Monday, 30 November 2015

MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria



PDF version.

Monday 30th November 2015

Dear Member of Parliament,

MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria: Whether or not to bomb ISIS.

ISIS must be defeated, for the sake of people in Syria as well as for the safety of people in Europe, of people in Britain.

But the greater threat to Syrians comes from Assad rather than ISIS: The number of civilians killed by Assad forces is over 2½ times the number of UK civilians killed in World War Two.

The number of Syrians killed by ISIS is a very small fraction in comparison to the industrial scale of Assad’s slaughter.

Assad is the cause of ISIS:

  • by unleashing the violence that allowed ISIS to enter Syria from Iraq
  • by bombing those Syrian rebel groups resisting the advance of ISIS
  • by buying fuel from ISIS
  • by inviting sectarian forces such as Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militia into Syria’s killing fields
  • by a long history since 2003 of actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor of ISIS

As long as the Assad regime remains, the terror threat will remain.

Protect civilians

Civilian protection should be a primary concern in any military action by the UK. In the Syrian conflict, where so many have already been killed, and where so many civilians are still being killed by Assad and his allies, it is not enough for the UK to merely seek to minimise additional civilian casualties at the hands of UK forces; as an active participant in the conflict, the UK must prioritise the protection of civilians being killed by Assad forces.

To protect civilians, MPs need to explicitly back concrete action to end Assad’s air attacks on civilians.

Empower Syrians to defeat ISIS

The need to stop Assad’s bombing is morally fundamental; it is also strategically essential.

Not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.

The government assertion that there are 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria able to fight Assad has been greeted by disbelief in some quarters. The truth is that these fighters do exist, and likely in greater numbers, but they are being bombed by Assad, and now by Russia. They are defending towns and neighbourhoods under attack by Assad and by his Russian and Iranian allies. Without action to stop Assad, most are not available to join the fight against ISIS.

To empower Syrians to defeat ISIS, MPs need to explicitly back concrete action to end Assad’s air attacks on civilians.

Empower UK diplomacy

To stop Assad’s killing, the UK has placed its hopes in “putting Britain’s full diplomatic weight” behind the Vienna talks. In pursuing a diplomatic path, the UK has long called on Assad’s key backer, the Russian government, to pressure Assad to stop bombing civilians. Instead Russia has joined in bombing both moderate rebels and Syrian civilians. Clearly Britain’s full diplomatic weight is not enough to tip the balance.

To empower UK diplomacy, and to enable a political solution, MPs need to explicitly back concrete action to end Assad’s air attacks on civilians.

Reject using Syria as a proxy war for UK domestic politics

Neither the government nor the opposition have come to grips with the humanitarian or strategic imperatives of the Syrian crisis. MPs must reject any use of Syria as a proxy war for UK domestic politics, and instead demand measures that protect Syrian civilians, enable the defeat of ISIS, and thereby safeguard the security of the UK.

The action we need to see

Any UK military action in Syria must include concrete measures to protect Syrian civilians.

The minimal action required is a no-bombing zone. This means issuing an ultimatum stating that if the Assad regime does not comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2139’s demand to “immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment” then the UK will enforce the demand by striking Assad regime military assets (for example air bases) complicit in breaching Resolution 2139.

This would not require widespread attacks on Syrian air defences as some have suggested, nor would it require the use of ground forces, as enforcement strikes can be carried out with precision weapons launched from beyond Syrian air space.

The resolution we need MPs to vote on

Suggested wording:

“That this house recognises the legal justification for humanitarian intervention in Syria on the basis of evidence of overwhelming humanitarian necessity and the lack of any other feasible or workable solutions; and calls upon the Government to take exceptional measures in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe by imposing a no-bombing zone in Syria to enforce an end to aerial bombardment attacks against civilians.”


Signatories

Abdullah Hourani and Kellie Strom
Syria Solidarity UK

Dr. Haytham Alhamwi and Yasmine Nahlawi
Rethink Rebuild Society

Dr. Mohammad Tammo
Kurds House

Abdullah Hanoun
Syrian Community South West

Fadel Moghrabi and Dr Mohamed Najjar
Peace and Justice for Syria

Amer Masri
Scotland 4 Syria

Dr. Mohammad Alhadj Ali
Syrian Welsh Society

Reem Assil
Syrian Platform for Peace

Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal
Syrian Association of Yorkshire


Note on numbers killed by Assad forces:

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented 180,879 individual civilians killed by Assad’s forces. The number of Syrian civilians documented killed by ISIS is 1,712.
http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Who_Are_Killing_Civilians_in_Syria_en.pdf

Note on humanitarian intervention:

The UK position is that it is permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but only where three strict criteria are met:

1: There is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

2: It must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and

3: The proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

The UK approach was relied upon to justify the use of force on three occasions: (i) in protecting the Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1991; (ii) in maintaining the No Fly Zones in Northern and Southern Iraq from 1991; and (iii) in using force against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in relation to Kosovo in 1999.

