THURSDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2015
- Implications for human rights of promoting arms sales – debate tabled by Ann Clwyd:
– Ann Clwyd: Today, the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition, one of the world’s largest arms fairs, which generates millions in arms deals, is taking place at the ExCeL centre in London’s docklands. It is organised by a private company, Clarion Events, but the Government’s arms sales agency, UKTI DSO, has issued the official invitations to 61 countries. Those include countries on the Foreign Office’s list of countries of concern on human rights grounds, such as Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan and, inevitably, Saudi Arabia, plus others where human rights are a major issue, including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Turkey, which I shall return to discussing, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Ukraine.
Clarion says that there are 1,500 international exhibitors, comprising suppliers from 121 countries, Israel being among them with a big pavilion. They will be displaying the full range of military equipment and components, taking part in seminars and building the relationships that facilitate the deals. That DSEI is a global arms fair is emphasised in the letter of understanding between UKTI DSO and Clarion:
“Since DSEI is an international exhibition, the necessity of achieving a fair and equitable share of delegation time between exhibiting UK companies and overseas exhibitors affects both the short term perception and long term survival of the event. DSEI needs to continually develop and maintain its position as the leading global market place. For this to happen, both UK and international companies need to feel they have equal and reasonable access to delegations.”
Arms sellers meet arms buyers at DSEI. If they agree a deal whereby the equipment does not come into the UK, it is not subject to any UK export controls. If the equipment is a UK export, it will go to one of well over 100 countries across the globe for which UK export licences are granted. The FCO’s “Human Rights and Democracy” report, which I have here, identified 28 “countries of concern”. In 2014, the UK approved arms export licences to 18 of these, including Israel, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. (extract)
– Andy Slaughter: Before my right hon. Friend moves on to Turkey, I should say that she mentioned Israel as a country of concern. The arms trade with Israel is huge—there were more than £11 million of licences last year and nearly £29 million of dual-use licences—but last year also saw Operation Protective Edge, in which 2,200 people were killed in Gaza, including 550 children. Is that not one of the most blatant examples of double standards?
– Ann Clwyd: I think that the majority of us would agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for making that point. (extract)
– Jo Stevens: I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for securing this important debate and for her thorough and impressive speech on the issue, about which I know she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate. I share her deep concern about the promotion of UK arms sales to countries with poor human rights records. My contribution will focus on the UK arms trade and military-industrial collaboration with Israel.
The House will know that last summer, while Gaza was under military attack, there was widespread horror and opposition to Israel’s bombing and invasion. Protests took place across our country involving hundreds of thousands of people. In my constituency, nearly 2,000 people marched to protest at the Israeli Government’s actions. The Israeli assault on Gaza in July and August 2014, in which 2,205 Palestinians were killed, including 521 children, is only the most recent example of the Israeli Government’s indiscriminate acts of violence against the Palestinian people, but the United Kingdom continues to treat Israel’s defiance of international law as, at best, an inconvenient detail to be worked around when making decisions on arms trade control. Contrary to their own criteria, the Government grant export licences allowing British military hardware and components to be supplied to Israel. At the same time, they import Israeli military hardware and components and provide training in the UK for Israeli military personnel.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley has outlined the criteria against which arms export licences are considered, yet the Government have been reluctant to refuse or revoke export licences to Israel. Since 2010, they have licensed the export of £42 million worth of military equipment to Israel, and have purchased from Israel targeting systems, drone technology and drones. The latter were developed by Israel’s Elbit Systems in a joint venture with Thales UK under a contract awarded by the Ministry of Defence. Members of the Israeli military have attended education courses for military personnel in the UK, and Israeli firms, including Elbit Systems, receive funding through 46 projects under the European Union’s framework research programme.
Although much was made of the Government’s decision during the Gaza war to halt 12 licences for components in the event of serious hostilities, no definition of “serious hostilities” was ever offered, and although violence resumed the very next day, those licences were not halted. In July 2015, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that those licences were no longer under review, as he was content that the licences for material, including components for military radar and tanks, met the UK’s export criteria.
Israeli military and industry sources openly attribute the success of Israeli exports to the fact that weapons and technologies are combat-proven in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This means that when the UK imports Israeli arms, it helps Israel to benefit from unlawful practices. Despite official controls on arms exports, UK-made arms and military technologies continue to be sold to and used by the occupying Israeli forces. The value of licences awarded for export to Israel amounted to more than £11.5 million for military use and nearly £29 million for dual—civil or military—use in 2014 alone
Importing arms from and selling arms to Israel makes the UK complicit in Israel’s continuing violations of human rights and international law. So long as the Governments of the world engage in the arms trade with Israel, it has no incentive to relinquish its unlawful use of force and its illegal colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is why four Nobel peace laureates—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Mairead Maguire and Rigoberta Menchú—together with the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, have accused the USA and the European Union of complicity in Israel’s crimes and have backed the call for an international military embargo against Israel.
