Three speeches in Parliament this week: War in the Yemen and the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia; Corruption and aid programmes to countries like Pakistan; and the lack of legal mechanisms to hold to account those who use rape as a weapon on war in countries like the Congo


Three speeches in Parliament this week: War in the Yemen and the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia; Corruption and aid programmes to countries like Pakistan; and the lack of legal mechanisms to hold to account those who use rape as a weapon on war in countries like the Congo.

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 House of Lords debate on Yemen    April 1st 2019

 

 5.56 pm

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, in the aftermath of António Guterres’s assertion that Yemen is,

 

“the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”,

 

the International Affairs Committee has provided the House with a succinct, brave and timely report. 

 

Yemen’s victims are disfigured by grinding poverty, caught in a cycle of declining GDP, the collapsing Yemeni rial, accelerating food and fuel prices and, as the United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs described in a recent report, it has,

 

“A higher percentage of people face death, hunger and disease than in any other country … 

 

Eighty percent of the entire population requires some form of humanitarian assistance and protection … 

 

Twenty million Yemenis need help securing food and a staggering 14 million people are in acute humanitarian need … 

 

Ten million people are one step away from famine and starvation … 

 

Seven million, four hundred thousand people, nearly a quarter of the entire population, are malnourished, many acutely so … 

 

Two million malnourished children under five and 1.1 million pregnant and lactating women require urgent treatment to survive … 

 

Conditions are worsening at a nearly unprecedented rate”.

 

In what is, increasingly, a breeding ground for the next wave of ISIS recruiting sergeants, it is reported that in western Yemen hidden landmines have taken the lives of 267 civilians, also claiming the lives of five charity workers who were demining the area. 

 

Aid agencies estimate a 63% increase in gender-based violence, 1.3 million suspected cases of cholera—the worst outbreak in modem history—with coalition airstrikes destroying water treatment facilities, crippling access to clean water. 

 

In a war crime warranting prosecution, five medical facilities run by Médecins Sans Frontières have been bombed since 2015. 

 

Despite the three-month-old truce in Hodeidah, according to UNICEF,

 

“At least one child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from malnutrition and preventable diseases”.

 

In December, UNICEF reported:

 

“Over 6,700 children were verified killed or severely injured. Nearly 1.5 million children have been displaced, many of them living a life that is a mere shadow of what childhood should be. In Yemen today, 7 million children go to sleep hungry every night. Every single day, 400,000 children face life-threatening severe acute malnutrition and could die any minute. More than 2 million children are out of school; those who are in school often have to settle for poor quality education in overcrowded classrooms”.

 

As the conflict and the humanitarian crisis rage on, the estimated cost, as we have heard during this debate, has reached staggering sums of billions of dollars. 

 

In evidence to the committee, the then Minister Alistair Burt—an old friend of mine—described Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s,

 

“huge existential fears for their states”,

 

but, as the report says, he also said that,

 

“Opponents of the Saudi-led coalition had used a ‘very easy narrative’ that had ‘misunderstood the nature of this conflict’”.

 

He insisted that the UK was,

 

“not a party to the military conflict as part of the coalition”,

 

but this is a very elastic definition. 

 

Last week, as we have heard, national newspapers reported:

 

“Members of the Special Boat Service … were shot while fighting in the Saadah area in the north of the country”.

 

How is that not taking part in the military conflict?

 

However, it is far worse than that. 

 

Over four years, the coalition has carried out over 19,000 air strikes—one every 106 minutes. 

 

In 2019, the UN panel of experts on Yemen said that precautionary measures to protect civilians are “largely inadequate and ineffective”. 

 

The UK has provided training in targeting weapons, along with liaison officers at Saudi headquarters, resupplied Saudi air capability and provided technical maintenance and spare parts. 

 

We have licensed £4.7 billion of arms exports to the Saudis, along with a further £860 million of arms to their coalition partners. 

 

As only second to the United States in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, we have stoked the fires of this conflict by selling arms to a country which has exported terror and ideology. 

 

We have acted as quartermaster to the conflict and then salve our consciences by boasting about how much aid we have given to the suffering people of Yemen.

