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Monday, 5 November 2018

The UN aid convoy and the Assad regime torture chief



Who is responsible for Rukban camp? Above: Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, wanted on criminal charges in Germany and France; Gavin Williamson, UK Defence Minister; Jim Mattis, US Secretary of Defense; Abdullah II, King of Jordan.

On Saturday, a UN aid convoy from Damascus reached Rukban Camp in the Tanf Deconfliction Zone, southern Syria.

On Monday, international arrest warrants issued by French judges against three high-ranking Syrian regime officials were made public.

These two stories are connected—here’s how:

French judges issued the international arrest warrants on 8 October 2018, but they were first made public on 5 November. The three Syrian regime officials named are Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud. They are charged with complicity to crimes against humanity and (for Mahmoud) war crimes, in connection with the disappearance, torture and death of dual Syrian-French nationals, Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh.

Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, is also subject to an international arrest warrant issued by Germany’s federal prosecutor in June of this year for his role in the deaths of ‘at least hundreds of people’ between 2011-2013 in Syrian prisons.

Jamil Hassan has been under EU and US sanctions since 2011.

Jamil Hassan personally signs the facilitation letters that permit UN agencies and NGOs to make aid deliveries inside Syria. No UN aid moves through Damascus without his signature. For years this meant that little or no UN aid was allowed to reach civilians under siege by the Assad regime.

Saturday’s UN aid convoy from Damascus was to Rukban, a camp of 50,000 or more civilians on the border with Jordan, outside of regime-controlled territory in the Tanf Deconfliction Zone, an area around the US-UK Coalition’s Tanf base. This UN convoy was the first aid delivered there since January, when aid was delivered across the Jordanian border by crane.

The government of Jordan (a UK ally and recipient of UK aid money) has been restricting cross-border aid to Rukban since 2016, while the Assad regime has been resisting calls to allow cross-line aid from Damascus.

Rukban camp is inside the Tanf Deconfliction Zone, an area militarily controlled by the US-UK Coalition. The zone is defended both against ISIS and against pro-Assad forces by the Royal Air Force and other Coalition forces. The zone  is patrolled on the ground by Maghaweir al-Thowra (MaT) which is a local Syrian militia trained at Tanf base by UK and US forces, and equipped and paid by the US-UK Coalition.

Under Geneva Convention IV, the US and UK as occupying powers have duties to civilians in the Tanf zone, including the duty to bring in food and medical aid themselves when UN cross-border and cross-line aid deliveries fail.

Despite this, the US-UK Coalition has sought to evade responsibility for Rukban camp. On 20 October 2018, the Financial Times reported Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for the US-UK Calition, as saying that Rukban camp was a “humanitarian concern but not technically part of our military operation.”

Rather than take full direct responsibility for civilians in the US-UK area of military occupation, the US and UK have left the civilians in Rukban dependent on the signature of Jamil Hassan, Assad’s torture chief in Damascus, the same criminal who is now subject to international arrest warrants from both Germany and France. Survivors of Assad’s starvation sieges in Daraya, Madaya, Moadamiya and elsewhere can testify to the immorality of this policy.

Today we see small steps forward on accountability for Syrian regime crimes. The US-UK Coalition also need to be held legally accountable for their actions and inactions. The UK and its allies must now do their duty towards civilians in the Tanf zone.

Read more: Rukban Camp in Syria: The UK is failing in its legal duty under the Geneva Conventions

Update: UK organisations write to Prime Minister Theresa May on Rukban camp




Monday, 29 October 2018

Rukban Camp in Syria: The UK is failing in its legal duty under the Geneva Conventions



55,000 people are trapped without aid in Rukban Camp in southern Syria.

The camp is inside the Tanf deconfliction zone, effectively under US-UK Coalition military occupation.

As an Occupying Power, the UK has a LEGAL DUTY under the Geneva Conventions to ensure the population are able to receive food and medical aid.

The UK is failing in its legal duty under the Geneva Conventions.

Today we are sending MPs a full illustrated briefing (PDF) explaining the circumstances and the UK’s legal duty to the population.

Please write to your MP and call on them to end the UK’s failure in Rukban.



No UN aid for 55,000 civilians trapped in Rukban Camp

An aid convoy from Damascus to Rukban has been cancelled. UN aid from Damascus is subject to approval by the Assad regime. Rukban is on the Jordan border. UK ally Jordan blocks cross-border aid.

Rukban is inside the Coalition’s Tanf zone. The zone is patrolled by a local force trained by the UK and US, and is defended by the RAF.

As an Occupying Power, the UK has a LEGAL DUTY under the Geneva Conventions to ensure that the population can receive food and medical aid.

