Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
The Yemeni people are facing the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world – with eighty per cent of the population reliant on some form of support, including an estimated twelve million children. Around 16,500 people are currently living in famine conditions, which is set to triple by June 2021. The pandemic will only exacerbate this crisis, particularly as millions remain without even the most basic access to medical care. Now, more than ever, we must do all we can to support the people of Yemen.
The UK has provided over £1 billion of aid to support to meet the basic needs of millions of Yemenis since the conflict began, and I assured that such generosity will continue. Indeed, the UK is committing £214 million in 2020/21 to avert famine, improve access to medical provision, and support public services in Yemen. I am told that this will support 500,000 vulnerable people each month to acquire sufficient food and other essential items, and provide a million people with improved water supplies and basic sanitation.
I am assured that Ministers and officials are continuing to engage with the UN and other donors, including the US, to ensure that life-saving humanitarian aid is not disrupted by political developments and reaches the millions of Yemenis in need.
Ultimately, only a political settlement can bring long-term stability to Yemen and tackle the worsening humanitarian crisis and the UK will continue to urge Yemeni leaders to agree to the UN Special Envoy’s peace plan.
International Women's Day: Overseas Support
I agree with you that local women’s rights organisations do vital work across the world, and I am proud that the UK has provided long-term support to many women’s rights organisations, often in dangerous regions. Unfortunately, I was unable to speak in the debate on 11th March due to other pressing Parliamentary business, but please rest assured this is an issue I care deeply about.
The past year has put many women’s rights organisations under significant pressure. I am pleased that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have ensured that the needs and priorities of women and girls are central to every aspect of our global Covid-19 response, while supporting women’s participation and leadership including through women’s rights organisations.
We know that the success of the global COVID-19 recovery will depend on putting women’s rights organisations at the heart of our response. In September 2020, the UK announced an additional £1m to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women on top of our existing £21 million contribution, for the new COVID-19 Crisis Response Window. The UK is also building on the success of our What Works to Prevent Violence programme with a successor programme, to systematically scale up proven violence prevention projects across development and humanitarian contexts.
The UK is also proud to support and accelerate the Africa-Led Movement to end FGM through UK aid programmes and our voice on the world stage. Since 2013, programmes have helped over four million girls and women to receive health, social and legal service related to FGM and UK aid helped to build the “The Girl Generation”, the largest-ever global movement of over 900 grassroots organisations working together to end FGM.
The success in the fight for gender equality is dependent upon supporting women’s rights organisations, and, as these few examples demonstrate, the UK is steadfast in fulfilling its commitments.
I am assured that gender equality will be central to our G7 Presidency, and that this work will be framed by the ‘3Es’: Educating girls; Empowering women; and Ending violence for women and girls. The UK is aiming to secure G7 agreement on ambitious targets for girls' education, as well as G7 policy and financial commitments, including a successful replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The UK wants to strengthen the G7's commitment to women's political and economic empowerment and scale up G7 effort’s on preventing violence against women, including a focus on evidence-based approaches.
Multinationals & Human Rights
I am glad to be able to reassure you that the UK is committed to promoting the protection and respect of human rights in business, both at home and abroad. Indeed, the UK was the first country to create a National Action Plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This plan sets out what is expected in regard to the conduct of UK businesses, including compliance with relevant laws and respect for human rights; treating the risk of causing human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue; adopting appropriate due diligence policies; and consulting those who could potentially be affected. I welcome that the Government is clear that the UK expects all our businesses should comply with all applicable laws; identify and prevent human rights risks; and behave in line with the UN Guiding Principles, including in their management of supply chains.
Nevertheless, I appreciate that we must acknowledge the far-reaching influence that transnational corporations have, and that more effective measures may be needed to regulate the influence that global companies have in our world.
I understand that in June 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) took steps to begin to elaborate on an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business entities, also establishing an open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIGWG), to work on this issue. The Second Revised Draft of the binding instrument was discussed at the UNHRC in Geneva last October. Negotiations are ongoing and the UK will be monitoring developments closely.
The Syrian Conflict: 10 Years On
As we mark the ten year anniversary of this conflict, the plight of the Syrian people must not be forgotten.
Unfortunately, progress towards peace in Syria and indeed a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process, allowing the Syrian people to decide their country's future, has been slow. The UN-facilitated peace process, in line with UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2254, is the only existing means to achieving this end, and the UK consistently upholds this resolution and urges all other parties to do the same.
I have been appalled by human rights violations in Syria, including the treatment of prisoners and I know that these are issues that the UK continues to raise in international fora as part of its commitment to resolution 2254. This is one of many reasons why Syria remains one of thirty human rights priority countries for the UK, as documented in the most recent Human Rights and Democracy Report last year.
Sadly, if unsurprisingly, the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people are as grave now as they have ever been. An unprecedented 12.4 million people are food insecure – an increase of 4.5 million people in just one year. Children are bearing the brunt of this crisis, with one in eight suffering from malnutrition. The UK is one of the largest donors to the Syrian humanitarian response having committed over £3.3 billion since 2012. FCDO Ministers have assured me that tackling the humanitarian impact of the Syria Crisis remains a priority.
The pandemic has, as in many other parts of the world, significantly worsened the humanitarian situation in Syria. The UK is committed to equitable access to vaccines as demonstrated by our £548 million contribution to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). UK support will help distribute 1.3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to 92 developing countries in 2021, including Syria. The UK is lobbying via the UN to ensure that these vaccines are distributed without interference and to those in the greatest need. Efforts via COVAX complement the UK's existing support to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in Syria, providing water, healthcare, hygiene kits and sanitation support for vulnerable Syrians across the country.
