controls, as did my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg among others. It is vital that the Committees, which are essential and on which I have served in the past, should be reconvened as soon as possible. It is essential to keep a close eye and a rein on the weapons that are being exported, and on those to whom they are being exported legitimately.

Yemen is the site of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. It is the “forgotten war”, according to Amnesty International. We have heard about the massive cholera outbreak of recent weeks, in which 250,000 people have already been affected. That should shame us all. Forty-five per cent. of the population are under 15 years old, and 21 million people in the country, or approximately 80% of the population, are in need of assistance. That is more than in any other country, according to the United Nations. We have the power to do something about that, and are failing to do it, which should shame us all.

I want to consider our involvement in the conflict. According to Oxfam and the House of Commons Library, since 2015 the UK Government have approved arms export licences worth £3.3 billion. Yet at the same time we have pledged just £139 million in humanitarian aid from the 2017-18 Budget. We could do much more, and could do considerably less about supplying those arms. The Labour party strongly believes that Britain must immediately halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and focus on negotiating a ceasefire. A Labour party press release from April stated:

“As it stands, the British-Saudi relationship is damaging to the people of Saudi Arabia, Britain and the wider Middle East, and helping to export insecurity to the rest of the World”.

Yemen, as we have heard from a number of speakers, is dependent for almost all its food, fuel and medical supplies on the port of Hodeidah; 80% of all imports to the country arrive via that major port, in a densely populated area controlled by the Houthis. The Saudi-supported army of the official Yemeni Government continues to threaten to take the port by force, and other hon. Members have mentioned that that could have an even more serious consequence in relation to the breakdown of society and the humanitarian disaster currently encapsulating the country.

I will conclude by quoting the concluding remarks of a paper of 11 December 2015 by Professor Philippe Sands, QC, Professor Andrew Clapham and Blínne ni Ghrálaigh—great minds in international law—for Amnesty International, Oxfam and Saferworld:

“In the current circumstances we can be clear in concluding what the UK is required to do to bring itself into full compliance with its legal obligations: it should halt with immediate effect all authorisations and transfers of relevant weapons and items to Saudi Arabia, pending proper and credible enquiries into the allegations of serious violations of IHL and IHRL that have arisen and that could arise in the future, as addressed in this opinion and the sources here referred to.”

That is consistent with the policy of the Labour party. I hope that the Minister can at least address that important conclusion in a legal opinion.