 

Although Ministers have played a constructive role in promoting United Nations Security Council Resolution 2451 and encouraging the work of the admirable Martin Griffiths, special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, in brokering the Stockholm agreement, our own credibility in this process is damaged when, as the report says, in their licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia the Government are “narrowly on the wrong side” of international law,

 

“given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition”.

 

The report goes on to say that these sales,

 

“are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen”.

 

When he comes to reply, I hope that the Minister will respond to the call of the 25 Yemeni and global NGOs which have called on Germany to extend its moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and tell us whether he is comfortable that we have not done the same. 

 

The UK’s response and that of France—countries which both produce arms that require parts and components of German origin—has been for the UK to actively lobby Germany to lift its moratorium. 

 

This demonstrates again how we are stepping over the line, and it risks weakening international standards for arms control. 

 

Indeed, it may violate our obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty including:

 

“Respecting and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law”,

 

and preventing human suffering. 

 

I might add that, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the US Congress has voted to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen—although the White House has signalled that, if necessary, it will veto this

 

Knowing of the attacks on civilians and atrocities in Yemen while still providing the weapons to Saudi Arabia makes Her Majesty’s Government complicit in those atrocities. 

 

Your Lordships may recall that both Yemen and Saudi Arabia are accused of having committed war crimes; hence, Her Majesty’s Government could fall within the ambit of complicity. 

 

Contrary to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Her Majesty’s Government are subject to the International Criminal Court, and Ministers should urgently seek the advice of the Government’s law officers on this matter.

 

 If they seriously want to see an end to the carnage and suffering in Yemen, the Government should immediately end their complicity in this disgraceful business and make it clear that this appalling campaign of killing is not to be conducted in our name.

 

 6.03 pm

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Aid and Corruption-  House of Lords Debate 

 

 

 3.53 pm

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, the World Bank identifies corruption as a major obstacle to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and its detrimental effect on the poorest 40% of people in developing countries. It is estimated that, every year, up to £2 trillion is lost globally to corruption.

 

My brief remarks will centre on the dangers of corruption in the post-conflict, post-ISIS Iraq referred to by the noble Lords, Lord McInnes and Lord Anderson, and on British aid to Pakistan—I should declare that I am co-chair of the Pakistani Minorities All-Party Group and visited Lahore and Islamabad last November.

 

On 11 October 2017, Ministers confirmed to me funding for 80 projects benefiting Yazidis and 171 benefiting Christian communities targeted by the ISIS genocide; £40 million had been earmarked for urgent humanitarian assistance and more than £25 million for UN stabilisation efforts. 

 

On their return to the region, 746,000 Iraqis from minority communities were meant to benefit from these Funding Facility for Stabilization projects managed by the United Nations Development Programme. 

 

Over subsequent months, news circulated that the money was not reaching the affected communities. 

 

One of the main reasons for this failure was corruption. NGOs drew this to the attention of the Government and I attended a meeting with Ministers at which the details of a phantom project were described.

 

At the end of 2017, in response to a freedom of information request, the Department for International Development refused to provide information describing how these projects were benefiting those minorities and how they were being implemented. 

 

DfID relied on several exceptions, saying that disclosure would or might prejudice relations between the United Kingdom, Iraq and international organisations or courts, and would or might prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. In reality, the information could easily have been disclosed without identifying any details that could jeopardise the various interests cited. 

 

As many NGOs assisting survivors in Iraq insist that the money does not reach the intended recipients, such a lack of transparency is extremely disturbing.

 

Retrospectively, DfID now uses independent monitoring, which should have been in place from inception, rather than coming into play months if not years after the projects began. 

 

Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the department’s current assessment is of the situation in Iraq. 

 

What issues concerning corruption have been detected, how have they been addressed, what steps have been taken to address the issues identified by several NGOs and raised in 2018 in a letter to the Government from Dr Russell Blacker on behalf of the National Caucus for the Persecuted Church acting on behalf of communities targeted by ISIS? 

 

This is public money and taxpayers are entitled to know the answers.

 

When comparable concerns about corruption in Iraq were raised with the US Administration, they responded with admirable urgency, transparency and openness, initiating internal inspector-general investigations into the final destination of US funds sent to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization. The UNDP has itself initiated several internal investigations into allegations of corruption, and we should do the same.

