Crisis in Yemen Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The humanitarian crisis

1.DFID has been instrumental in supporting and facilitating the humanitarian relief effort through a timely and flexible response. We commend the Department for its commitment to date towards funding the humanitarian crisis in the Yemen and for its work in raising the profile of this crisis among donors. However, much more needs to be done. We are concerned that other countries are not playing their part. It is vital that other donors, in addition to the UK, rapidly provide necessary funds to support the UN’s $1.8 billion 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan. We urge DFID to play an even stronger leadership role in order to secure these vital resources, both by substantially increasing its own funding contribution and by galvanising other donors to do the same. We welcome the proposed meetings on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen and in addition we recommend that DFID consider hosting and international donor conference to highlight the urgent need for this support, similar to the Supporting Syria Conference 2016 which commendably brought together high level representatives from donors around the world and secured significant funding pledges. (Paragraph 10)

2.We are gravely concerned about the toll the conflict in Yemen is having on children and young people. Not only are they suffering from deaths and injuries, and severe food insecurity, but many have lost their schools and many have been recruited to armed groups. We fear the psychological effects of witnessing traumatic events at a young age will haunt them for many years to come. Since 26 March 2015, UNICEF has monitored, verified and documented over 1,000 grave violations against children in Yemen. Protecting children and getting them back into education must be a priority for the humanitarian response. We heard evidence that “there is not enough focus on the displaced and the living conditions of the displaced are appalling” and there are many internally displaced people who have now moved to areas “more or less untouched through this conflict” where emergency education may be possible. The UK has a good 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 and we expect this to be a priority at the upcoming DFID-led meetings on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen. At the same time we urge DFID to explore with other humanitarian actors what provision for emergency education could be made for displaced children in Yemen now. Urgent action is needed to ensure there is not a lost generation of Yemeni children and we expect this to be a priority at the upcoming DFID-led meetings on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen. At the same time we urge DFID to explore with other humanitarian actors what provision for emergency education could be made for displaced children in Yemen now. (Paragraph 14)

3.It is very worrying that access to adequate healthcare is decreasing as a result of damage to facilities from attacks, a lack of staff, and a lack of medicines. We remain concerned that the health care system in Yemen will not survive the conflict without further support, the consequences of which will be felt for years beyond the end of the current conflict. As we noted in our report on Ebola: Responses to a public health emergency, a fragile and inadequate health system creates systemic vulnerability. DFID’s expertise in health systems strengthening could make a positive contribution to the recovery effort when the time comes. Support for the health care system should form part of the agenda for the meetings DFID is hosting on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen and in the immediate term DFID should look specifically at how it can work with other humanitarian actors to provide, harness and facilitate the funding and provision of emergency medical supplies which are urgently needed by civilians, as a result of the conflict. (Paragraph 17)

4.We welcome DFID’s support for nutrition, water and sanitation programmes, which has been fundamental for maintaining and delivering these vital and life-saving services. However, much more needs to be done in what is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and we urge DFID to work with others to scale up the provision of these resources to meet immediate need. (Paragraph 21)

5.We applaud DFID for its leadership role in improving humanitarian access via port into the country and welcome its focus on interventions that support economic redevelopment. These should offer the prospect of a sustainable means of reducing some of these huge humanitarian needs. We encourage DFID to continue to negotiate at a high level to ensure support for the Verification and Inspection Mechanism and a smoother flow of commercial goods into the country. (Paragraph 24)

6.We note that the level of need in Yemen is growing to such a level that there are serious concerns that this cannot be met by humanitarian assistance alone. We therefore support DFID’s work to revitalise the private sector. The importance of protecting Yemen’s economy, including a functioning banking system, cannot be emphasised enough if there is to be hope of Yemenis rebuilding their lives after the conflict, and to counter the growth of extremist groups. We urge not only DFID but also Ministers in other Government departments, including Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to actively prioritise work on this issue. Conflict resolution must also remain a key priority for all. (Paragraph 26)

7.We recognise that DFID does not have a “bottomless bag” and must ensure that assistance can get through and make a difference. Security and safety of humanitarian actors must also be a consideration. The fact that the security situation can be an obstacle to providing more funding for humanitarian assistance, and impacts on DFID’s spending decisions, demonstrates the extent to which the ongoing conflict is undermining the relief effort. However, we urge DFID to consider the evidence we have heard that humanitarian agencies would be able to channel more assistance now, if available, to those in need, even within the very challenging constraints on humanitarian access. (Paragraph 32)

8.We remain gravely concerned by the security situation in Yemen, which threatens the safety of humanitarian staff and limits the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to those most in need of assistance. All parties to the conflict must respect the civilian and humanitarian spaces protected under IHL, where such areas do exist, such as where internally displaced people are gathered. We are encouraged by the Foreign Secretary’s response to our letter, which states that the UK Government is working closely with the UN, the Coalition and the Government of Yemen on peace talks, and regularly raises the importance of compliance with IHL with the Saudi Government, Coalition members, and the Houthis. The Government should put pressure on all parties to the conflict and other international actors to comply with their obligations under international law and take all possible measures to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian agencies safe spaces in which to operate. (Paragraph 36)

The conflict

9.Civilians are paying too high a price in the conflict in Yemen. There is clear evidence of a disregard for civilian life and for the rules of war which are designed to minimise harm to civilians. We are deeply concerned about reported violations of IHL. (Paragraph 44)

