The Yemen All Party Parliamentary Group held its AGM on the 5th of September in Room O of Portcullis House. The results of the elections were as follows:
Chair- Keith Vaz MP reelected
Secretary- Alison Thewliss MP reelected
Vice Chair- Tim Loughton elected
Vice Chair- Lord John Taylor elected
Treasurer- Gill Furniss elected
On July 18th the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen hosted an event with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women, Peace and Security focusing on the impact of the war in Yemen on women. Speakers at the event included, Laurie Lee of Care International, Hanna Quassim, Adalah Yemen, Fionna Smyth of Oxfam GB, Marwa Baabbab of the London School of Economics and Laila Alodaat of the Women's International League for Peace and Security.
The speakers focused on a wide range of topics including women's health, the resilience of women and ways in which aid organisations can help women to succeed with their business ventures in Yemen. The APPG will be producing a snap report on Women in Yemen's war, due for publication in September 2018
On Monday the 25th of June the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen hosted a meeting with Ayman Gharaibeh, the UNHCR Representative for Yemen. Below is a summary of the main points that were raised at the meeting between Mr Gharaibeh and the APPG.
•2 million people countrywide are internally displaced and are having to move to camps and settlements with temporary shelters.
•The UNHCR is responsible for 130,000 civilians who are hosted in UN facilities.
•Yemen is under a de-facto blockade and the flow of goods through Hudaydah Port is essential to the survival of the population.
•Hudaydah Port assault is horrific news for a peaceful resolution to this conflict. The Port itself has not been attacked and the airport is still not fully under coalition control (As of Monday 25th June). All aid agencies and the United Nations are concerned at this situation. Even without an attack on the port, when aid arrives in the country the transport routes to civilians are disrupted.
•Martin Griffiths the UN Special Envoy to Yemen is continuing to work with both sides to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. However, it must be noted that his current remit is to ‘stop the war and not to bring peace.’
•No UNSC member state has any influence over the Houthis. Without this leverage it is difficult to pressure them to compromise.
•According to Mr Gharaibeh there is an increasing tendency for hardliners on both sides to be left in leadership positions. It is important that the ‘doves’ are not side-lined so that they are able to push the agenda for peace.
•The United Nations has never in its recent history managed an active port during a conflict
•The visit by Mike Pompeo the new Secretary of State to Riyadh appears to have provided the catalyst for the military offensives on Hudaydah.
•The negotiations will in the estimations of Mr Gharaibeh be based on income and not how much of the country is controlled. The Houthis benefit from the war continuing, they tax anything coming in to their area. If goods are going from the South to the North they are taxed twice.
•The Humanitarian aid that enters Yemen is only able to sustain 20% of the countries requirements. Humanitarian aid agencies cannot supplement all Yemen’s requirements. Commercial imports are also a necessity.
Yemen stands on the precipice of a humanitarian catastrophe. These words could have been uttered at any point over the last 3 years and been accurate, but today they are especially prescient. While it may seem extraordinary to describe a country that has 22.2 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and 8 million people on the brink of famine as on the ‘precipice of disaster’, the truth is that things could be about to get worse. A lot worse.
Fighting along Yemen’s west coast has intensified in 2018. Now the key port of Hudaydah is in sight. It appears clear that the United Arab Emirates, who have been an active member of the coalition since its entry into the conflict in 2015 now see an assault on the port as necessary. Over the past week, we have heard reports that the UAE supported National Resistance forces are now stationed in the Ad-Durayhimi district. This marks their most northerly position since the coalition’s entry into the conflict in 2015, around 15km from the port. In a televised address on Sunday, Abdul Malek Al-Houthi called for a mass mobilisation of his forces to counter the advances that were being made.
Hudaydah port’s importance to the population of Yemen cannot be overstated. It has been the last lifeline for Yemen’s population since 2015. Throughout the war, when access to aid and commercial imports have been limited through the port, for example during the full blockade of November-December 2017, the suffering of Yemen’s population has increased exponentially. Over 80% of all humanitarian aid passes through the port. This includes significant amounts of the £139 million that DFID pledged to Yemen for the financial year 2017/18.
