Syria Solidarity UK  •  •  •  @SyriaUK

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Statement on the upcoming Stop the War event at the House of Commons

Any UK policy on Syria must have the protection of Syrian civilians at its core and be jointly formulated with Syrian civil activists who know the reality on the ground in their country.

As a UK-based Syrian organisation that is part of an international civil society network in contact with Syrian civil activists, medics and rescue workers inside Syria, we urge all UK MPs to base any Syria policy around the urgent humanitarian needs of civilians on the ground.

Unfortunately, the upcoming 2nd November meeting at the House of Commons advocates a policy that is utterly divorced from the horrific reality experienced by civilians currently under attack by Russian and Assad regime aerial bombardments.

We categorically reject any policy proposal, be it for intervention or non-intervention, that is not formulated in consultation with Syrian civic, medical or humanitarian workers.

As it stands, we fully endorse the policy proposal recently put forward by MPs Jo Cox and Andrew Mitchell which is based on a genuine engagement with Syrian civil groups and prioritises the protection of civilians. This policy also echoes that recently put forward by the Syrian advocacy organisation Rethink Rebuild Society, to which Syria Solidarity UK is a signatory. This is where any sustainable UK Syria policy needs to start and we urge all MPs on the panel for the upcoming event to take note.

Syria Solidarity UK.

Facebook event page for Stop the War event, House of Commons Committee Room 12, Monday 2 November at 6:30pm.

British forces could help achieve an ethical solution in Syria, by Andrew Mitchell and Jo Cox, The Observer, 11 October 2015.

Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS: What can the United Kingdom Do? Policy document by Rethink Rebuild Society, voice of the Syrian community of Manchester.

Syrians and friends protesting at the Russian Embassy, 25 October. Photo via Peter Tatchell.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Struggle for Accountability

A Step towards Justice: Current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria
By Mark Lattimer, Shabnam Mojtahedi and Lee Anna Tucker, for Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights / Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, April 2015.
PDF version here.

An event in the House of Lords: notes by Clara Connolly

The war in Syria has been characterised by impunity at every level, local, national, and international, for some of the most extreme violations of human rights of current times. This report, prepared by Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, and by Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, looks at the feasibility and potential impacts of different options for bringing some measure of accountability.

The report was discussed on October 19th at an event in the House of Lords chaired by Baroness Stern. The speakers were: Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights; Mohammad Al Abdallah, Syria Justice and Accountability Centre; Laila Alodaat, Syria Justice and Accountability Centre; and Nabeel Sheikh of Neumans LLP.

Mark Lattimer, director, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, introduced the report. It outlines a number of legal avenues to justice for war crimes and breaches of human rights committed in Syria: the International Criminal Court; a Hybrid Tribunal; or criminal prosecution in foreign national courts.

On the International Criminal Court (ICC), Syria is not a party, and without a UN Security Council Resolution the Court’s jurisdiction is limited. In May 2014, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution to refer the Syrian conflict to the ICC, but despite this the ICC Prosecutor can investigate crimes committed in Syria by the nationals of any state which has signed up to the ICC, including most European countries. Many of these have nationals fighting in Syria, so ICC involvement is theoretically possible but to a very limited degree.

The second option considered by the report is a Hybrid Tribunal: this could be set up in a neighbouring state, or in a safe zone within Syria, combining international and domestic laws and processes. But states like Jordan or Turkey have taken sides in the conflict, and would not be regarded as impartial venues. It is unlikely that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon would expand its brief to cover the war in Syria. Nobody is undertaking the establishment of a safe haven, and with the Syrian opposition as host it would not be regarded as impartial.

While both of the above options are therefore currently unfeasible, Mr Lattimer pointed out that Syrians are doing sterling work collecting and documenting evidence for the future.

The third option, criminal prosecutions in foreign national courts, is the only option regarded as feasible in the current context.

Mohammad Al Abdallah, of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, was more hopeful of the possibility of a democratic transition in Syria than was Mark Lattimer. He pointed out that Syrians have long experience of impunity after over forty years of the current regime. He briefly commented on the options covered by the previous speaker, noting that the Special Tribunal in Iraq was highly politicised, very expensive, and not regarded as successful.

On criminal prosecutions in foreign national courts, he referred to the prosecution of a former Free Syrian Army fighter who had sought refuge in Sweden, and was sentenced to five years in prison by a Swedish court for for an assault in Syria that was filmed and posted on social media. While this raised objections at the time from some that only one side in the conflict was being targeted, it seems increasingly likely that cases of former regime fighters will also come before European courts.

