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International Humanitarian Law: Protecting Civilians in Conflict — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 10:09 am, 18th June 2019

That is true. Of course, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Britain has a highly effective ambassador who can do that work.

Introducing a concept of “preventing while protecting” into national frameworks of civilian protection would raise the ambition from not targeting civilians to an active commitment to save lives. Any modern protection of civilians framework should prioritise the capacity to assess emerging and long-term risks of atrocities, including horizon scanning, the mapping of actors and interests, and contingency planning.

Any commitment to protect civilians from armed conflict and atrocities must be consistent. I have spoken out on many occasions against what is happening in Yemen and the role of the British Government, which I think is not in the right place. I greatly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s change of emphasis on Yemen, and the fact that his first act as Foreign Secretary was to go to both Tehran and Riyadh to try and bring that appalling conflict to a close. Nevertheless, the British Government are complicit in what is happening in Yemen, and we await the judgment of the Court of Appeal—probably on Thursday—on the issue of arms sales by Britain to Saudi Arabia.

I have never called for an arms embargo, because I understand that Saudi Arabia is a country surrounded by enemies, with the wealth to purchase arms, and a British arms embargo will not protect the children who suffer from the aerial bombardment of Yemen by the Saudi air force—at least, not any time in the near future. However, the way in which Saudi Arabia has pursued its policy against Yemen has united huge numbers of us against what is effectively the bombardment and blockade of a nation, which is causing a medieval famine, with the break-up of infrastructure leading to the prevalence of diseases that we have not seen in Europe for generations. Of course, that is radicalising thousands of young Yemenis, who know from where that appalling destruction is coming.

It was a low point in a low war when, last year, we saw that school bus hit by coalition bombs. Some 40 children were murdered, and we saw the pictures of them in their UN blue smocks and satchels. I stood, some time ago now, in the funeral parlour bombed—during a funeral ceremony—by coalition aircraft; 180 people were killed, with the plane coming around again for a second attack. That was a breach of international humanitarian law, and I hope the pilot responsible for that will be held to account in the same way as the others I have mentioned.

While the UK can and must play a role through all its internationally facing Departments to help prevent these dreadful crimes and innocent loss of life, we can and must uphold the same values here at home. The UK must never be a haven for those who commit atrocities, war crimes and genocide. We must uphold our responsibilities to victims and prosecute subjects who reach our shores. In that context, I wish to draw the House’s attention to the fact that five alleged Rwandan genocidaires remain free, wandering around the British Isles, three at least claiming British benefits. They have not been held to account for the alleged crimes that they committed and perpetrated during the Rwandan genocide. Britain’s judicial system, which of course is entirely separate from politics, declined to extradite those five back to Rwanda, where they could have faced justice along with hundreds of thousands of others. There is therefore an onus on the British judicial system—our laws—to ensure that those people are held to account in this country if they are not to be extradited.

I draw that to the Minister’s attention. It is not a direct Foreign Office matter, but I can tell him this: it is not the Rwandan system of justice that is in the dock today, but the British system of justice, for not delivering justice to the many people in Rwanda who allegedly suffered at the hands of those five genocidaires. I hope it will not be too long before the British judicial and legal system holds them to proper account, for their sakes, as well as for those in Rwanda who allegedly suffered at their hands.