The humanitarian impact of fighting impacting or shutting down the activity of the port would be monumental. This would lead to an unconscionable loss of life. The APPG has been told by partners with a footprint on the ground in Yemen that in a worst-case scenario, an attack on the port would cause upwards of 250,000 civilian deaths. Mass displacement of civilians would also occur. In evidence received by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen (APPG) in the recently concluded inquiry into UK policy towards Yemen, we received submissions from a number of aid agencies who predicted that an attack on Hudaydah port would, directly and indirectly, lead to the displacement of 600,000 people. The disruption on commercial and aid supplies would put millions of Yemenis at risk. 22.2 million who are in need of humanitarian aid could be left without it and the already crippling inflation of food prices would skyrocket.
The hour is now late for Hudaydah port. This week Martin Griffiths headed to Saana to speak with the Houthi leadership. It has been suggested that he was looking to broker a deal with the Houthis to allow Hudaydah to be controlled by the International Community. Following the meetings, Mr Griffiths said "Apart from the avoidable humanitarian consequences of such a battle, I am also very concerned about the impact on chances of a political settlement of this conflict"
For the coalition, the port has long been seen as a white whale. Riyadh says the Houthis use Hudaydah to smuggle Iranian-made arms into Yemen, accusations denied by the group and Tehran. While we do not doubt that the Iranians have provided material assistance to the Houthis the United Nations, with UK assistance, has initiated the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) for the facilitation of commercial imports to Yemen. These inspections should quell fears of mass Iranian smuggling. If this is not the case then greater financial contributions should be made to UNVIM to allow for thorough inspections of imports while still allowing for the smooth and speedy flow of vital commercial and humanitarian aid.
All of the aid agencies that gave written and oral evidence to the APPG’s inquiry impressed upon members the importance of the port to Yemen’s population. One of the key recommendations that the Group made based on the evidence received was:
‘Military escalation on Al Hudaydah Port would be a catastrophe for the population of Yemen. This would severely limit and even halt the assistance that is able to come through the port. Offensives on the port region would also have devastating implications for peace talks. According to the UN Special Envoy, it would ‘’in a stroke, take peace off the table.’’ The UK must continue to urge the coalition publicly and privately not to attack this area, reinforce that there can be no military solution, and instead insist that all parties engage in good faith in peace talks towards a political solution.’
Yet we have not, at time of writing, seen a statement by our Government calling on all sides for de-escalation around the port and directly condemning fighting in the region. The United States has beaten us to the punch, going on record and suggesting that it could not support actions that destroy key infrastructure or that are likely to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation that has expanded in this stalemated conflict. Losing the moral argument to the Trump administration is shameful indeed. We know that this week Theresa May had a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. However, from the account given of the call by number 10’s press secretary there was no indication that the Prime Minister spoke to him about Hudaydah port directly.
I have long been on record saying that sadly the Government has lost its way on Yemen. This is despite the outstanding efforts by the Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt who has been a consistent champion for Yemen. I fear his voice has been drowned out by the Government's obsession with Brexit. Concerted international pressure has averted an assault on Yemen’s most vital port previously. Last year the coalition moved away from their plans to attack Hudaydah. It is not too late for the Government to stand up and warn all combatants that it will not endorse or tolerate military action on Hudaydah port. Fighting in Hudaydah would wipe peace prospects off the table and would put millions of Yemenis at risk. We must not stand idly by and watch this conflict continue to ravage Yemen and its people. I implore the Government to stand up and be counted.
Alison Thewliss appeared tonight on Channel 4 News to talk about the recent letter sent by MPs to the Prime Minister following the decision by the UAE-Saudi led coalition to attack the vital port city of Hudaydah. Over 40 MPs added their name to the letter cosponsored by Alison Thewliss MP, Keith Vaz MP and Andrew Mitchell MP. Alison's full interview with Jon Snow can be accessed here: https://www.channel4.com/news/alison-thewliss-mp-its-absolutely-nonsensical-that-the-government-is-supplying-so-much-aid-but-also-weapons
Today, in the early hours of the morning the Saudi and Emirati led coalition launched a military assault on the port of Hudaydah in Yemen. This is despite the concerns of the United Nations who have suggested that in a worst case scenario an attack on the port could lead to the deaths of 250,000 people.