The influx of Syrian refugees to European countries represents an opportunity in his view, to engage Syrian communities as victims, but also to prosecute perpetrators of human rights breaches, in the European Courts. He has knowledge of an impressive dossier of pictures and videos linking some refugees in Europe with crimes committed in Syria, including crimes by regime forces.
Although only perpetrators from the lower ranks were present in Europe, he believes that use of national mechanisms for justice within refugee hosting countries would send a hopeful message of accountability in the interim period.

Eurojust is actively engaged in gathering evidence for such prosecutions. Mr Al Abdallah is passing on information received from Syrians in Europe, and anyone with such information can contact him directly at He warned however that the work of collecting evidence against Syrians in Europe carries risks, and should be done discreetly.

On recent efforts by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to negotiate a limited ceasefire or ‘freeze’ in Aleppo, he criticised the absence of any commitment to accountability in such proposals. On the possibility of future ICC prosecutions, he emphasised that these would only deal with a handful of high-profile cases, and that ending a culture of impunity required achieving meaningful justice within Syria.

Laila Alodaat, though also a member of Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, spoke about her role in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in documenting the particular suffering of women in the Syrian conflict. She said that although women have been centrally involved in the early demonstrations against the regime, and in numerous civil society initiatives, the militarisation of the conflict shrinks the space for women, and silences them.

The war has had particular effects on women; for example, 74% of girls killed since 2011 have been killed by indiscriminate bombing. The health care system has been destroyed; 80% of deaths in pregnancy and childbirth could have been saved were it not for the inaccessibility of healthcare. The collapse of the legal system has meant that women have no recourse to justice. Justice can only be enforced by arms, but women have no arms.

In addition, women have been targeted in particular ways under ISIS. Who opened the borders to them, and who gave or sold them arms? Now Russia’s intervention is aiding ISIS, it will bring ISIS to women in the villages of Syria. The question of accountability is crucial for the country’s future.

Women have been central to the preservation of civil society during this war, and there must be places for them at the table when discussing the transition to peace. Because they don’t have the prominence of combatants, there is a risk of their voices and contributions being ignored.

Answering a question on the contribution that refugees resettled in the UK could make to the documentation of war crimes, she reminded us that these were selected for resettlement because of their vulnerability, and should not be further traumatised by demanding their stories, unless they were freely given. She talked of how Syrians have been documenting human rights breaches from day one of the conflict.

Beyond documenting crimes, it’s necessary to stop them, she insisted: “Prevention is the core of justice.”

Nabeel Sheikh of Neumans LLP, acting for the family of Dr Abbas Khan, spoke about their efforts to obtain justice for his death while in the hands of the regime. He reminded us that Dr Khan, a British citizen, was a humanitarian aid worker who was arrested in Syria by the regime and spent 13 months in captivity, 7 of those months under the most severe torture. After his release was ordered, largely due to the extraordinary efforts of his mother, he died in a prison cell. According to the regime this was suicide—unlikely in a man just about to be released. The subsequent inquest in the UK found that he had been unlawfully killed.

There are great obstacles to achieving any justice in this case: though the victim was a British citizen, the UK Government’s responsibility is limited by the fact that he was not acting as an agent of the UK. However if key individuals responsible are identified it may be possible to include them in EU sanctions lists for asset freezes and travel bans. The legal team is currently pursuing this new avenue of accountability against such individuals.

‘Hands Off Syria’ Applies to Russia Too

Syria Solidarity activists visited the Russian Embassy on Friday 23rd October to deliver a letter to the Russian Ambassador protesting the Russian government’s aggression against the Syrian people.

Embassy staff declined to receive the letter.

Below is the full letter with signatories. PDF version here.

“Hands Off Syria” Applies to Russia Too

As people and groups from many countries, united by a common commitment to peace, justice and human rights, we condemn the military offensive that began with air strikes launched by Russia in Syria on 30 September 2015 and accelerating subsequently.

While the Russian government has said that these operations were directed against the Islamic State (ISIS), most were on areas with no ISIS presence. The focus of the Russian military offensive appears to have been on opposition communities in the northern Homs region, a continuing center of resistance to the Assad Regime.

The victims of the Russian aggression on 30 September were predominantly civilians, including many children. Humanitarian conditions were dire in the area before Russia launched its offensive because it has long been under siege by the regime for its resistance.

The Assad Regime has wreaked havoc across Syria. The civil war it started by shooting democracy protesters has killed over a quarter-million Syrians, forced half the population from their homes and made millions of refugees. In the course of doing this, it has lost control of half the country. Although peace can never be restored by the regime that destroyed it, it would appear that Russia is now going to directly use its military might to further prop up a regime that would have collapsed years ago without foreign backing. This operation by Russian forces can only deepen the agony of the Syrian people, increase the flow of refugees, and strengthen the hand of extremist forces like ISIS.