I ask the Government—please—to refuse all of the export licences to Israel, directly or via a third country, where the end user is the Israel defence forces or military industry; to revoke any extant export licences to Israel, directly or via a third country, where the end user is the Israel defence forces or military industry; ban arms imports from Israel; and ban collaborations between UK-based companies and the Israel defence forces or Israeli military industry. We must end our shameful complicity in Israel’s continuing violations of human rights and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (text)
– Tom Brake: (preamble omitted) It is clear that the arms trade and human rights is an issue that concerns many of our constituents. I am sure that all Members here today will have been on the receiving end of a campaign email, which rightly highlights concerns around the defence and security equipment in the arms show that is being held in London at present. That campaign email focuses on two particular matters: Egypt and Israel. In relation to Egypt, it is regrettable that the UK Government are rolling out the red carpet for el-Sisi when he comes to visit. I think that that is a mistake. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why such a decision was taken.
In relation to Israel, Members will know that last year my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), who was then Deputy Prime Minister, said that if Israeli forces go back into Gaza and use disproportionate force, the UK Government should take action. What is the new Government’s position in that respect? (passage on other countries omitted) (excerpt)
– Kate Osamor: (passage omitted) The UK has also continued to sell arms to Israel, despite its ongoing illegal occupation of the west bank. Israel currently holds more than 5,000 Palestinians as political prisoners, and last summer it carried out a military campaign that besieged the Gaza strip and led to the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians, over 500 of whom were children.
By selling arms to countries involved in these violations, the UK is not only condoning the Governments who are carrying out these policies but actively supporting them. This activity also sends out the message that the UK will turn a blind eye to human rights violations committed by its allies. That is bad in itself, but it also weakens our hand when it comes to promoting human rights in countries that are not our allies at the moment, leaving us open to charges of hypocrisy.
No doubt we will hear from the Government that the UK has one of the strictest arms control regimes in the world. That may be true, but our controls are clearly not good enough if weapons made in the UK still end up in the hands of regimes that violate basic human rights and carry out attacks that harm civilians. (excerpt)
– Hilary Benn: In the “United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2014”, published in July this year, the Government set out that their policy on arms exports to Israel would be “subject to further review”. Will the Minister confirm whether that remains the case? (extract)
– Tobias Ellwood: The hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) spoke about another very important area: what has happened in Israel. There was huge scrutiny on the most recent events that unfortunately unfolded in front of the world’s eyes. We have to recognise that Israel lives in a very difficult neighbourhood, confronting Hamas on one side and Hezbollah on the other. Arms exports came under huge scrutiny during those events, but Israel does have the right to defend itself, and we conducted the necessary reviews to ensure that our robust rules, which have been mentioned a number of times, actually fell into place. The hon. Lady spoke with particular passion and, may I say, expertise, and if she would like to meet to discuss the issue in more detail, I would be delighted to do so. (extract)
- Sustainable Development Goals – short debate tabled by Lord Chidgey:
– Lord Purvis: Too often, children are systematically used in areas of conflict or dispute by protagonists. It is one of the most insidious examples of war crimes. In some examples, we see children used politically, knowing that they are the next generation which can be targeted for future conflict.
Ten days ago, I was in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank, where the incidence of child detention by the IDF remains high. Children are arrested under security law, not civil law, often in the middle of the night. They infrequently have their rights read to them in Arabic, if at all. More than 90% have testified to being hand tied, and 80% hooded, in contravention of international standards and calls from our FCO that that practice end. As I left Hebron that evening, I saw a child of no more than 10 years old escorted away by three soldiers—something which would have an impact on any of us used to our approach in the United Kingdom.
– Baroness Tonge: In some areas [ed: of Syria] there were 75% crop failures, and 85% of livestock died of thirst. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian farmers gave up and fled to the towns….. There they had to compete with refugees from Palestine and Iraq from previous troubles for water and food. (edited extract)
NB: Parliament now goes into recess until Monday 12 October 2015
WEDNESDAY 16 SEPTEMBER
- Wales Questions:
– Ian Austin: What discussions has the Minister had with the people in the civil service who are responsible for the provision of library services about the appalling decision to remove an exhibition about Israeli and Palestinian people playing football together? Does he think that the decision to remove the exhibition will bring people together and further knowledge, which is what libraries are supposed to be about?
– Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, referring to a disgraceful decision and act by Cardiff city council ahead of a visit from Israel to Cardiff. I hope that the leaders of his party on Cardiff city council will hear and take note of his comments.