During the Urgent Question on Monday, Minister Alistair Burt repeatedly stated that the Government did not support a military assault on Hudaydah.
Now 40 MPs have signed a cross party letter to the Prime Minister, co-sponsored by Alison Thewliss MP (Glasgow Central) Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP (Leicester East) and Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP (Sutton Coldfield). This letter urges the Government to use all available means, including removing material military support to the coalition, in order to send a clear message that the UK does not tolerate an attack on Hudaydah Port. The Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats has signed the letter. Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat MP, Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the International Development Committee and Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights have also added their signatures.
The letter and a list of the Parliamentarians who signed are below:
Dear Prime Minister,
Hudaydah Port, Yemen
We were pleased to hear following yesterday’s urgent question that the Government is not in favour of a Saudi-Emirati led military assault on the Red Sea Port of Hudaydah.
This letter is co-sponsored by Andrew Mitchell MP and Alison Thewliss MP and signed by a number of colleagues. Our letter mirrors that sent yesterday by a bipartisan group of US Congressman, Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif) Thomas Massie (R-Ky), Barbara Lee (D-Calif), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) to US Defence Secretary James Mattis.
We are gravely concerned that in the absence of commercial imports in case of an attack on the port for any length of time, parts of the population could experience famine. As the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande said “as many as 250,000 people may lose everything— even their lives,” if there is a military attack on Hudaydah Port.
17 million people in Yemen are already food insecure. Food imports have reached the lowest levels since the conflict started and the price of basic commodities has risen by a third. Hudaydah port accounts for 80% of the humanitarian and commercial aid that passes through Yemen. 22.2 million people in Yemen are in need of urgent humanitarian aid and disruption to Yemen’s deep sea port would put millions of lives at risk.
In light of the Government’s previous statements regarding a peaceful solution to the conflict, it is clear that fighting in Hudaydah would prolong the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has said that an assault would ‘in a single stroke take peace off the table.’ We cannot stand idly by and watch this dreadful conflict continue.
We urge you to use all available means to end this catastrophic military assault on Hudaydah Port by the Saudi and Emirati led coalition. This includes removing material support from combatants. We implore you to make a statement condemning an attack on Hudaydah and calling for an urgent ceasefire.
List of MP co-signatories:
Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP (Leicester East) Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen
Alison Thewliss MP (Glasgow Central) Secretary, All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP (Sutton Coldfield)
Mark Pritchard MP (The Wrekin) Vice Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen
Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable (Twickenham) Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Tom Tugendhat MP (Tonbridge and Malling) Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee
Stephen Twigg MP (Liverpool West Derby) Chair, International Development Committee
Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP (Camberwell and Peckham) Chair, Joint Committee on Human Rights
Valarie Vaz MP (Walsall South) Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
Baroness Northover, Liberal Democrats Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, House of Lords
Stephen Gethins MP (North East Fife) SNP Spokesperson for Europe and International Affairs
Chris Law MP (Dundee West) SNP Spokesperson for International Development
David Drew MP (Stroud)
Roberta Blackman-Woods MP (City of Durham)
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP (Orkney and Shetland)
Catherine West MP (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Martin Day MP (Linlithgow and East Falkirk)
Stuart McDonald MP (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch)
Andrew Slaughter MP (Hammersmith)
Naz Shah MP (Bradford West)
Carol Monaghan MP (Glasgow North West)
Joanna Cherry MP (Edinburgh South West)
Faisal Rashid MP (Warrington South)
Alan Brown MP (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
David Linden MP (Glasgow East)
Stephen Morgan MP (Portsmouth South)
Karen Buck MP (Westminster North)
Preet Gill MP (Birmingham Edgbaston)
Gill Furniss MP (Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough)
Rt Hon Tom Brake MP (Carshalton and Wallington)
Mary Glindon MP (North Tyneside)
Tony Lloyd MP (Rochdale)
Kelvin Hopkins MP (Luton North)
Richard Burden MP (Birmingham Northfield)
Fiona Onasanya MP (Peterborough)
Ruth George MP (High Peak)
Marsha De Cordova MP (Battersea)
Virendra Sharma MP (Ealing Southall)
Afzal Khan MP (Manchester Gorton)
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Brighton Kemptown)
James Frith MP (Bury North)
Chair Keith Vaz asked an urgent question in Parliament today relating to the impending Saudi- Emirati led coalitions attack on the Port of Hudaydah.