Russian claims that its military escalation is legal are no more true than those used by the United States to justify its war against Vietnam. When the government that makes the invitation to invade is illegitimate, so is the invitation. The United States also bears responsibility for the catastrophe, as do all the regional and international stakeholders who have erased the aspirations and sacrifices of the Syrian people out of the narrative and replaced it with their own strategic needs and ambitions.

We condemn unequivocally both the brutal repressive actions of the Assad regime and these moves by Russia designed to prolong its life. If Russia wants a negotiated political transition in Syria, it has to stop assisting the regime’s brutality and wanton attacks on civilian targets, and stop encouraging the Assad regime’s persistent refusal to engage with any serious peace process. Attacks on civilian populations are in violation of international law. We call on the international community, national governments, and the United Nations to ensure the enforcement of UNSC Resolution 2139, to which Russia is a party, which provides that “All parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas.” We call on all those who are concerned with international peace and the defense of human rights to join us in speaking out against Russia’s callous actions by all means at your disposal – lobbying of your representatives, public demonstrations, public petitions and other forms of protest.

Below is the list of signatories —

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Caesar photographs at the House of Commons

Roger Godsiff MP is hosting a meeting in the House of Commons on the Caesar photographs, which document systematic torture, brutality and murder by the Assad regime.

Caesar: The reality behind the Syrian refugee crisis
Wednesday 28 October, from 1.30pm to 3.00pm in Committee Room 14.

The exhibition displays photographs of detainees from the Syrian regime’s prisons and detention centres. The photographs were taken by a former military policeman of the Syrian army, known as ‘Caesar’, who fled Syria in 2013. Caesar smuggled out with him over 55,000 photos of approximately 11,000 Syrians tortured by the Assad regime—a fraction of the total number of people killed inside Syrian prisons. The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry has cited the photographs as clear evidence of systematic human rights violations by the Assad regime, and the FBI verified them as credible evidence for future legal proceedings.

The exhibition of photographs has been shown at the UN in New York, the US Congress and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, and the European Parliament in Brussels.

Panel speakers:

  • Frederic Hof, Former US Special Adviser for Transition in Syria and Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council
  • Steven Heydemann of Smith College and the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution
  • Mouaz Moustafa, Director of Syrian Emergency Taskforce
  • Kristyan Benedict, Head of Campaigns for Amnesty International UK

Chair: Roger Godsiff MP

Plus video messages from: US members of Congress, Holocaust survivors and US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp.

Please RSVP to Photographs will be displayed at this event which some may find upsetting.

A press call with the opportunity to interview panellists will take place immediately after this event in room W3, Westminster Hall. If you would like to register for this, please contact Nour Bakr at

For more background read ‘They were torturing to kill’: inside Syria’s death machine, an interview with Caesar by Garance le Caisne, The Guardian, 1 Oct 2015.

Monday, 19 October 2015

#ListenToSyrians in Aberdeen and in London

Above, Amer Masri, a survivor of Assad’s prisons, speaking to the Scottish National Party Conference, 17 October 2015, in support of a motion welcoming refugees.

MPs of all parties will have another chance to listen to Syrians at the launch of Rethink Rebuild’s policy document “Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS: What can the United Kingdom Do?” on Tuesday 27 October at the House of Commons.

Details from Rethink Rebuild Society:
Our policy document "Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS: What can the United Kingdom Do?" will be launched in Parliament on Tuesday 27 October in Committee Room 9 from 12-2 pm.

This document has been endorsed by Syrian groups across the county. It is presented as a comprehensive plan of action for the UK to help end the conflict in Syria.

We will be joined by a panel who have direct experience of life under Assad, the brutality of ISIS as well as the impact on British nationals who are Syrian.

Details of the event:
Date: Tuesday 27th October 2015
Venue: Committee Room 9, House of Commons
Time: 12pm to 2pm

Panel speakers
Yasmine Nahlawi: Advocacy & Policy Coordinator, Rethink Rebuild Society
Farah Al, former detainee in Assad's prison and UK citizen
Yasser Al Jassem, Syrian refugee
Jeff Smith MP, Chair

Please RSVP to Yasmine Nahlawi at
Please contact Amina Lone at or on 07799 008522 should you have any further questions.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Rethink Rebuild call: Write your MP to support a no-fly-zone over Syria

The following call comes from Rethink Rebuild Society, voice of the Syrian Community of Manchester.

Given that a UK vote on Syria is anticipated to be within a month, we need everyone’s support to amplify the message that SYRIA NEEDS A NO-BOMBING ZONE! Please write to your MP by clicking on the link below and copying and pasting the following text into the relevant area. Then kindly share with all your contacts on social media!

