Yemen - Westminster Hall

Rose to speak at 1.51 pm:

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Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise, Mr Turner. I am new to the House.

I first want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) for securing this debate. The situation in Yemen is a tragedy that must be addressed by the international community and, more importantly, by the British Government. There is an urgent need to review the alleged war crimes, to seek accountability and to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation. More than 21 million people, including 9.9 million children, are in humanitarian need, making Yemen the country with the greatest number of people in humanitarian need in the world. As was recently stated by the International Red Cross,

“Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

The atrocities in Yemen are the result of a complex civil war that has also turned into a battleground for the regional superpowers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Evidence uncovered by Amnesty International suggests that both sides could be guilty of committing war crimes. Investigations into 21 airstrikes in Sa’da in the north of Yemen uncovered that some of these strikes appeared to be directly targeted at civilians. The strikes killed 241 civilians and injured more than 157. The number of known civilian casualties since the conflict escalated in March has risen to more than 8,000 people, including more than 2,000 people killed.

I want to use my speech to address the British Government’s role in this conflict. Britain has given tens of millions of pounds in aid this year to help alleviate the crisis, and yet, because of the British arms 
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trade with Saudi Arabia, the Government are complicit in these killings. That fact will remain until they change their stance on the arms trade.

In 2014, £83 million worth of arms were authorised for export to Saudi Arabia. The Government are providing weapons to a country that indiscriminately targets civilians and are supporting a regime that uses its membership of the UN Human Rights Council to block an independent inquiry into its conduct in Yemen. Instead, the council adopted a resolution tabled by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Arab states involved in the conflict. It is in part thanks to our own nomination that Saudi Arabia is on the council. It is time to stop propping up a regime that abuses human rights inside and outside its borders. There is an urgent need for accountability.

I call on the Government to address their obligations as set out in the national arms export licensing criteria and articles 6 and 7 of the arms trade treaty and to send a clear and open message to Saudi Arabia that we do not condone its violence. The Government must condemn the violence and press for an independent inquiry into violations of humanitarian and human rights law by parties involved in the conflict.

Bob Stewart: I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. Saudi Arabia is supporting the legitimate Government of President Hadi, who is trying to restore order in the country. That legitimate Government are supported by the UN Security Council; it is a little worrying if the hon. Lady is suggesting that we should stop Saudi Arabia from supporting a legitimate Government, giving the Houthis free rein.

Kate Osamor: I am not saying we should stop such support. I am saying we need to look at what has happened thus far and have an independent inquiry.

Lastly, the paradox of aid and arms that is central to British involvement in Yemen cannot be ignored and the Government must act to change this.

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Kate Osamor MP

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