 

A comparable challenge applies in Pakistan, which receives a staggering £383,000 of British taxpayers’ money every single day—£2.8 billion over 20 years. 

 

The World Economic Forum identifies corruption as the third-greatest problem for companies doing business in Pakistan, after government bureaucracy and poor infrastructure. It affects all Pakistanis but it disproportionately affects vulnerable populations—the poor, women, and religious minorities. In its report Equality in Aid, the International Dalit Solidarity Network recommended that DfID should prepare vulnerability mapping tools, inclusion monitoring tools and methods for inclusive response programming, issues I have probed with the Minister in Questions for Written Answer. 

 

Two weeks ago, I sent him news reports that one of the top three DfID spending programmes in 2018-19, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Sector Programme, which secured £41 million, also needs to be carefully scrutinised.

 

 I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has asked officials to do that. 

 

It is alleged that in several districts, money allocated to establish new educational institutions and refurbish schools was misappropriated and that these are phantom projects—ghost schools. 

 

How does the Minister intend to establish the facts? Waiting for NGOs or newspapers to report such cases simply is not good enough.

 

I therefore hope that today’s debate will point us towards the far more rigorous and effective use of British resources. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for giving us the opportunity to raise these issues.

 

 3.58 pm

 

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Debate led by Baroness Hodgson of Abinger – To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the adequacy of international mechanisms to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account; and what steps they are taking to ensure justice for survivors

 

 

 6.50 pm

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, the noble Lady, Baroness Hodgson, has consistently and tenaciously championed the cause of those who have been subjected to unspeakable violence. In her moving and powerful speech this evening, she rightly demanded more effective ways of holding perpetrators to account and ensuring justice. I think we should all express our gratitude to her for that.

 

I should declare that I am joint chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on North Korea and Pakistani Minorities, vice-chair of the APPGs on Burma and the DRC and an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan. All of these are countries I have visited and are all disfigured by the use of rape as a weapon of war. I am also a trustee of Arise, a charity that works with women who have been trafficked or enslaved.

 

Last year, Denis Mukwege—who was referred to by the noble Baroness—with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman I have had the privilege to meet, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize, given, as it says in the citation:

 

“for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”,

 

 

In the DRC, where more than 5 million people are estimated to have died in the long-running conflicts—a greater number than in any other conflict since World War II—Dr Mukwege has treated thousands of women who were raped, performing up to 10 operations every day. 

 

Since Panzi Hospital, in Bukavu, was founded by Dr Mukwege in 1999, it has treated more than 82,000 patients with complex gynaecological damage and trauma. An estimated 60% of these injuries were caused by sexual violence. Dr Mukwege describes how his patients arrive at the hospital sometimes naked, usually in horrific conditions, victims of different armed groups.

 

Throughout this discussion of international mechanisms to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account, we should keep Dr Mukwege and Nadia Murad—tortured and raped by Islamic State militants during their genocide—at the heart of our deliberations.

 

 It is crucial to begin with one important fact: that there are not many adequate mechanisms in place to end the current culture of impunity. 

 

Indeed, the only permanent international criminal tribunal, the International Criminal Court, despite being able to deal with cases of sexual violence, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or crimes of aggression, often lacks the jurisdiction to be able to investigate the crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators. 

 

The ICC is a treaty-bound court and its competence is limited by ​that fact alone. This is graphically illustrated by the genocidal campaign unleashed by ISIS against religious and other minorities in Syria and Iraq—people like Nadia Murad.

 

As the House knows, in 2014, ISIS, driven by its hatred of difference, instigated mass murder, torture, abuse, rape, sexual violence, and forced displacement. 

 

To this day, more than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls are still missing after they were abducted from Sinjar in September 2014 and are suspected to be in Syria.

 

 For more than four years, these women and girls have been subjected to most atrocious abuse imaginable. In her testimony, Nadia says:

 

“One moment I was a farm girl, going to school in my village in northern Iraq and the next I was an ISIS sex slave, ‘owned’ by militants. My peaceful existence was shattered simply because my religious beliefs were deemed sub-human by a group of men who believed they were superior. ISIS murdered my family and took me captive, exposing me to horrors which would be impossible to imagine had I not endured every moment and felt each brutal blow”.