Re: In support of no-bombing zone over Syria

Dear MP,

As your constituent, I would like to ask you to attend the Parliamentary launch of the report “Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS: What can the United Kingdom Do?” produced by Rethink Rebuild Society, a Manchester-based Syrian advocacy and community organisation.

The report has been endorsed by Syrian groups across the county and is presented as a comprehensive plan of action for the UK to help end the conflict in Syria. It frames the current debate with views on potential UK air strikes in Syria, how to deal with ISIS and Assad as well as the UK refugee policy.

The details of the event are:

Date: Monday 27th October 2015

Venue: Committee Room 9, House of Commons
Time: 12pm to 2pm

Panel speakers:
Jeff Smith MP: Chair

Yasmine Nahlawi: Advocacy & Policy Coordinator, Rethink Rebuild Society

Farah Al: former detainee in Assad’s prison and UK citizen

Yasser Al Jassem: Syrian refugee

Please RSVP to Yasmine Nahlawi at

Please contact Amina Lone at should you have any questions.

In addition to the above, I would also like to ask you to raise a number of critical points on Syria to both the FCO and DFID, in particular to press:

1. The Syrian crisis is the root of two of the most serious global problems right now: the refugee crisis; and the threat posed by ISIS;

2. Anti-ISIS strikes will not tackle the root causes: (a) ISIS is neither the root cause of the Syrian crisis, nor is it the predominant driver of refugee flows; (b) the impact of any UK contribution will be marginal at best; and (c) anti-ISIS strikes in the absence of protection have been a radicalising factor on the ground so—ironically—UK strikes against ISIS might just make things worse;

3. Alleviating those global problems requires tackling them at source. So we need a policy that (a) stems the killing in Syria—the majority of which is a result of the Assad regime’s aerial bombardment; (b) reduces the humanitarian impact, including slowing the exodus; (c) combats extremism; and (d) leads to a political solution;

4. A no-bombing zone is the first step to turning the crisis around. It is the only policy option that (a) saves lives; (b) reduces the exodus; (c) reduces radicalisation; and (d) makes a political solution more likely;

5. By ensuring civilian protection and stopping the aerial bombardments—including those by Russia—the UK would stop the largest source of killing in Syria, namely the Assad regime’s air force. 60% of civilian deaths are caused by the regime's helicopters and planes. In 2015 alone, the regime killed seven times more civilians than ISIS;

6. Implementation of a no-bombing zone would not require pre-emptively striking inside Syria which would risk the lives of British military personnel. Rather, it could be enforced from ships in the Mediterranean which would only execute strictly limited strikes if aircraft violate the prohibited ban on bombing. This sea-based option requires very limited military intervention.

Thank you very much for your time.
Best regards,

Write to your MP using

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Labouring on Syria: Hilary Benn’s response to Jo Cox

By Clara Connolly

Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spens (formerly of Oxfam), has ignited Parliamentary debate in the run-up to a vote on Cameron’s proposal to extend the UK’s bombing campaign of ISIS to Syria. Her Observer article last Sunday, co-written with Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, and her speech in the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Monday, have put the protection of Syrian civilians at the heart of Parliamentary debate for the first time ever. It is a bold and radical attempt to escape the sterility of Parliamentary and media discussion on the subject of Syria by introducing the voices and real concerns of Syrians. For that, I congratulate her from the bottom of my heart.

It has also provoked, in media-speak terms, the spectre of another revolt of Labour MPs against Jeremy Corbyn—as if the most important thing at stake here was the fate of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. For that reason, discussion amongst members of the Shadow Cabinet has led to Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn responding to Jo Cox’s initiative with an article for The Guardian.

That it is a response is illustrated by his opening paragraph which closely echoes that of the Cox/Mitchell article. There are significant differences however: both refer to the historic test facing us in response to the humanitarian disaster in Syria, but Cox’s starting point is the woeful inadequacy of the international community’s response “through the UN,” whereas Benn merely says “no one has taken responsibility.” This difference in phrasing is no accident, since Benn goes on to reiterate the Labour leadership’s position, expressed at Labour Party conference, of reliance on the UN Security Council. Jo Cox recognises, unlike Benn, that this has been a recipe for doing next to nothing.

Cox makes a radical departure from current Parliamentary debate, while Benn remains within the parameters set in the previous parliament. He says that the Government (with Labour support) was right to join the coalition’s air campaign against ISIS in Iraq; without considering the shortcomings of that campaign on the ground, he responds merely to Cameron’s proposal to extend it to Syria. Because he places the same priority on fighting ISIS as the Government, he is constrained by the discourse of the ‘War on Terror’, indiscriminately used by regional and world powers to pursue their own interests. Indeed, he seems to suggest that Russia is an ally in the war against ISIS, in contradiction to his own acknowledgement that Russia’s purpose, well attested by now, is to prop up the failing Assad regime. He refers only in passing to Assad’s barrel bombs, but concentrates mainly on the threat posed by ISIS.

