Yemen is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 82% of the population in need of assistance. We commend DFID for its humanitarian leadership to date in response to the crisis, contributing £85 million. DFID is the fourth largest donor to the humanitarian crisis with influence far beyond that. We welcome DFID’s timely and agile response to the crisis, particularly its flexibility in transferring funds from development work to emergency work, which has allowed partners on the ground to launch immediate and effective responses. DFID should also be credited for its work with other government departments to influence parties to the conflict and negotiate greater access for commercial supplies entering Yemen, and for humanitarian actors, essential to the humanitarian response. Nevertheless, the humanitarian response to the crisis has been significantly underfunded with last year’s UN Fund just 56% funded and with the UN 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan recently launched requesting $1.8 billion to reach over 13 million people in need. In view of the expense and grave impact of the conflict on the civilian population in Yemen, we recommend DFID urgently consider further increasing its funding for emergency humanitarian relief in Yemen, particularly to provide food, water and medical supplies, and to support the many children suffering in this crisis. Evidence we received indicated that despite the continuing conflict there are means by which greater aid provision, if made available, can reach affected civilians, such as the large number of internally displaced people, if more aid were made available. At the same time the burden cannot fall on the UK alone. As Minister Desmond Swayne told us “it is not always a question of what more Britain can do; it is often a question of what more Britain can do to get other people to do things.” We therefore urge the Government to increase its efforts, using DFID’s considerable international leadership role to challenge other potential or existing donors to similarly increase their humanitarian aid contribution. We also urge it to ensure that the needs resulting from the humanitarian crisis in Yemen are more appropriately highlighted on the world stage, proportionate to the level of the crisis occurring there.
The situation in Yemen can be described as a civilian protection crisis: evidence suggests that civilians are bearing the brunt of the fighting. In particular the impact on children has been severe: the number of children not able to attend school has nearly doubled since the start of the crisis, with 47% of Yemen’s school age children currently not attending. There is a serious risk of significant long term consequences amounting to a lost generation of Yemeni children. The UK has a strong track record in supporting emergency education, for example for Syrian refugee children through the No Lost Generation Initiative. Urgent action is needed to ensure there is not a lost generation of Yemeni children.
There is also a serious risk that the destruction of the health system in Yemen will have consequences for the country far beyond the end of the conflict. Attacks on facilities and medical staff, coupled with a severe lack of medical supplies, have left the health sector in a state of collapse. At the same time, needs are increasing: 3 million people require treatment or preventative services for malnutrition, and 19.4 million people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation. It is essential that the health sector is protected, and that programmes to maintain and deliver vital water and nutrition services are supported. DFID’s support has been crucial in addressing the crisis. Within the deteriorating humanitarian context, DFID identified food, nutrition, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as top priority sectors and committed additional aid specifically targeting these sectors.
We heard substantial and convincing evidence that parties to the conflict have not adhered to the rules of war, which are designed to minimise harm to civilians. We heard that bombing is indiscriminate and fails to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and that there is a failure to protect civilians, humanitarian space and humanitarian access. This report addresses the impact of the role of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia because the UK has a strong diplomatic and commercial relationship with that nation. Evidence we received, however, indicates that both sides of the conflict are implicated in breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL).
The Foreign Secretary has stated that the Government has “looked at every allegation of breach of international humanitarian law, and we have found no evidence of breach of international humanitarian law”. In correspondence with us, the Foreign Secretary has stressed that “first and foremost” the UK Government wants the Saudis to conduct thorough and conclusive investigations into breaches of IHL. He has also said that he is “satisfied that all extant licences for the export of arms exports to Saudi Arabia are compliant with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria”.
The evidence we have received, from humanitarian actors operating on the ground in Yemen and respected human rights organisations including UN commissioned evidence, unanimously suggested that humanitarian law is being breached, making the relief effort difficult and dangerous. In light of the very strong evidence that delivery of humanitarian relief is undermined by ongoing breaches of IHL, we recommend that an independent investigation into alleged violations of IHL by both sides of the conflict in Yemen is conducted without delay. We remain unconvinced that Saudi Arabia is best placed to conduct investigations into reports of IHL abuses by the Saudi-led Coalition. As we stated when we wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development in February 2016, it is a longstanding principle of the rule of law that inquiries should be independent of those being investigated.
We welcome the decision of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) to consider in detail the use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen. As a constituent committee of CAEC, we will continue to pursue these issues and contribute to the CAEC Report accordingly. However, while respecting CAEC to come to its own conclusions in accordance with its terms of reference, in light of the strength and credibility of the evidence we have heard, we recommend that CAEC considers the case for suspending UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until there is evidence that there is no “clear risk” that arms exported from the UK “might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL” in Yemen. An independent inquiry would provide credible evidence on whether UK-manufactured arms have been used in the commission of violations of IHL, and the UK Government should fully support an independent investigation without delay.
A sustainable and inclusive political solution is what is ultimately needed and DFID is right to have this strategic objective in mind. We welcome DFID’s support for the UN in facilitating peace talks and its work to protect key institutions, such as the Social Fund for Development, which will be vital for Yemen’s recovery. We are encouraged by the ceasefire which began on 10 April 2016 and urge the Government to continue to apply pressure to all parties to the conflict to hold the ceasefire so that it may become more permanent. We also welcome the peace talks held from 22 April 2016 in Kuwait and hope these will lead to an end to the year-long conflict which has devastated the lives of so many civilians in Yemen.
2 Conservative Middle East Council, (February 2016), p 4
3 Appendix 3
29 April 2016