 

She says she chose to speak because:

 

“I believed the world needed to know the truth and I wanted justice. I wanted ISIS held accountable. If we cannot achieve this, with all the evidence and our justice systems, then we are giving a green light to these groups”.

 

Yet, despite the level and nature of these atrocities, the ICC cannot get involved. 

 

The ICC does not have territorial jurisdiction in Syria or Iraq, and, currently, there is no other international or regional criminal court that could deal with prosecutions. 

 

Another option would be for the Security Council to establish an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute the ISIS fighters, modelled on the precedent set by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda. The Minister knows that I have been in touch with him and the Foreign Office on a number of occasions to put forward that proposal.

 

Under Security Council Resolution 2379, an investigative team is already mandated to collect, preserve and prepare for future prosecutions the evidence of the crimes perpetrated by ISIS in Iraq. As the next step, the Security Council could establish the international criminal tribunal for ISIS, modelled on the ICTY or the ICTR, with a tailored mandate.

 

In June 2018, work in this direction was initiated by Pieter Omtzigt, a Dutch MP, who convened a meeting between the Iraqi Government’s representatives and experts to explore the need to assist Iraq in prosecuting ISIS fighters and looking into the available options. 

 

The Iraqi representatives agreed that as the issue of ISIS is not only a problem of Iraq but of international concern and an international responsibility, Iraq would need assistance with the prosecutions. 

 

More than 850 people from the UK travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and were directly involved there in every aspect of the genocide, including systematic rape and enslavement. The UK clearly needs to be involved in prosecuting the fighters. 

 

Stripping them of citizenship is not the way to bring about justice, a point I raised during Question Time recently. It merely makes it harder.

 

For months, I have I have been urging the Government to explore the initiation of international or regional prosecutions, especially as the investigative team has just begun the excavations of the first mass grave in ​Sinjar. 

 

The international option is crucial if there is to be justice.

 

 Survivors of rape and sexual violence are not involved in the proceedings of Iraqi domestic courts, giving little hope that justice will be served. 

 

How can we ensure justice if the very people affected by the atrocities are not even asked to testify, to tell the stories of what happened to them, and do not have the opportunity to see justice being done or to hear an apology?

 

Considering the territorial limitations of the ICC, it may be crucial to reconsider whether we need a new mechanism that would be better suited to address the growing impunity. If the Minister would be willing, I would be most grateful for a meeting to discuss this troubling situation and possible ways forward.

 

Let me also briefly mention Pakistan, which I visited in November, and where the Minister also was recently. 

 

At least 1,000 women belonging to religious minorities, some of them minors, have been abducted, forcibly converted and often married to those very abductors. 

 

They come from the very poorest sectors of society and are easy targets for the perpetrators of sexual violence. 

 

The law-enforcement agencies often show little or no interest in helping aggrieved parents to register a police case against the kidnappers. 

 

Even if the parents persist and somehow reach the courts and the abductors are forced to bring victims to the court, the abducted are threatened and told that if they tell the court about their kidnappings, their parents and siblings will be killed. Thus they have no option but to admit in the court that their conversion was voluntary.

 

In the past few weeks, there have been at least six such cases, which I have drawn to the Minister’s attention. These include a 13 year-old Christian girl, Sadaf Masih, who was kidnapped, forcibly converted and married on 6 February, in Punjab. 

 

On 20 March, two teenaged Hindu girls, Reena, aged 15, and Raveena, aged 13, were similarly kidnapped, forcibly converted and married within a matter of hours, in Sindh. 

 

The kidnappers were married already, with children, but that that did not prevent them from forcibly marrying those girls. In the worst-case scenarios, the kidnappers after sexual and physical abuse, sell them into slavery and they are sent to brothels.

 

We give Pakistan £383,000 in aid each and every day—£2.8 billion over 20 years. 

 

Surely we can use our aid programmes with leverage to ensure justice for the victims and to save many broken lives and families? 

 

The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, is to be thanked for encouraging us to address this important issue this evening, and I reiterate my gratitude to her.