07 APR 2017

The Yemen

Attention has rightly been drawn to the humanitarian situation in the Yemen. The conflict has resulted in over 21 million people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance The UK Government is at the forefront of providing aid to the country which so far for this year amounts to some £100 million. This is widely regarded as influential and crucial. The head of UNICEF in Yemen has said that the UK had been an essential partner in Yemen: He commented that our support "has been absolutely essential to maintaining a very large nutrition programme in Yemen and other services, WASH and health. Without that, we would not have been able to provide the significant scale of assistance that we are providing today."

However, I take issue with a widespread analysis of the problem. Let me explain. There is a legal basis which comes from the UN for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and a legitimate need to quell the armed uprising of the Houthi rebels. Left unchecked, the expansion of the Houthi rebels in the country would continue abhorrent practices such as the use of children as soldiers and forced marriages. We also need to stop extremist militant groups such as AQAP gaining further space to operate in Yemen. The suggestion that by denying weapons to Saudi Arabia we would end foreign weapons being available is not true. The Houthis are backed by Iran who would continue to supply arms either directly or through terrorist organisations which are allied to them such as Hezbollah. I have yet to see an Amnesty International report condemning the actions of the Houthis in Yemen.

The question that is really being raised is one of has there been serious breaches of international humanitarian law in the region. I am aware that there are allegations of this on both sides of the conflict. There is of course a need to minimise harm to civilians. The Government regularly raises the importance of international law with the Saudi Arabian Government and other members of the military Coalition and successive Ministers have visited Saudi Arabia for this purpose. We are not opposing calls for an international independent investigation, but want to see the Saudi-led Coalition investigate allegations of breaches of international law which are attributed to them; and for their investigations to be thorough and conclusive.

We are not a member of the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition and British military personnel are not directly involved in Coalition operations. We take arms export responsibilities very seriously and operate one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. An export licence will not be granted if to do so would breach any aspect of what is called the mandatory Consolidated Criteria. This includes respect by that country for international humanitarian law.

Peace talks are, and have always been, the top priority. We are clear that a political solution is the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and end the conflict. The war in Yemen is tragic for the displaced people. It requires peaceful negotiation of a solution and the absence of interference from Iran who see this as a convenient way of keeping Saudi Arabia tied down.

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