Jo Cox on the other hand—because her starting point is the protection of civilians—states firmly that “it is not ethical to wish away the barrel bombs from the Syrian government when you have the capacity to stop them.” She points out in her Parliamentary speech that Assad kills seven times as many civilians as ISIS, and that a fight against ISIS has to be accompanied by an equal focus on Assad.

The solution she proposes is the creation of “safe havens inside Syria which would eventually offer sanctuary from both the actions of Assad and ISIS.” In an ITV interview, expanding on her article, she explicitly calls for a ‘no-bombing zone’ across Syria, which could be implemented by the UK or other Western powers within their current capacity from the Mediterranean sea.

Hilary Benn’s proposal is “a UN resolution for effective action to end the threat from ISIS.” He does not spell out who is at risk from ISIS—he commits the common mistake that Jo Cox avoids, of eliding a concern for “Syria’s people” with the West’s security concerns.

He moves beyond the War on Terror discourse when he argues for “safe zones in Syria to shelter those who have had to flee their homes,” effectively IDP camps inside Syria. Unlike Cox’s plan, that would not protect civilians in the cities towns and villages of the liberated areas who are suffering relentless bombardment on a daily basis. But it would provide some relief, as well as limiting the numbers of those fleeing beyond Syria’s borders.

But to accomplish it, he relies on a UNSC resolution. There have been several resolutions to constrain Assad’s attacks on his civilian population, and to enforce the provision of aid to besieged areas without the regimes permission, none of which have been enforced. The resolutions with teeth have been vetoed by Russia and China. That is why Jo Cox, despite her express support of the UN, goes beyond a reliance on it to propose unilateral or multilateral action as supported by international law.

Thirdly, Benn calls for “the referral of suspected war crimes to the ICC.” This is a token gesture towards the principle of international justice, without any reference to previous failed UN Security Council resolutions (due to Russia’s veto) or to Syria’s non-membership of ICC which makes a UNSC resolution the only avenue to the ICC. Unlike Cox, he resorts to proposing solutions which have been tried before and have failed. An empty threat will certainly not deter either Assad’s or Putin’s bombing of civilians.

Benn does make one acknowledgment of the limits of his proposals, saying “of course we know that any resolution may be vetoed and in those circumstances we would need to look at the position again.” This is a tentative proposal to go further than his position outlined at the Labour Conference, and is certainly an improvement on Miliband’s, which was simply to do nothing. If it does represent the position of the Shadow Cabinet it is a small but significant, and welcome, shift in Labours position.

But it remains an inadequate response to Jo Cox’s brave attempt to move the debate on Syria in a progressive, humanitarian direction. Her plan, unlike Benn’s, is a genuine challenge to Cameron. I sincerely hope that Labour and other MPs will follow her lead and encourage the Labour leadership to recognise the limitations of their focus on ISIS rather than Assad, and the lethal danger of their reliance on yet another drawn-out UN process while time is running out for Syrians.


British forces could help achieve an ethical solution in Syria, by Andrew Mitchell and Jo Cox, The Observer, 11 October 2015.

What Diane Abbott gets wrong about Jo Cox’s proposals on Syria, by Alex Evans, Global Dashboard, 11 October 2015.

We must remember that Syria is not Iraq—and build a plan for action, by Jo Cox, Labour List, 12 October 2015.

“If we only focus on air strikes against ISIS we will fail to understand this conflict”, Jo Cox speaking on ITV News, 12 October 2015.

UK ‘should enforce Syria no-fly zone even if Russia vetoes UN resolution’, report by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 12 October 2015.

Speech by Jo Cox, 12 October House of Commons adjournment debate, Protection of civilians in Syria, video and transcript.

An ethical solution to the war in Syria: We support it, by Ashraf, Planet Syria, 12 October 2015.

Corbyn signals Labour could back military action in Syria without UN support, report by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 13 October 2015.

If we are to help Syria’s people, we must take action, by Hilary Benn, The Guardian, 13 October 2015.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Assad is not capable of contributing to a united and democratic Syria

Image from Care about refugees? Listen to them: results of a survey of Syrian refugees.

By Mary Rizzo

Labour MP Jo Cox is to be commended for her efforts to build a comprehensive strategy for the Syrian war. For too long the Syrian people’s suffering has been ignored or dealt with in ways that do not lead to long-term resolution of this horrifying humanitarian nightmare.