Commons Oral Questions
- Humanitarian impact of developments in the Middle East and North Africa, tabled by Baroness Verma:
– Lord Green of Deddington: As a former chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians, I cannot let this debate pass without expressing my strong concern about the appalling humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and even more so in Gaza. They seem to have been tolerated—even ignored—for far too long by much of the international community. (extract)
– Baroness Tonge: Last year, I visited Zatari camp in Jordan and this year I saw several camps and enclaves of refugees in Lebanon, a country which has taken more than 25% of its population again as refugees in the last few years—a burden it simply cannot bear. These countries, together with Turkey, have taken hundreds of thousands of people, while UNRWA, which deals with Palestinian refugees, and UNHCR, which deals with the others from Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, are chronically underfunded. I congratulate our Government on being the second largest donor to UNRWA after the United States of America, but it is not nearly enough….. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, mentioned, before the civil war, there were refugees from Palestine all over the Middle East. More than half a million were in Syria, looked after by UNRWA there. They had been looked after for decades. I have been unable to establish how many Palestinians are among the people fleeing Syria at this time, but have the Government pointed out those Palestinians to the state of Israel? More than 26,000 people were immigrants into Israel and welcomed last year alone, mostly from affluent countries, so apparently it has the room and wealth to cope also with refugees. Last week on “Thought for the Day”, I heard the Chief Rabbi express quite rightly what I have experienced: the generosity of the Jewish people. He called for a paradigm shift in the response to this crisis. Finally, here is Israel’s opportunity. Give Palestinians fleeing war once again the right to return. Sadly, miracles no longer happen. (edited extracts)
– Baroness Morris of Bolton: I will spend the rest of my time speaking about a particular group of refugees and their unique plight, already touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Green, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. In doing so, I declare my interest as president of Medical Aid for Palestinians and as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Before I do that, I ask my noble friend the Minister: what will happen to the refugees who have found their way to Europe and are now trapped between countries? I understand very well and sympathise with the Government not wishing to encourage people into the hands of the traffickers, but are we as a country offering practical help to the refugees who find themselves stranded? What, ultimately, will happen to them? When we take in the Syrians from the camps will we continue to offer the vital help to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which have so selflessly welcomed those in need? I, too, was delighted when the Prime Minister went to see with his own eyes what is happening on the ground. His visit to the refugee camps on the Syrian border in Lebanon earlier this week, followed by a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, has highlighted the valuable and crucial work done by the UNHCR and its partners in the Lebanese and Jordanian camps to support those fleeing war in Syria.
However, one of the most vulnerable populations in the region cannot access these services. Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp just outside Damascus, fleeing the horrors of siege and assault by ISIS and the Syrian regime, have no access to the proposed resettlement programmes proposed by EU countries, which leaves them with the only option of putting their lives in the hands of traffickers. Before the Syrian civil war started in 2011, Yarmouk, established in 1957, was home to 148,500 registered Palestinian refugees, more than half of them under the age of 25. In the four years that have followed, 3,000 are estimated to have been killed in the conflict and 18,000 Palestinian civilians are still living in Yarmouk, including 3,500 children. In addition to the £1 billion the Government have so generously given towards refugee programmes, they have now pledged to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians living in the camps. This is most welcome but will not help those who cannot register with UNHCR. Palestinians are prevented from accessing the safety of resettlement because they cannot register. This leaves thousands of refugees languishing in the remains of Yarmouk with no access to proper healthcare, regular food or clean water, and with an outbreak of typhoid. As Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s spokesman, so starkly observed: “Yarmouk is at the lower reaches of hell”.
As well as those in Yarmouk, another 460,000 or so registered Palestinians, many of them Christian, remain in Syria and are in continuous need of humanitarian aid. Borders are closed to them and this drives many to make the perilous journey through Turkey or across the Mediterranean in search of a safe home and a basic standard of life, placing themselves at the mercy of the sea traffickers. These are the very people we see daily on our television screens. The particular vulnerabilities of Palestinian refugees and their sensitive status in the region compound the already stark and violent devastation they share with Syrians. It is absolutely right that we as a Government should provide vital support for vulnerable Syrian nationals but we should also ensure there is life-saving sanctuary and assistance for all vulnerable people fleeing conflict in Syria, including Syria’s Palestinian population. (extract)
– Baroness Northover: My noble friend Lady Tonge and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, emphasised the particular plight of Palestinians, so many of whom have spent their lives in camps. (extract)
TUESDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2015
- Paul Flynn: Has the Prime Minister had discussions with his Israeli counterpart during his visit to London on (a) Israel’s nuclear weapons and (b) prospects for a conference on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East?
Commons Written Answers
MONDAY 14 SEPTEMBER
- Trade Union Bill:
– Chris Stephens: We oppose the changes on political funds. This is about not just party politics and attacking the Labour party, but the general campaigning that the trade unions fund as well. I am talking here about equal pay; stronger maternity leave; 50:50 gender representation; and giving money to organisations such as HOPE not hate and other anti-racist organisations, community groups, and international aid organisations such as Justice for Colombia and Medical Aid for Palestine. (extract)
- Home Office reply to Kirsty Blackman’s Written Question “how many people granted temporary asylum as children have been denied permanent asylum upon applying as an adult by country of origin in each of the last 10 years?” includes number of refused applications from the Palestinian Authority.
Commons Written Answers
EDM 404 – UK ARMS SALES TO ISRAEL
That this House notes the report published by War on Want in July 2015 entitled Arming Apartheid: UK Complicity in Israel’s Crimes Against the Palestinian People, which details the UK’s arms trade with Israel; further notes that, despite promises given, UK-made weapons and military technologies continue to be sold to and subsequently used by occupying Israeli forces in Palestine, while the UK also imports Israeli military hardware and components and provides training in the UK for Israeli military personnel; and calls on the Government to apply its own export guidelines which would de facto result in a UK embargo on arms exports to Israel, which would lead to an end to any further breaches of international laws on arms control.