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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

I am happy to undertake to do that.

I want to talk about the challenges that our UN peacekeepers face. In today’s modern conflicts, missions are facing increasing asymmetric and physical threats, and they can be targets themselves. The importance of finding political solutions remains paramount. We are committed to improvements in peacekeeping. We will continue to call for support to improve the three Ps of peacekeeping—planning, pledges and performance—as we, along with 63 nations, set out in a communiqué at the 2016 UN peacekeeping Defence ministerial meeting in London.

I realise that time is getting tight, and if there are matters that I have not been able to bring up, I will respond in writing. I will make sure my team looks through the Hansard transcript.

A key approach is that there should be no impunity. Primary responsibility for investigation and prosecution of the most serious international crimes rests with states themselves, but where those states are unable or unwilling to fulfil their responsibilities, other justice mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Court, have an important role to play. The UK remains one of the foremost contributors to the ICC, and we will work to ensure that the court undergoes the necessary reforms to enable it to fulfil its mandate as the court of last resort, as intended under the Rome statute. We have been strong advocates of ad hoc and hybrid international tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and its successor, as well as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone.

UN peacekeeping is an important aspect of the protection of civilians, and we will continue to work with the international community on it. In addition to our international efforts, we are working domestically to ensure that we are doing all we can to uphold IHL in the interests of protecting civilians. We have established a centre of excellence for human security, which will deliver extended training on the protection of civilians; women, peace and security; human trafficking and sexual exploitation; and cultural property protection. Ours is the first military in the world to have a dedicated national defence policy on human security. The centre will help other militaries. We have also had a safe schools declaration, to support the continuation of education during armed conflict, and the publication of our “Voluntary Report on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law at Domestic Level”.

Mr Bone, I appreciate that you want to ensure that the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley has a moment to speak at the end of the debate, but, if I may, I want to conclude by saying that our support, recognised, I think, by everyone in the House, for the principles, rules and instruments of international humanitarian law remains unwavering. The robust framework is designed with the protection of civilians in mind. We take our responsibilities seriously, and I am glad that the House feels as strongly as we do. The review is under way, and I am convinced it will be a great success, not least because it will have input from Members here and from a range of bodies with these interests at heart. I hope we can discuss these matters again in the House before too long.