However, in her three-pronged proposal is a flaw that I believe could be fatal. She has admitted that Assad is one part of the twin horror, and yet her strategy includes bringing him to the negotiating table.

Syrian civil society, which in spite of enormous difficulties and with seemingly the world against it, has maintained its presence on the ground and has established many autonomous governing areas as well as other structures for civil services. It has had to assume a political position since its own government declared war on the Syrian people, and during this time has become a political subject. It also has the enormous advantage of having gained its legitimacy on the ground.

Assad has no legitimacy, either by the popular electoral process, which everyone can plainly see was in no way democratic, or more importantly, by criteria of political legitimacy. Any legitimate authority that some may have been willing to concede to this regime has been completely lost according to the criteria of Max Weber where the use of illegitimate violence against one’s people is motive for the loss of legitimacy. It is furthermore inferred in the Preamble of the UN Declaration of Human Rights that rebellion against tyranny is legitimate.

It is clear that continuing to include the party responsible for the system of oppression that brought about the protests of the Syrian civilian population in the first place, responsible for the nearly five years of bloodshed that have followed, and responsible for the abysmal failure of every peace effort, is not the way to succeed.

Assad is not capable of contributing to a united and democratic Syria. He has invited other countries to fight on his behalf because he is under the impression that his power is destined to continue in some degree even if the war never ends. He has brought a global war to his country and has shown no ability to protect his country’s assets or population. To continue with the belief that he has to be negotiated with is only going to prolong the war.

There quite simply is no viable political solution that includes the existence of the current regime in Syria to dictate terms or to take part in a solution. Such existence would not allow the masses, who have been mobilised for years now to bring about a free and democratic Syria based on social justice, to reach their objective. Any proposal aimed at a long-term solution should realise that a post-Assad period is a certainty. Placing any kind of trust in the regime and granting it negotiation powers, when it has never shown any interest in a compromise or shared solution, is a mistake. The natural interlocutors are the representatives of civil society who are willing, and indeed able, to come to assume the task of leading the diplomatic programme crucial to resolution on a long-term basis.

It would be merely prolonging the suffering and desperation of the Syrian people to continue to insist that someone already defined as one of their horrors is considered as a valid negotiating partner. To appear to consider this person and his regime as legitimate could also mean difficulty in post-Assad relations.

Please do not lose a historic occasion to truly end the war, stop the bloodshed, and contribute to a more prosperous Levant that sees the West as its ally, not an accomplice in its destruction and enslavement.


Five Reasons Why Including Assad in a ‘Managed Transition’ Will Fail, by Dr Neil Quilliam, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House.

Care about refugees? Listen to them: The Syria Campaign on an opinion survey amongst Syrian refugees in Germany, 9 October 2015.
This survey interviewed 889 Syrians living in Germany between 24 September 2015 and 2 October 2015 using a standardised questionnaire. Interviews were held in 12 centres housing arriving refugees, other refugee accommodation and refugee registration points in Berlin, Hanover, Bremen, Leipzig and Eisenhüttenstadt. Researchers from the Berlin Social Science Center were involved in the conception, implementation and evaluation of the survey.

British forces could help achieve an ethical solution in Syria, by Andrew Mitchell and Jo Cox, The Observer, 11 October 2015.

What Diane Abbott gets wrong about Jo Cox’s proposals on Syria, by Alex Evans, Global Dashboard, 11 October 2015.

We must remember that Syria is not Iraq—and build a plan for action, by Jo Cox, Labour List, 12 October 2015.

“If we only focus on air strikes against ISIS we will fail to understand this conflict”, Jo Cox speaking on ITV News, 12 October 2015.

UK ‘should enforce Syria no-fly zone even if Russia vetoes UN resolution’, report by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 12 October 2015.

Speech by Jo Cox, 12 October House of Commons adjournment debate, Protection of civilians in Syria, video and transcript.

An ethical solution to the war in Syria: We support it, by Ashraf, Planet Syria, 12 October 2015.

Monday, 12 October 2015

October diary

Upcoming events on Syria in the UK

Contact info@syria to let us know of an event.

Monday 12 October

House of Commons adjournment debate
Protection of civilians in Syria
Jo Cox MP

Tuesday 13 October

Refugees vigil at 6:30pm, Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London.
Resettle 1000 Refugees by Christmas
Hosted by Citizens UK

“David Cameron has announced a plan to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years. This is too few, far less than commitments from comparable countries, and too slow with winter around the corner.”

Campaign website:
Facebook event page.

Wednesday 14 October
Legal accountability/transitional justice event, 6:00-7:30pm, LSE, NAB.2.04, New Academic Building, LSE, London.
Pursuing Atrocity Accountability in Syria

Toby Cadman, barrister at 9 Bedford Row International
Susan Lamb, Senior Legal Adviser to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability
Chair: Dr Kirsten Ainley, Director of the Centre for International Studies

More details on the LSE website.

