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International Humanitarian Law: Israel-Palestine Conflict

Volume 749: debated on Thursday 9 May 2024

7. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on compliance with international humanitarian law in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict. (902704)

8. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on compliance with international humanitarian law in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict. (902705)

As all Members know, the Law Officers’ convention means that I cannot disclose outside Government whether or not I have provided advice, or the specifics of such advice, but it is no secret that we continue to call for international humanitarian law to be respected and for civilians to be protected.

It is more than three months since the International Court of Justice issued its interim ruling on the Gaza conflict and set out steps that Israel must take in order to protect civilian life. The Netanyahu Government have, as yet, failed to comply with that ruling, but our Government have still not come out publicly and urged them to do so. Will the Attorney General take the opportunity today to call on Israel to take the steps ordered by the Court?

This Government firmly respect the role and the independence of the ICJ. Its ruling, or order, called for the immediate release of the hostages and referred to the need to get more aid into Gaza, and that is exactly what the Government are also calling for.

The ICJ ruling also declared that there was a “plausible right” to be protected from genocide, and following the urgent question to the Deputy Foreign Secretary on Tuesday I cited United Nations international law relating to that. When there are concerns about a potential genocide taking place, those are the circumstances in which the sale of arms should be withdrawn. Can the Attorney General tell me, and my constituents—as this is a massive issue for thousands of people across the country—exactly when the Government will come out and recognise both international law and the risks that we take in breaching it?

This Government believe very firmly in international law. On 9 April, the Foreign Secretary announced that our position on export licences was unchanged. We publish data on our export licensing decisions transparently and on a quarterly basis.

We have heard questions about the International Court of Justice, but I want ask some questions about the International Criminal Court. Its chief prosecutor said last week that

“all attempts to impede, intimidate, or improperly influence”

the Court over its investigations of war crimes in Gaza must “cease immediately”.

He was forced to issue that demand after a letter signed by 12 United States senators warned the ICC:

“Target Israel and we will target you.”

That letter threatened sanctions not just against the ICC’s officials, but against its employees, associates and families.

Will the Attorney General join me in condemning those Republican senators for their outrageous actions? Will she also join the chief prosecutor in agreeing that anyone who threatens the ICC simply for doing its job is undermining the very impartiality and independence on which its international mandate depends?

I thought that the ICC’s statement was worthy of note, and I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for bringing it to the House’s attention. In his statement, the independent prosecutor was also keen to point out that he welcomed active engagement by Governments and other parties on the work in which he is clearly engaged around the world to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected and war crimes are not committed. He is a British prosecutor, and we in this Government are proud to work with him; we have been very proud to support him in his work in Ukraine, for example. There are ongoing investigations of what is going on in Israel and Gaza by more than one international court at present, and I think it is difficult to speculate on specific outcomes.

The Attorney General will be aware of the Government’s grounds of defence in the ongoing case of Al-Haq v. the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, in which the FCDO lawyers admitted that the

“inability to come to a clear assessment on Israel’s record of compliance”

with international humanitarian law “poses significant policy risks”. What is the Attorney General’s assessment of that submission? Given the FCDO’s concerns about Israel’s compliance with IHL, what has she said to her Cabinet colleagues who are worried that the issuing of arms export licences could make the UK Government complicit in breaches of international humanitarian law and the arms trade treaty?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot give my specific legal advice. I cannot share that with the House—it is for the Government alone—but I can say that the Foreign Secretary has reviewed the most recent advice from the IHL cell. That has informed his decision that there is not a clear risk that the items exported from the UK might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of IHL. It leaves our position on export licences unchanged, but that position is kept under review.