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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 10:41 am on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 10:41 am, 18th June 2019

To an extent, I agree. Obviously, predictions of the future are always fraught with difficulty; a number of the conflicts I am going to touch on now might have been predictable 10 or 15 years ago, but others have arisen unexpectedly. We need a flexible system, but there is some sense in having that forward-looking approach at the UN as well as at the World Bank.

In Iraq, the UK has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by Daesh, the so-called Islamic State. Through a Security Council resolution adopted in 2017, we helped to establish a UN investigative team to support the Iraqi Government in the collection, preservation and storage of evidence linked to Daesh crimes.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield pointed out on Syria, we co-sponsored the UN General Assembly resolution in December 2016 that established the international impartial and independent mechanism for Syria, which was designed to deliver accountability for horrific atrocities, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of chemical weapons.

On Myanmar, the UK was the penholder at the UN Security Council that co-sponsored the creation of the UN fact-finding mission, which concluded that ethnic cleansing had been carried out against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military and could amount to genocide. We worked in the UN Human Rights Council to establish a unique investigative mechanism to collect and preserve evidence of atrocities for future prosecutions, recognising—tragically, I am afraid, in certain cases—that those who need to be brought to account will possibly remain in office for many years to come. None the less, we have a reliable and legally watertight mechanism to hold them to account. I would like to think that our country has played a leadership role, but, of course, we do not do this alone; we work with like-minded partners to address conflict situations, such as in Sudan, Yemen, Libya and the horn of Africa.

Let me come on to some of the contributions made in the debate. Risks around serious or major violations of international humanitarian law, or abuse of human rights, are a key part of our assessment against the IHL consolidation criteria. In relation to arms exports, a licence will not be issued to any country if so to do would be inconsistent with any provision of the mandatory criteria, including where we assess that there is a clear risk that arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL. The situation is kept under careful and continual review. We examine every application rigorously, on a case-by-case basis. That applies in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia, but also in many other walks. The test is designed to be forward looking. A licence will not be issued to Saudi Arabia or any other country if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the consolidated EU or national arms export licensing criteria.