29 July 2016
Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Corrections to Parliamentary Questions and Westminster Hall debates on the subject of allegations of breaches of IHL in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition
May I congratulate you on your appointment as Foreign Secretary; the Committees on Arms Export Controls look forward to continuing our close and productive relationship with the FCO under your stewardship.
As you will be aware, CAEC is currently undertaking an inquiry into the use of UK-manufactured arms in the conflict in Yemen, particularly by the Saudi-led coalition. We have taken oral and written evidence from NGOs, academics and from the four relevant Government departments, and are currently considering our draft Report, which we intend to agree and publish in September when the House of Commons returns from its summer recess.
During the course of oral and written evidence, we were especially concerned by allegations about breaches of international humanitarian law in the military actions of the Saudi-led coalition. We were told that Saudi Arabia should, first and foremost, conduct investigations into these allegations. However, the Saudi Arabians were due to report to the UN Human Rights Council on their investigations in March, which has since slipped to September and, in the 10 months since their commission of inquiry was established, they have reported on only one incident. As you will be aware, there have been widespread calls for an international, United Nations-led inquiry into the allegations, a point which was made powerfully to CAEC by several witnesses.
The FCO in particular, in written evidence, told us that the Saudi Arabian authorities had given assurances that its armed forces were not specifically targeting civilians, and that their military operations had been conducted in accordance with IHL. Both Mr Ellwood, for the FCO, and Mr Dunne, for the MoD, told us that the UK Government was taking note of these assurances from the Saudi Arabian government, but also that it had access to Saudi intelligence and operational reports; furthermore, Mr Dunne detailed to us the analysis the MoD were undertaking into incidents and compliance with IHL, which they then share with other branches of Government and with the Saudi authorities themselves to inform their investigations.
Last week, your department issued a Ministerial Correction—on the last day on which Parliament was sitting—to answers given in PQs and in response to Westminster Hall debates on these allegations. The corrections seem to suggest that any analysis undertaken by the UK Government was limited at best, and did not provide clear proof that IHL had not been breached. Indeed, the Government line seems to have changed from being satisfied that IHL was not being breached and that civilians were not being targeted, to being unable to verify that IHL was not being breached or that civilians were not being targeted. This is, to say the least, a significant change of emphasis.
You will understand that the fact, substance and timing of these corrections are of deep concern to CAEC. I would therefore ask you, as a matter of urgency, to review the oral and written evidence which the UK Government, across all four participating departments, has given to CAEC on breaches of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. In addition, we would like answers to the following questions:
It would be very helpful if we could have any further comments or corrections by Friday 19 August, so that we may reflect on any additional information you may provide when we come to consider our draft Report.
Chris White MP Chair of the Committees on Arms Export Controls
Cc Iain Wright MP, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
Dr Julian Lewis MP, Chair of the Defence Committee
Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Rt Hon Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the International Development Committee
15 September 2016