55 people killed by live fire in one day and over 2,770 wounded. It was the deadliest single day in Gaza since Israel’s attack in 2014. Hospitals in Gaza, already at breaking point from shortages of essential medical supplies report more abdominal, chest and head wounds than from shootings of demonstrators buy the Israeli military in previous weeks.
The respected Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, had it right when they said yesterday that the use of live fire ammunition against Gaza demonstrator’s evidences “Appalling indifference towards human life on the part of senior Israeli government and military officials.” If human rights defenders in Israel can see this, why can’t the US Administration? The response of the White House in absolving Israel of all responsibility for yesterday’s deaths is as reprehensible as it is short sighted.
Of course Hamas will seek to exploit events on the border with Israel, but thousands of people do not put themselves in harm’s way because of manipulation by Hamas or anyone else. They do so because they have been dispossessed for 70 years, under occupation for 50 years and under a blockade that has turned Gaza into a gigantic prison camp for eleven years. Like many other MPs, I am disappointed that UK ministers have been so reluctant to speak as clearly as B’Tselem about what is happening in Gaza.
It is imperative that the UK government supports the call by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and EU Representative Federica Mogerini for an independent and impartial Inquiry into events on the Israel and Gaza border. Anybody found to be in breach of International law – whoever they are – must be held accountable.
We also need answers about UK arms exports to Israel. Last year, the UK issued licences for the export of sniper rifles and other weapons to Israel. When I asked UK ministers to investigate the uses to which those arms are being put, however, the reply I received inexplicably said that the UK “do not collect data on the use of equipment after sale”. If true, this means that UK ministers don’t have the first idea whether UK weapons are being used to shoot demonstrators in Gaza. What will it take for the UK to enforce its own rules on the export of weapons to places where they could be used for internal repression or serious violations of international humanitarian law? In the light of what is going on in Gaza, the UK should suspend arms exports to Israel.
Decisions about the circumstances in which UK forces should be sent into action are amongst the gravest that any government can take. In a modern democracy, government also has a responsibility to listen and the elected Parliament should not be cut out of the process that precedes those decisions being made. Yesterday I stressed to the Prime Minister the importance of Parliament being consulted before taking military action and the urgent need for a broader international strategy to help protect civilians from the kind of carnage inflicted on Aleppo and Eastern Goutha over the past year.
You can see the statement I put out over the weekend in response to the US/UK French airstrikes here.
Decisions about the circumstances in which UK forces should be sent into action are amongst the gravest that any government can take. In a modern democracy, government also has a responsibility to listen and the elected parliament should not be cut out of the process that precedes those decisions being made. That, however, is what has happened this weekend. The Prime Minister could and should have consulted Parliament before involving UK forces in air strikes on Syria, including on their strategic purpose and how she believed the action proposed would achieve that purpose.
The reality we all now face, though, is that the airstrikes have gone ahead and the key issues now are what happens from here, including:
- Diplomatic strategies to guard against escalation both on the ground in Syria and between third parties in the region and beyond.
- The need to redouble international efforts to build a peace plan for Syria. The failure of the international community to end the appalling bloodshed in Syria so far does not alter the need to keep trying.
- An urgent and renewed focus on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people – both those still in the firing line and those who have fled.
In all of this, it is vital to reaffirm an indivisible commitment to international law and internationally-agreed rules governing the behaviour and actions of states, especially in relation to the use of chemical weapons. The current investigation into the Douma attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is an important part of that process in relation to Syria.
The ongoing challenges for the international community are to build effective mechanisms to hold to account those who break international law and to uphold the UN’s constitutional responsibility to protect civilians under threat. Nowhere is that more important than in relation to the abhorrent use of chemical weapons, in contravention of international law.
Whatever the immediate results of the US/UK/French airstrikes on Syria, they have not taken away the imperative of addressing those challenges.
A cross party group of 23 MPs and Peers have today written to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calling on him to outline what steps he will take to secure the release of British-Sudanese national Dr Sidqi Kaballo.
Dr Kaballo is detained without charge or trial after participating in peaceful protests in Khartoum on 16th January 2018.
Today on Dr Kaballo’s 70th birthday MPs and Peers who are members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan or who have been by contacted by constituents about the human rights situation in Sudan have called for renewed efforts to ensure the safe release of Dr Kaballo.
The recent revelations of abuse and sexual exploitation in the aid sector have rightly caused outrage and, as a Member of the House of Commons International Development Committee, I was this week at a special committee hearing to look into what has gone on.
The hearing did not only provide the opportunity for the Committee to take evidence from charities and the Government about what they have done to address the historic cases that have featured in the news in recent days. It also enabled us to question them on what they are going to do to prevent instances like these happening again. Recognising that the whole issue of how to improve safeguarding in the aid sector needs more depth investigation, we have also confirmed that the Committee will be holding a full inquiry into the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation in the aid sector in the coming weeks. You can see more about that here.
The Government also made a statement to the House this week, during which I took up these themes with the Secretary of State for International Development, including calling for the establishment of an international register of humanitarian workers to promote consistency in safeguarding mechanisms across the aid sector.
Recent examples of misconduct and abuse are awful and need to be called out. We should also remember, however, that the vast majority of people working in the aid sector do so for the best of motives and that they do amazing work in some of the most difficult and dangerous environments on earth, often at considerable personal risk to themselves.
So too we should reject the arguments of those who are cynically using recent events to discredit the UK’s work in the developing world and to cut international aid. UK Aid matters and it is a lifeline helping some of the most vulnerable people in the most horrific of circumstances. That includes in places like Yemen, where more than 8 million people are on the brink of famine. It also includes the Rohingya crisis where over 680,000 people have been forced to flee from Burma to Bangladesh and where women and girls have reported the most appalling cases of sexual and gender based violence. Cutting international aid would hit people in situations like these hardest and it is something we must not do.