Questions UK MPs should be asking:
  1. Given the UK role in defending the Coalition’s Tanf zone, why is the UK failing to meet its obligations as an occupying power under Geneva Conventions towards the thousands of civilians trapped in the zone?
  2. Have ministers instructed the Royal Air Force to draw up plans for airlifting humanitarian aid to civilians trapped inside the Tanf deconfliction zone?
  3. Have UK officials discussed with Syria Civil Defence their offer to help provide aid to civilians trapped in the Tanf deconfliction zone?

The UK has a legal duty towards civilians in the ‘de facto besieged’ camp at Rukban.

Rukban camp is located just inside Syria along the border with Jordan. The camp began forming in late 2014 after Jordan closed its border to most asylum seekers.

Jordan has severely restricted aid access to the camp since a June 2016 ISIS suicide bomb attack on a Jordanian border post.

In the last three years, tens of thousands of people have fled to the camp from areas targeted by Russian and Coalition air strikes.

The most recent aid delivery in January was made over the border by crane. Since January, people in the camp have depended on a “trickle” of trade from the Syrian side, which the UN’s Jan Egeland says has been cut off in recent months, making it “one of the most desperate places in Syria.”

At least 55,000 people are at risk in Al Rukban refugee camp, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) reported this month. There are 150 cases in urgent need of medical care, and 15 people have died this month alone, among them two babies who died from malnutrition and lack of medical access.

This human suffering is taking place inside a military zone defended by Coalition forces, including by the Royal Air Force.

Rukban Camp is inside the Coalition’s Tanf deconfliction zone. The zone is patrolled by Syrian forces trained by the UK and US, and is defended by the Royal Air Force.

In Spring 2016, Syrian opposition forces captured the nearby Tanf border crossing from ISIS. Shortly after, UK, US, and Norwegian special forces established their base at Tanf.

In August 2016, BBC News reported on UK Special Forces at Tanf base, training local Syrian forces to fight ISIS.

Since then, US and UK forces have defended an area with a radius of 55 km around Tanf base both against ISIS and against pro-Assad forces. As recently as June 2018, a Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet dropped a 500lb laser-guided bomb during a firefight with pro-Assad forces.

The Tanf zone is effectively under military occupation by UK and US forces. Consequently the UK and US have legal duties to the population within the zone under the Geneva Conventions.

In particular, the UK as an Occupying Power “has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

Syria Civil Defence (AKA the White Helmets) have declared their willingness to enter Rukban camp to assist civilians.

Maghaweir al-Thowra, the local forces trained by the UK and US, have declared they are ready to provide security for aid deliveries.

The UK has the capacity in the Royal Air Force to airlift aid into the Coalition’s Tanf zone.

Any UN aid from Damascus is dependent on facilitation letters signed by Assad regime authorities. The Assad regime has routinely blocked UN aid to areas outside regime control.

The Assad regime insists such facilitation letters be signed by Jamil Hassan, head of Air Force Intelligence, a man sanctioned by the UK and EU and subject to an international arrest warrant issued by Germany’s Federal Prosecutor for his part in the mass torture and killing of prisoners in Syria.

In leaving civilians in Rukban dependent on aid deliveries from Damascus, the UK and US governments and military forces are failing in their legal duty to civilians inside the Tanf zone.
  • Call on the UK government to airlift aid to the Tanf zone.
  • Bring the White Helmets to Rukban camp to help deliver food and medical aid.
  • End the Coalition’s shameful and illegal dereliction of duty towards civilians.



Thursday, 25 October 2018

Concerns with the ‘Designated Area Offence’ in the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018

Rethink Rebuild Society is a Manchester-based charity that works towards improving the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, in particular but not exclusively Syrians in the UK, helping them become positively established within British society.

On the basis of their work with Syrian and other refugees, they have written about their serious concerns regarding certain provisions of the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018, in particular those stipulating the proposed ‘Designated Area Offence’.

There has been a lack of engagement and consultation with the charity sector in general and the Syrian community in particular regarding the drafting of this proposed offence within the Bill, despite that these two communities will be directly affected by the Bill’s application.

Rethink Rebuild are concerned that parts of Syria or Syria itself may become a designated area should this law be passed, and that the proposed offence does not sufficiently acknowledge in detail that there are valid reasons (completely unrelated to terrorism) why individuals may travel to ‘designated areas’.

Read a submission on the bill by Rethink Rebuild here (PDF).

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Deaths at Rukban: The UK has a responsibility to protect

Video: Trailer for ‘The People Of No Man’s Land,’ a short documentary on Rukban camp by Daham Alasaad.

At least 55,000 people are at risk in Rukban Camp on the border with Jordan, according to medical organisation UOSSM. The Times reports that Rukban holds between 45,000 to 60,000 people who have fled Assad and ISIS.