No ticket or pre-registration required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis.
For any queries email or call 020 7955 6198.

Thursday 15 October
Documentary film screening and discussion, 7:00-9:30pm, Edmond J Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s College London
On the Bride’s Side: Subverting Migration Discourses in Europe

Gabriele del Grande, Journalist, writer and one of the film’s directors
Nicholas de Genova, Reader in Urban Geography and Director of the Spatial Politics Research Group at King’s College London
Juliet Steyn, Occasional Lecturer and author of the book Breaching Borders: Art, Migrants and the Metaphor of Waste
Nadja Stamselberg, Visiting Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Regent’s University, London
Chair: Federica Mazzara, Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Communication, University of Westminster

Free, but booking required. More details.
Facebook event page.

Monday 19 October

Legal accountability/transitional justice event, 6:30pm, House of Lords Committee Room 4A.
A Step towards Justice: On current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria

Panel speakers:
Sir Keir Starmer QC MP, Former Director of Public Prosecutions
Mark Lattimer, Director, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights
Mohammad Al Abdallah, Director, Syria Justice And Accountability Centre
Laila Alodaat, Syrian human rights lawyer
Chair: The Baroness Stern of Vauxhall CBE

More details.


Wednesday 21 October
Religious minorities event, 6:30pm, Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
Disappearing Religions of the Middle East
Caabu members’ event with the author of Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, Gerard Russell.

Chair: Paula Sherriff MP

More details on the Caabu website.

RSVPs and enquiries to Joseph Willits

Thursday 22 October
Refugee documentary screening, 7:00pm, Room G3, SOAS, Russell Square.
“Displaced’ with panel discussion

‘Displaced’ by journalist Amel Guettatfi follows three Syrians living in a makeshift camp on the Northern border of France. Each felt the need to leave home after the uprising in their home escalated. They survive on the bare minimum, living in tents in the winter, trying to cross to Britain every night. This documentary discusses the human collateral of an on going war through the stories of a graduate, a former student and an ex-Syrian Army soldier.

Zoe Gardner, Communications Officer, Asylum Aid
Tania Kaiser, Senior Lecturer in Forced Migration Studies, SOAS
Don Flynn, Director, Migrants’ Rights Network
Syria Solidarity UK speaker to be confirmed.

Hosted by SOAS Student Action for Refugees (STAR). This Event is free and open to the public. Donations are welcome.

Facebook event page.

Saturday 24 October
Refugee event, 11:00am to 5:00pm, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP
Refugee Solidarity Summit: Open the borders now!

Arranged by London2Calais.

Amongst the many speakers are Syrian artist and activist Ibrahim Fakhri, talking on migrant experiences, and Abdulaziz Almashi of Syria Solidarity UK and Solidarity With Refugees, on strategies for radical solidarity.

More details on the Eventbrite page.

Saturday 24 October
Demonstration, 2:00-4:00pm, Russian Embassy London.
Putin get out of Syria

Facebook event page.

Tuesday 27 October

UK policy on ISIS event, 12:00-2:200pm, House of Commons Committee Room 9.
Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS: What can the United Kingdom Do?
Hosted by Jeff Smith MP.

Organised by Rethink Rebuild Society, Voice of the Syrian Community of Manchester.

Read the Rethink Rebuild policy document, Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS.


Wednesday 28 October
Human rights event, 1:30-3:00pm, House of Commons Committee Room 14.
The Caesar Exhibition

Panel speakers:
Frederic Hof, Former US Special Adviser for Transition in Syria and Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council
Steven Heydemann of Smith College and the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution
Mouaz Moustafa, Director of Syrian Emergency Taskforce
Kristyan Benedict, Head of Campaigns for Amnesty International UK
Plus video messages from: US members of Congress, Holocaust survivors and US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp.
Chair: Roger Godsiff MP

Background: ‘They were torturing to kill’: inside Syria’s death machine, by Garance le Caisne, The Guardian, 1 Oct 2015.

Photographs will be displayed at this event which some may find upsetting.

Please RSVP to

A press call with the opportunity to interview panellists will take place immediately after this event in room W3, Westminster Hall. If you would like to register for this, please contact Nour Bakr at

Monday, 5 October 2015

An alternative letters page for The Irish Times

By Kellie Strom

The Irish Times is not the newspaper it once was, and it may be that it simply doesn’t have the budget to be choosy in its foreign correspondents, nor the staff to read all the mail it receives. Below is a recent letter to the paper from a member of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement, the latest in a series of unpublished letters on the newspaper’s coverage of Syria.

