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Yemen

Volume 765: debated on Thursday 29 October 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on restoring peace in that country.

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are in regular contact with the Saudi authorities, including through our embassy in Riyadh and our Yemen office based in Jeddah. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week and underlined the importance that the United Kingdom attaches to finding a political solution to the current crisis as soon as possible. He also reinforced the necessity of full compliance with international humanitarian law and of facilitating access for humanitarian and commercial shipping.

My Lords, the Yemen operation has left 5,000 dead, 26,000 injured, 2.3 million internally displaced and 21 million in need of humanitarian assistance. If we agree with the Brookings Institution that al-Qaeda is the principal local winner of this war and with Human Rights Watch that Saudi attacks on IDPs and humanitarian aid are violations of the laws of war, will the Government use our presidency of the Security Council in November to promote a truce and to call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Yemen?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right: the situation there at the moment is dreadful. In July it was declared a level 3 emergency, which is reserved for the worst humanitarian crises—shared only, I am afraid, by Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. As the noble Lord said, the intensified conflict has now displaced nearly 2.3 million people. He asked whether there is anything that we can do during our presidency of the Security Council. I will pass on his question to my colleagues in the department, but I can say that UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed briefed the Security Council in open session on Friday on his plans for further political negotiation. That is something that we are very pleased about.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is a real danger of misreading the situation in Yemen by focusing on the Shia-Sunni divide or on the Saudi-Emirati opposition to Iran and failing to appreciate the fundamental importance of clan and tribal loyalties? Does he also agree that we have a major interest in preventing yet another failed state in the region sending waves of migrants to Europe, adding to the 1 million who have come to our shores over the past year?

The noble Lord makes a very good point relating to the tribal issues in Yemen that make it increasingly difficult, and always have made it very difficult, to manage. As far as migration is concerned, it is very difficult to compare different areas, and of course this is very different from, for example, Syria. However, we will keep a very close watch on what is happening there.

My Lords, what is the Government’s assessment of the comments made yesterday by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, who said that the military campaign is now nearing its end?

My Lords, at last night’s press conference in Riyadh, held jointly with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, the continuing situation in Yemen was discussed. As my noble friend says, it is the case that the military campaign is coming to a close as the coalition forces have established a dominant military position in the country. We now focus on the agreed shared analysis of the need for accelerating the political process.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House exactly why the UK Government continue to license arms to the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen? As we have heard, more than 5,000 civilians have been killed. Can the Minister give us proof that no British exported weapons, including British-made military planes, are being used to commit violations of humanitarian law?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, with her great knowledge of this area, asks some questions to which I am afraid I do not know the answer. Munitions are supplied to the Saudi air force, and the UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes in the world.

My Lords, I welcome the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As it happens, Yemen was my first post and Saudi Arabia was my last. I suggest to the Minister that we should focus our efforts on the humanitarian aspects here, partly for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It is a hugely complex situation, internally in Yemen and externally in the regional powers. The best thing that we can do is to increase our aid to those many millions who are suffering dreadfully.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, is quite right, in so far as we have to focus the aid so that it gets to the people who need it. However, as the noble Lord is also aware, the logistics of getting it there are proving very difficult.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to the BBC, war crimes have been committed, probably by both sides, by targeting civilians and world heritage sites, and that on Tuesday, a hospital was bombed as well? Will Her Majesty’s Government support an international investigation into these deliberate attacks on civilians?

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, issues relating to activities on both sides are causing great concern—whether it is the bombing of a hospital, the use of child soldiers or the use of schools and hospitals for military purposes. But the noble Lord will also be aware that any judgment on whether specific international crimes have occurred is a matter for international judicial decision rather than for Governments and non-judicial bodies.

As far as the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital is concerned, which I think is what the noble Lord was referring to, we are aware of the alleged air strike by the Saudi-led coalition and we await further news on that.

My Lords, we must admit that the British record in controlling Aden was not particularly wonderful and that Yemen has never been an entirely coherent state. Britain now prides itself on the closeness of its links with Saudi Arabia and the GCC coalition that is intervening. Can we be assured that conversations with the Saudis on what is happening in Yemen are close and confidential and have not been adversely affected by the recent letter from the Saudi ambassador in London?

My Lords, we continue at all times, as the noble Lord is aware, to have talks at the highest level on all these issues.

My Lords, in view of the reports of violations of serious international human rights law committed by parties in Yemen, does the Minister support the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate these allegations?

My Lords, the UN Human Rights Council, which I think the noble Lord was referring to, has no mandate to call for IHL investigations. Resolutions contain mechanisms for monitoring the human rights situation in Yemen. There was recently an agreement on a single text in the Human Rights Council to call for consensual resolution of the position in Yemen.