10.The conduct of the conflict has been brutal. The UN has reminded all parties to the conflict that they have a duty of care in the conduct of military operations to protect all civilian persons and objects, including humanitarian and health care workers and facilities, against attack. We have heard credible evidence of violations of IHL in Yemen. Mark Lowcock, Permanent Secretary, DFID, has spoken of the UK’s strong track record as a “country that has [consistently] tried to uphold the principles of international humanitarian law.” (Paragraph 48)

11.It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government does not accept that breaches of IHL have taken place in Yemen. The failure to hold parties to the conflict to account for their actions appears to have contributed to an “anything goes” attitude by both sides to this conflict. (Paragraph 49)

12.As we stated in our letter to the Secretary of State for International Development in February 2016, pressure must be applied to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This would demonstrate the Government’s commitment to ensuring international norms are adhered to and civilians and aid workers are protected. (Paragraph 50)

13.We believe that the verification of reports of violations of IHL and any process of holding those responsible to account is severely hampered by the lack of any independent investigation into these allegations. 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 are concerned that any investigation led by Coalition actors is likely to come to the conclusion that the allegations were inaccurate. (Paragraph 55)

14.The resolution which gives authority to the Government of Yemen to investigate alleged abuse was agreed at the Human Rights Council in September 2015, which was more than seven months ago, since when civilian casualties in Yemen have increased by over 2,000 and the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ representative was briefly expelled from Yemen by the very authorities he was there to assist. CAEC recently heard from Human Rights Watch that not a single investigation had been conducted by the Yemeni Commission, and that a Saudi Committee that was set up in January would not be investigating individual strikes. This worrying and worsening situation only reinforces the urgent need for an independent investigation. (Paragraph 56)

15.For this reason, whilst we note the response of 9 March from the Foreign Secretary that the Government is not opposing calls for an independent investigation, despite our reservations, we urge the Government to press the Saudis to complete their review within a short time frame. The longer this takes, the longer the potential impact on the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need. We also urge the Government to support calls for an independent international inquiry into alleged abuses of IHL on the part of both sides in the current conflict in Yemen, and to do all it can to ensure this is established as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 57)

16.While we recognise that the arms export industry plays an important role in the UK economy and we are clear that the UK is legitimately allowed to sell weapons to allies, the Government should not sell weapons to allies if doing so would breach the UK’s legal obligations under UK arms export criteria, the EU common position on arms exports and the Arms Trade Treaty. Indeed, we suggest that it is in the long-term interest of the arms industry to be able to demonstrate a robust approach that maintains compliance with IHL. (Paragraph 63)

17.The growing evidence of indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, in violation of IHL, raises serious questions over the Government’s continued licensing of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia must be answered. If there is a risk that it contravenes the UK’s obligations under the laws which regulate the international arms trade, the UK should not be providing arms to one of the parties to the conflict. (Paragraph 64)

18.In light of the strength and credibility of the evidence we have heard, we welcome the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) inquiry into the use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen. We recommend that CAEC considers the case for suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia until such time as 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”.. 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. (Paragraph 65)

19.The UK Government should listen to the many concerns being expressed, including to this Committee, that the humanitarian crisis that DFID is working to address in Yemen may be being exacerbated by a flow of British arms into Saudi Arabia. Maintaining a relationship of potential influence in the region should not prevent the UK Government from closely examining the contents and evidence of this report. We urge it to use all levers of influence at its disposal to ensure IHL is not violated, and to work to achieve the greatest possible level of cross-governmental policy coherence in respect of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. (Paragraph 69)

20.In light of the reports of violations of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, we welcome CAEC’s decision to examine in detail whether UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia breach the laws which regulate the international arms trade. Through our membership of CAEC we will pursue examination of relevant export licences with specific reference to criteria 2, 3, 4 and 8. The CAEC inquiry will consider DFID’s role in arms export licensing further and consider expansion of the application of criterion 8 to consider the sustainable development of not only the recipient country, but also those countries where the proposed exports may be used. (Paragraph 73)

A political solution

21.We are encouraged by DFID’s work to consider longer-term development and the Department’s support for the UN’s efforts to facilitate peace talks to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen. As a first step to increasing humanitarian assistance to Yemen and the onward distribution of aid within the country, all parties to the conflict need to respect civilian and humanitarian spaces protected by international law. 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. (Paragraph 78)

22.We urge the Government to apply pressure on all parties to the conflict to agree to the next round of peace talks and particularly to ensure that the accompanying ceasefire is adhered to by all sides. The Government should work to ensure that peace talks are inclusive and represent the needs of the Yemeni population, learning from past experience to seek a more sustainable peace. (Paragraph 79)

23.We support DFID’s decision to start considering recovery and reconstruction now and we commend its proactive approach in taking forward the talks on recovery. In addition, its work in protecting key institutions such as the Social Fund for Development demonstrate that it has conducted its approach to Yemen without losing sight of the ultimate goal of peace and stability. We hope that other UK Government Departments, and other international donors, will support this approach, with the objective of progressing away from a humanitarian relief effort, towards a long-lasting peace, within which longer term development can be facilitated. (Paragraph 80)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

29 April 2016