The Question was:To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the reports of an imminent attack by the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition on the port of Hodeidah and the humanitarian impact of such an attack
This comes at a time when a coalition backed assault on the vital Red Sea Port of Hudaydah looks increasingly likely. The All Party Parliamentary Group has previously come out strongly against such an attack believing that the humanitarian consequences would be disastrous. The United Nations have estimated that in a worst case scenario 250,000 civilians could be killed by such an assault. Martin Griffiths has gone to Saana to negotiate with the Houthis, attempting to get the vital port under UN control. Hudaydah port accoutns for over 80% of the humanitarian imports that enter Yemen.
Alistair Burt was the responding Minister and stated that:
''No attack has yet taken place. Accordingly, we continue to urge all sides to de-escalate as a matter of urgency and to engage in the political process in good faith. The UN special envoy has previously expressed concern that conflicts in Hodeidah could take peace off the table “in a single stroke”. It is essential for him to be given the time that he needs to facilitate a negotiated solution that avoids conflict in the city and we support his efforts to do so''
The full debate can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-06-11/debates/470742F4-E378-4122-9440-422BB9EA26E3/Yemen
The conflict in Yemen has now entered its 4th year, locked in a deadly stalemate leaving death, destruction and devastation in its wake. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, between January 2017 and March 2018, over 23,000 combatants and non-combatants have been killed. The war has triggered what the United Nations has recognised as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.’ Yemen is burning. The country is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis we have witnessed in over half a century, worse even than Syria.
Relentless suffering is devouring innocent people by the hour in Yemen. 22.2 million People need humanitarian protection and immediate assistance, including over 11 million children. Some 3.1 million people have been displaced since the outbreak of the civil war and 2,014,026 people are currently internally displaced. 89% of those who are internally displaced have been displaced for more than one year. According to the World Food Programme, over 18 million people (over 65% of the population) are food insecure, with 6.8 million people severely food insecure and in need of urgent life-saving emergency support. Violence against women has increased 63% since the conflict escalated according to UNFPA. 3 million women and girls currently find themselves at risk of gender-based violence.
Despite the horrific consequences for Yemen’s population, all sides remain wedded to a military solution and progress towards a ceasefire has been limited. Meanwhile, all of the major combatants have been accused of committing egregious violations of international humanitarian law. So long as the war continues, Yemenis will die in their thousands. It was against this backdrop on the 13th of December 2017 that the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Yemen launched its inquiry into the United Kingdom’s policy towards Yemen. The five-month inquiry will end with the launch of the Report on Tuesday 22nd May, 28 years to the day that North and South Yemen were united as the Republic of Yemen.
The APPG’s inquiry has looked to provide tangible policy recommendations to the UK Government which has been lacking in concrete policy towards the country since the conflict began. The United Kingdom has a privileged and unique position in international affairs and in international institutions, stemming from its founding role in many of them. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) the UK has both an opportunity and an obligation to deal with global issues. The UK is valued for its past experiences as a major global power, its administrative competency and its reputation for balanced and pragmatic analysis. When it comes to Yemen, we have the ability to shape and influence events. As the penholder on Yemen in the Security Council, the UK is in charge of drafting resolutions and statements on issues relating to Yemen. However, it has not fully utilised its position as the penholder. We must do more.
The APPG received written and oral evidence for 5 months about the situation in Yemen. The Group is grateful for all submissions that were made by stakeholders including charities, NGOs, academics and politicians. The full APPG report will be available this week on the Human Security Centre Website http://www.hscentre.org/.
Until the investigation and the findings of the OHCHR Eminent Experts have been completed and presented, the report recommends that the UK should, based on current available evidence, immediately suspend arms sales to all parties that have been accused of breaching international law. This is appropriate and necessary in view of the UK’s ethical and legal obligations.