According to community workers, 15 people have died this month alone, among them two babies. On October 8, in the space of less than 24 hours, two babies died in the camp. 4-month-old Huda Raslan died from malnutrition and lack of medical access. Munaf Al Mahmoud, a one year old baby, died due to the lack of adequate medical care.

There are now 150 cases in urgent need of medical care, UOSSM reports.

The UK has a direct responsibility to protect people trapped in Rukban.

UK ally Jordan is blocking access for medical and food aid.

Rukban Camp is near the Coalition’s Tanf base, used by the US and by the UK’s SAS to train Syrian anti-ISIS fighters.

The camp is inside a 55km deconfliction zone protected from Assad and ISIS forces by the RAF and US Air Force. As recently as June 2018, an RAF Typhoon fighter bombed Syrian regime forces that were threatening the Tanf deconfliction zone.

The UK has military access to the area—in the air and on the ground. The UK has close diplomatic relations with the Jordanian government. In April 2018, DFID committed to provide £110 million of UK aid funding for 2018/19, and to double its funding for economic resilience and reform.

For months and years, the UK and its allies Jordan and the US have been failing in their responsibility to protect people trapped in Rukban. Here, even more than in other parts of Syria, the UK has the means to act, by negotiating ground access, or by implementing air access for food and medical assistance.

End the UK’s shameful failure to protect people in Rukban camp.

Write to your MP here.




Read more from Syria Direct:
Below: Map of Rukban camp and the US-UK military base at Tanf, Map by the Carter Center via War on the Rocks.



Thursday, 11 October 2018

Evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on R2P and Syria


In 2016, children in Daraya sent an SOS message to the world.

Syria Solidarity UK was one of several groups and individuals to submit evidence to the recent House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on Responsibility to Protect and Syria. Our full evidence is below.

The Committee published its report on 10 September 2018. Read it here, or as a PDF here.

Syria Solidarity was one of twelve organisations welcoming the report in a joint letter, and calling on the UK to lead by example on R2P.

Much of the discussion in the UK over Syria and R2P has focused on the failure to act in 2013 following the Ghouta chemical massacre. The consequences of that decision are still being debated. This year, the UK joined the US and France in carrying out airstrikes in response to a fatal chemical attack in Douma. By taking this action, and by taking it without a vote, the current Government undid the 2013 Parliament’s decision. As a result we can see that limited strikes to deter chemical weapons attacks have not in themselves been enough to stop large scale violence, and they most likely wouldn’t have been enough in 2013. Arguably however they have made possible a wider deterrent effect by re-opening the possibility of further UK action, a possibility that was definitively shut down in the aftermath of the 2013 vote.

While a capacity to deter is part of what we argue is needed to stop large scale violence against civilians in Syria, as long as that deterrence is focused solely on the use of chemical weapons, it cannot be truly regarded as amounting to a strategy to protect civilians. For this reason, there is a need to reconsider the popular narrative of 2013 as the key failure of the UK and its allies on Syria. The more decisive failure was arguably the failure to militarily enforce the UN-negotiated ceasefire in Spring 2012. Reflecting on that failed ceasefire, Kofi Annan wrote that ‘sustained international support did not follow,’ and ‘the ceasefire quickly unravelled and the government, realising there would be no consequences if it returned to an overt military campaign, reverted to using heavy weapons on towns.’

The second major Parliamentary vote on Syria came in 2015, when MPs voted to support the widening of UK military action against ISIS to include military action in Syria. When the need to protect civilians was raised in debates prior to that vote, the Government emphasised that the RAF would take great care to avoid inflicting casualties. But avoiding taking civilian lives is a different proposition to actively protecting civilian lives. Nearly three years later, we see that while the UK military maintains it has no evidence that UK action has directly inflicted civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, British officers and British ministers have at the same time trumpeted the UK’s integral role in a Coalition campaign that has cost several thousand civilian lives.

Jo Cox, who expressed a sharper understanding of the Syrian crisis than any other British parliamentarian, explained her decision to abstain in the 2015 vote by the following remarks on the Government’s declared strategy:

‘While much of the intent and language is there, the thing I am most concerned about and which in my view will most change the conflict dynamic is the protection of civilians, particularly from Assad’s indiscriminate barrel bombs. This is relegated to second order status in the strategy, underdeveloped and unthought out. It is a fatal flaw in the strategy.’


Written evidence from Syria Solidarity UK (RTP0012)
  • We call for the protection of civilians to be a primary aim for all future UK military actions rather than a secondary consideration.
  • We call for the human rights of all of Syria’s population including those forcibly displaced and exiled to be the primary concern in UK policy towards the political future of Syria.
  • We call for human rights to be put at the centre of  refugee policy and humanitarian policy towards Syria and the region.