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MPs call for investigation into war in Yemen

Published 26/07/2016

Stephen Twigg said
Stephen Twigg said "doubt and uncertainty" had been raised

MPs have called for an investigation into the war in Yemen after the Government backtracked on its insistence that the Saudi-led coalition has not breached international humanitarian law in the conflict.

The chairman of the International Development Committee has written to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urging him to push for an international probe into allegations human rights have been breached.

It comes after ministers released a series of corrections to statements made to Parliament asserting that it had assessed "there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law)" by the coalition in war-torn Yemen.

In an embarrassing move, the Government admitted it should have said "we have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL".

Labour MP Stephen Twigg, chairman of the committee, said this raised "doubt and uncertainty" over whether human rights had been flouted in Yemen.

In the letter Mr Twigg states: "Last week's corrections are a significant revision of the evidence the Government has given to my Committee and to Parliament and call into question the depth of the UK Government's specific assessments of Saudi operations or of the evidence heard by my Committee on alleged violations of IHL.

"I appeal to you to take a different approach from your predecessor, and to now press for a truly independent, international investigation into violations of IHL in Yemen."

More than 6,000 people, more than half of them civilians, have been killed since last March when war broke out between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the exiled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The Saudi-led coalition against the rebels has been accused by the UN of killing more civilians than all other forces fighting in the conflict.

And 20 human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has urged the UN to put the coalition back on a blacklist for killing and maiming children during the war.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The UK is committed to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen, and hosted talks last week with international partners to drive progress. We support the UN-led negotiations in Kuwait, and urge all parties to abide by the current cessation of hostilities.

"The clarifications ensure consistency with numerous other Parliamentary responses, including in evidence given to the IDC (International Development Committee), and in no way represent a change in policy.

"The UK regularly encourages Saudi Arabia to conduct thorough and conclusive investigations into reports of alleged violations of international humanitarian law. We continue to believe that Saudi Arabia has the best insight into their own military procedures, in line with the standards we set for ourselves and our allies."

Amnesty International UK's government and political relations manager, Lucy Wake, said: "The International Development Committee is quite right to call on the Government to behave more responsibly on Yemen, but the question is will the Government listen?

"For over a year ministers have been ignoring mounting evidence of likely war crimes by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition while the UK sold vast quantities of weapons to Riyadh.

"It's now time for the Government to front up on this - Boris Johnson should announce an immediate halt to UK arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition and a full inquiry into what has gone wrong with our arms exports control systems."

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