Recalling the strong relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia, the UK should work with the Saudis, publicly and privately and impress on them the need to fully and unconditionally lift the de facto blockade on Yemen’s ports. The UK should remind all the parties to the conflict of their legal obligation to open transport routes for civilians in accordance with Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, allowing unfettered access to all Yemen’s ports – including Al Hudaydah and all Red Sea ports – is necessary to securing the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid, as well as commercial supplies of food, fuel and medical goods necessary to address cholera and prevent famine. All messages in this respect should be underpinned by a humanitarian footing with a focus on the challenges faced by civilians.
The United Nations Panel of Experts confirmed in January 2018, that there is no military reason for the closure of Sana’a airport. Its closure has a direct impact on the work of aid organisations and on levels of access to appropriate medical help for Yemeni citizens. The recent announcement of an air corridor for medical evacuations from Sana’a to Cairo is welcome, but insufficient. The UK Government must unconditionally push for the operational reopening of Sana’a airport to commercial and humanitarian flights.
Military escalation on Al Hudaydah Port would be a catastrophe for the population of Yemen. This would severely limit and even halt the assistance that is able to come through the port. Offensives on the port region would also have devastating implications for peace talks. According to the UN Special Envoy it would ‘’in a stroke, take peace off the table.’’ The UK must continue to urge the coalition publicly and privately not to attack this area, reinforce that there can be no military solution, and instead insist that all parties engage in good faith in peace talks towards a political solution.
All parties should take immediate measures to prevent any damage to the civilian population and infrastructure, and stop any and all potential breaches of international humanitarian law. As a champion of the rules-based international order, it is imperative that the UK government uses its leverage with its allies to demand compliance with international law, and that it continues to champion British values of fairness, justice and human rights in all aspects of its foreign policy. In this light, the UK must maintain support for international inquiry mechanisms including the OHCHR Eminent Experts to undertake independent investigations of potential breaches. The UK should continually review the actions of all parties to the conflict and must condemn breaches of international humanitarian law as and when they occur irrespective of the actor. Potential examples of such breaches include the 10 coalition bombing raids listed by the UN Panel of Experts, and the recent airstrike on a wedding party, as well as ongoing cross-border shelling by the Houthis. It is important that the UK is, and is seen to be, fair, transparent and balanced on such pivotal issues.
It is increasingly clear that UN Security Council Resolution 2216 is outdated and will continue to serve as a block to a negotiated solution. As the penholder on Yemen in the United Nations Security Council the United Kingdom should table a new resolution demanding among other conditions an immediate ceasefire, end to the conflict and an end to any prevention of the passage of emergency humanitarian supplies. Such a resolution should set out an inclusive peace process in which all major actors and representatives of diverse civil society – including women, youth and representation of different regional, tribal, cultural and religious groups – are included.
We as Parliamentarians will be judged on what we do with regards to Yemen. Just like Rwanda and Kosovo in the 1990’s this is the seminal humanitarian moment of our time. The "forgotten war" must be forgotten no longer. We cannot continue to stand by and watch the destruction of a country and the murder of so many innocent civilians. The government must take concrete steps to stop the suffering in Yemen.
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool and West Derby) asked an urgent question today in Parliament on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
The full debate can be found here https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-04-24/debates/7ECC60E7-79D1-472B-AB7B-6D512818BF49/Yemen
Stephen Twigg MP - To ask the Minister of State for International Development to update the House on the humanitarian situation in Yemen?
The responding Minister was Harriett Baldwin, Minister of State for International Development.
''The UK is deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 22 million people—over three quarters of the population—are in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN estimates that 17.8 million people in Yemen do not have reliable access to food and that 8.4 million face extreme food shortages. Last year, the country suffered the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded in any country in a single year.
At the Yemen pledging conference in Geneva earlier this month, the Minister of State for the Middle East announced £170 million of support to Yemen this year from the UK. That funding will meet the food needs of 2.5 million Yemenis. Last year, the UK was the second largest donor to the UN’s humanitarian appeal for Yemen. Our funding provided more than 5.8 million people with at least a month’s supply of food, nutrition support for 1.7 million and clean water and sanitation for approximately 1.2 million people, but money alone will not be enough. We must see sustained progress on the response to this year’s cholera outbreak; we must see payment of public salaries to millions of civil servants and their dependants; and we must see unhindered humanitarian access into Yemen. The UK has led the way here, too, lobbying and advising all parties to take the life-saving steps to prevent further deterioration of the crisis.