Phenomenal. Another psychedelic “analysis” piece from Michael Jansen on Saturday (Assad remains in power as bulwark against Islamic State). This writer has already in your pages (Op. Ed July 2nd, 2011) spectacularly confused the MASSACRE of Hama (1982) when the current presidential incumbent's father slaughtered up to 40,000 people (estimates vary) in the city of Hama with the BATTLE of Hama (605 BC.) between the Babylonians and the Egyptians. In her latest wide-ranging synopsis of the Syrian and middle-eastern crisis, she has managed in the nearly 1000-word article never once to mention a single human-rights violation by the Assad regime. She gushes of Assad “his army constitutes the only force on the ground countering and containing Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda radicals.” That surreal assessment requires no further comment. She provides no data to back up her outlandish claims such as Assad having the backing of the Kurdish minority. Nor does she provide any analysis on why it would possibly be that people who are being bombed out of opposition-held towns and districts would flee to regime-held districts insofar as that is the case. In the context of the regime's terrorism strategy of barrel-bombing, sniper attacks, chemical weapons attacks, starvation sieges, etc., etc., the conclusion of the analysis: “the flow into government-held areas demonstrates strong aversion to his opponents” really beggars belief.
Yours, etc.
Michael Lenehan

The Irish Times article referred to by the letter is here: Assad remains in power as bulwark against Islamic State (Analysis: Western leaders know Syria president’s army is only ground force in region) by Michael Jansen.

In it, not only does Ms Jansen implicitly deny the existence of Free Syrian Army and Syrian Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, she asserts that “Syrian protests, far smaller than those elsewhere, were within days infiltrated by armed men backed by external interests and powers seeking his overthrow,” a grotesque distortion of the peaceful protests of 2011 that were met with gunfire by the regime, as well as with torture, mutilation, and murder in regime prisons.

And as Michael Lenehan points out, on internally displaced people fleeing violence, Ms Jansen claims that “the flow into government-held areas demonstrates strong aversion to [Assad’s] opponents,” without making any mention of the daily bombing of civilians in opposition-held areas by Assad’s air force.

It’s a miserable state of affairs for Ireland’s old newspaper of record that it should now rely on such a blatant propagandist for the Assad dictatorship to fill its pages.

Stop the War still won’t #ListenToSyrians

Solidarity With Refugees, London 12 September. Photo by Cole Peters (detail). More here.

Reposted from Rethink Rebuild Society

Rethink Rebuild Society has had no response to an email it sent to Stop the War on 23 September requesting an opportunity to speak at its Manchester event on Syria on 6 October. The current panel features four speakers, none of whom are Syrian, thereby framing a discussion on Syria without input from the most important party to the issue - the Syrian people themselves. Rethink Rebuild Society will be raising this crucial point at the event on 6 October.

Copy of the email sent:

Dear Stop the War coalition (cc Syria Solidarity Movement and Syrian Association of Yorkshire),

It has come to our attention that you are hosting an event titled “Don’t bomb Syria” on 6 October in the Friend's Meeting House in Manchester to discuss potential UK airstrikes against Syria.

Your event page details that speakers for this event include Lindsey German, Peter Brierley, Richard Burgon MP, and Clive Lewis MP. Notably, you do not have any Syrian speakers that will be presenting at this event, and therefore we are writing to formally request that we, as Rethink Rebuild Society, are given an opportunity to be represented.

We are a Manchester-based Syrian advocacy and community organisation. We work with policy makers and the media to affect decision-making on Syria, and we also have a strong community base that engages with us and communicates with us their views towards issues such as the proposed airstrikes. Additionally, our stance towards the Syrian conflict and the UK's role within it has been formulated alongside Syrian groups across the country, making our joint stances truly representative of the British Syrian voice.

To be clear, we are also not in favour of UK airstrikes in Syria as they are being proposed in Government. But we also find it is over-simplistic to assume that the best course of action is for the UK to stay out of Syria completely. Syria has been ripped apart over the past four years, partly attributable to Western inaction. We do, as Western states, have the power to take action to alleviate at least some of the threats to civilian life. In our view, this constitutes a much better means of 'stopping the war' than not doing anything.

In the ever-growing debate on Syria, it is often the most important voice, namely the Syrian one, that is neglected. As Syrians, we very much have a message to convey and strongly believe that our voices should be consulted first when it comes to decision-making that affects our homeland. We reiterate our request that an activist selected by our organisation - as a community organisation that will speak to the voice of thousands of Syrians across the country - is invited to speak.

Very much looking forward to hearing back from you.

Best regards,

Rethink Rebuild Society
Syria Solidarity Movement
Syrian Association of Yorkshire