Calls to Cancel Israel Apartheid Week
Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation that embodies higher education, but no student should face discrimination, harassment or racism, including antisemitism. I am assured that the Government is committed to addressing antisemitism wherever it occurs, and I am encouraged that the UK became the first country to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
Ministers will continue to call on all higher education institutions to accept the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which is a tool to help front-line services better understand and recognise instances of antisemitism. I believe this would send a clear message that antisemitic behaviour will not be tolerated and will be taken seriously by higher education providers.
All universities and higher education institutions have a responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment and have a responsibility to ensure students do not face discrimination, harassment, abuse or violence, including online. Universities are expected to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address any hate crime and antisemitic incidents that are reported.
Ministers have provided over £144,000 for a programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus, delivered by the Holocaust Education Trust, in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students. I also welcome that an additional £500,000 of government funding is being provided to allow 200 university students each year to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, to hear from the last Holocaust survivors and to help educate students on the importance of continuing to tackle antisemitism on campuses.
This is part of a wider Government commitment to Holocaust remembrance which has included a donation of £1 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.
Persecution of Christians: Open Door 2021
The UK champions freedom of religion or belief for everyone. As a country that is a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I passionately believe the UK should not shirk its responsibilities.
That is why I am glad the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, was published.
The Government has committed to implementing the Bishop’s 22 recommendations in full, and work continues to implement them in a way that will bring real improvements in the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief. Of the 22 recommendations, the UK has fully delivered 10, made good progress on a further 8, and Ministers are confident that all 22 will be delivered by the time of the independent review in 2022.
I also welcome the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Some of the recommendations will take longer to implement and will require an ongoing effort to embed into the working practice of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
The FCDO regularly engages with Open Doors UK and has taken note of the 2021 World Watch List report and its findings. I am glad that the report has praised the UK Government for the many positive advances it has made in the past year.
Human Rights Defenders (HDRs)
Regrettably, HRDs face unprecedented attacks in many parts of the world. Indeed, according to the NGO Frontline Defenders, 304 HRD's were killed in 2019 alone.
The UK is a proud champion of human rights and a strong supporter of those around the world who dedicate their lives to defending them. British officials and Ministers regularly assess how we can enhance our ability to assist HRDs to carry out their work safely and without fear, including in the context of the increased risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am assured that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) puts human rights and their defenders at the heart of its work. The UK recognises the essential role HRDs play and in July 2019 published a report titled “UK Support for Human Rights Defenders”, which publicly underlined the UK’s commitment to protecting them.
Support is provided to HRDs through the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, most of which is allocated to projects by HRDs and civil society organisations. The FCDO also monitors repression of HRDs in its Annual Human Rights Report, the most recent of which was published last July. That report paid tribute to the courageous work of HRDs and listed support for them as a UK international policy priority.
As I expect you are aware, the upcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Affairs will inform the strategy of the UK's international policy in the decade ahead, including those of the FCDO. Given the Review is yet to conclude. I would not wish to speculate on its findings before they are published.
Chen Quango & Human Rights in Xinjiang
I am proud that the UK prioritises the promotion of human rights internationally; working to uphold and defend international rule of law, the values of liberal democracy and the rights and freedoms of citizens around the world. As such, and like yourself, I am incredibly concerned by reports of human rights abuses and forced labour against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. The UK regularly makes representations to the Chinese Government on this, and has repeatedly called on China to allow UN experts unfettered access to Xinjiang at the UN, including in a recent joint statement with 38 other countries at the UN Third Committee last October. China has thus far refused to engage in these efforts, but I know that Ministers and UK officials will continue to lead the international effort to bring about such access and hold China to account.
The UK Government is also taking a number of steps, through the Modern Slavery Act and other means, to ensure no British organisation, public or private, unwittingly or otherwise, is allowed to profit from forced labour or contribute to human rights violations in China. I support all measures to this effect, as recently announced by the Foreign Secretary, which include: providing robust guidance to UK firms on the specific risks faced by companies linked to Xinjiang; fines for companies who fail to meet their transparency obligations; extending such obligations to the public sector, and banning any company found profiting from forced labour from all Government procurement; and an urgent review into all export controls to Xinjiang, ensuring that no UK exports are in any way contributing to human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other minorities in China. I welcome that in July 2020, the UK Government established the Global Human Rights sanctions regime.
I am told that the Government keeps all evidence and potential listings under close review. I will ensure Ministers are aware of the suggestion you have made about sanctioning Chen Quanguo, however it is not appropriate to speculate for me who may be designated in the future, as to do so could reduce the impact of the designations.
Will you support a ban on selling arms to Saudi Arabia?
I fully appreciate your concerns about military exports to Saudi Arabia. I want to reassure you that in accordance with the Court of Appeal's judgement in June 2019, the Secretary of State for International Trade has now retaken licensing decisions regarding military exports to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen on the correct legal basis.
New licence applications will be assessed against a revised methodology, which evaluates whether there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law. On this basis, I understand Ministers are now in a position to begin the process of addressing licence applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners again.
I have been assured that each application will be carefully assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and that a licence will not be granted if to do so would be a breach of the criteria.
Regarding Yemen, I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis. I fully support the efforts of the UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Envoy's call for all parties to engage in urgent political talks and de-escalate the conflict.
UK support to Yemen since the beginning of the conflict now totals nearly £1 billion and I strongly welcome the Government’s latest announcement of a £160 million aid package to support Yemen’s health services in the fight against Coronavirus and prevent a worsening of the humanitarian crisis. I understand that President Biden has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending a review.
The response I am looking for is not here
We do endeavour to publish responses to campaign emails and national policy queries in good time, but sometimes a change in circumstance may cause a short delay. We also review our policy responses at the end of each month, so please do check back then for a further update.
If your query relates to a matter previously covered, please do check our 2020 archive by clicking here or using the links in the sidebar to the left.