We are aware of reports over the weekend of significant civilian casualties resulting from coalition airstrikes. We take those reports extremely seriously. The Saudi-led coalition has confirmed that it will carry out an investigation. It is essential that that happens without delay, that the results are published and that the lessons learned are acted upon. Our hearts go out to the families of those killed. We call on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law. A political settlement is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. The Yemeni parties must engage constructively and in good faith to overcome obstacles and to find a political solution to end the conflict.''
Today in Parliament Bob Blackman asked an Urgent Question following the death sentence that had been handed down to Hamed bin Haydara, a member of the Ba'hai community in Saana on 2 January. (https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-01-11/debates/6A660750-6EA2-4462-93E6-7758C7DB7A88/HamedBinHaydara)
Bob Blackman (Harrow East)
'' I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. Members right across the House have concerns about the denial of freedom of religion and belief for people of all faiths and none. The threat to execute Hamed bin Haydara constitutes a grave risk to the life of an innocent man—a father of three—and would accelerate the climate of persecution against the wider Bahá’í community in Yemen as a whole.
Mr bin Haydara was arrested in December 2013 and has been subjected to torture, beating and electrocution. He has been forced to sign confessions under duress. More than half of the nearly 40 court hearings on his case have been cancelled, raising serious questions about whether there has been any due process. He has been denied treatment for medical conditions that came about as a direct result of the torture inflicted on him. He was not even permitted to be present at the court hearing when he was sentenced to death.
I have a series of questions for my right hon. Friend to answer, if he can. Have the UK Government any further lines of communication for making representations to the Houthi authorities, who hold the power in Sana’a? I am advised that the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is taking up the case and is in Geneva today. What pressure will he be able to apply at the UN on the Houthis and their backers to persuade them to release this innocent man? How much is known about the situation of other Bahá’ís imprisoned in Sana’a? They are reported to be Keyvan Ghaderi, Walid Ayyash, Mahmood Humaid, Wael al-Arieghie, Badiullah Sana’i and Akram Ayyash. They have all been detained recently and are under threat.
Will the Minister also say what measures can be taken in respect of reports that senior figures in the national security office and the prosecutor’s office are receiving instructions from Iran to persecute the Bahá’í community? The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief has observed
“the persistent pattern of persecution of the Bahá’í community”.
If the Minister can answer those questions, the whole House will be deeply grateful.
Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Merton)
First, I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend for raising this subject. It is always proper for matters of individual justice of this sort to be raised in the House. Opposing the persecution of religious minorities is a very high priority for the Foreign Office and our diplomatic efforts as we enter this year.
The Bahá’í faith has been persecuted for the best part of one and a half centuries; the situation described by my hon. Friend is, sadly, a further example of that phenomenon. Although Mr bin Haydara is neither a British national nor an employee of any organisation related to Her Majesty’s Government, that does not in any way diminish our indignation at what is happening and our wish to try to defend his interests and see him released. To that end, we are, of course, also in close contact with the Bahá’í community in London about this case and the wider situation of Bahá’ís in Yemen.
My hon. Friend asked a number of questions that are very difficult to answer in the context of Yemen, which is essentially a failing state. Mr bin Haydara is held not by the official Government but by the Houthis, who are deemed to be the insurgent force in Yemen and are essential to any successful political outcome the likes of which we are trying to pursue. Getting further lines in to the Houthis on a particular case such as this is therefore extremely difficult—it is difficult, of course, to engage them even in the main thrust of the political solution we would like to see in Yemen. To that end, as my hon. Friend says, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East is in Geneva today helping to corral the collective effort that we hope can increase and optimise our influence in this case and on the future of Yemen itself.
We estimate that there are about 2,000 Bahá’ís in Yemen, and to identify the fate of any individual within that large number is very difficult. We do not have direct diplomatic representation in Sana’a or the sort of detailed engagement with the Houthis that would be necessary to address such issues. It is undeniable that Iranian influence has been drawn into Yemen more than was the case five years ago, when the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative sought a replacement for then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The current President, President Hadi, has, I am afraid, very little influence over such cases. I very much hope, therefore, that the Iranians will use their efforts to go for justice rather than the persecution of people such as Mr bin Haydara.