Note on moderate Syrian forces:

Yes, there are 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria. Here’s what we know about them
By Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.
http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/yes-there-are-70000-moderate-opposition-fighters-in-syria-heres-what-we-know-about-them/

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Why we are not supporting today’s Stop the War demonstration

Syria Solidarity UK and Stop the War have very different concerns regarding Syria: Syria Solidarity is concerned with ending the suffering of Syrians under the Assad dictatorship; Stop the War with opposing any UK military involvement regardless of consequences for Syrians.

We oppose the British government’s proposal to merely mimic the American ISIS-only counter-terrorism war; not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.

We do call for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone.

Stop the War similarly oppose British government proposals to bomb ISIS, but not because they would leave Assad alone; for Stop the War also oppose any action against Assad. This puts Stop the War against Syrians who are being bombed by Assad: it puts them not just against Syrian revolutionaries but also against Syrian doctors, against Syrian White Helmets rescue volunteers, and against Syrian civil society activists, all of whom call for international action to stop Assad’s bombs.

This is why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians.

That is why we do not support their demonstration today.


 • WATCH: Syria Solidarity UK and Diane Abbott MP debate Stop the War Coalition’s silencing of Syrians

 • READ: A letter to David Cameron from Syrians in Britain


DON’T BOMB SYRIA?

If Stop the War’s slogan “Don’t bomb Syria” is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.

If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.


WHO IS KILLING CIVILIANS IN SYRIA?

The vast majority of violent deaths of civilians documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights since March 2011 have been attributed to Assad’s forces. The following figures from SNHR’s report, The Main Conflict Parties Who Are Killing Civilians in Syria, are for the period from March 2011 to the end of October 2015.

Civilians killed from March 2011 to Oct. 2015
By Assad forces: 180,879   95.96%
... armed opposition groups: 2,669 1.42%
... unidentified groups: 2,002 1.06%
... ISIS: 1,712 0.91%
... Kurdish self management forces: 379 0.2 %
... al-Nusra Front: 347 0.18%
... Russian forces: 263 0.14%
... International Coalition forces: 251 0.13%

The SNHR also release monthly reports. For October 2015 they documented the following numbers of violent civilian deaths.

Syrian civilians killed in October 2015 alone
By Assad forces: 793
... armed opposition groups: 45
... unidentified groups: 50
... ISIS: 53
... Kurdish self management forces:   10
... al-Nusra Front: 1
... Russian forces: 263
... International Coalition forces: 1

All reports can be found on the Syrian Network for Human Rights website: http://sn4hr.org/

Friday, 27 November 2015

A letter to David Cameron from Syrians in Britain

Dear David Cameron,

As Syrians residents in the UK we have watched the rise of ISIL with greater horror than many others in the world. That is because it is our people in Syria who are on the front lines of ISIL’s brutality. It is in the central square of our beloved city Raqqa that ISIL displays the severed heads of Syrian civilians and claims its capital.

We want more than anyone to be freed of ISIL and so we welcome international commitment to rid the world of this disease. But simply bombing ISIL will not defeat them. If anything it will make them stronger.

That is because the growth of ISIL is a symptom of Assad’s indiscriminate killing of civilians. There was no ISIL in 2011 when Syrians rose up peacefully against Bashar al-Assad to demand their dignity and their rights, only to have the regime use its full military might to crush them. As the violence and destruction increased, ISIL slipped across the border from Iraq, and like a parasite established itself in the rubble of Syria's barrel bombed towns.

Not long after, many Syrians bravely drove out ISIL. From towns like Atareb and Saraqeb in the north and large parts of Idlib and Aleppo, Syrian rebel groups routed ISIL. Entire communities resisted their advances, sometimes even peacefully. But this progress was impossible to sustain while Bashar al-Assad's regime dropped banned barrel bombs on schools, hospitals and homes in areas resisting both his forces and ISIL. In the first four months of 2014, half a million people fled Aleppo as a result of the regime’s aerial campaign, many heading over the border into Turkey and on to Europe.

If we want to drive ISIL from the land that it currently holds in Syria, we need to understand that the Assad regime is a much larger threat to people on the ground. It is responsible for more than 95% of civilian deaths in Syria since the beginning of the uprising. In the first half of 2015, the regime killed seven times more civilians than ISIL. A recent survey of refugees in Europe showed that twice as many Syrians were fleeing Assad's forces than were fleeing ISIL.

In this context, selectively bombing ISIL from the air will not win the support of those on the ground who want to defeat it. It will not free them to strengthen their communities once again and resist ISIL once again.

ISIL wants nothing more than to say to the communities that it occupies that the outside world does not care about them. ISIL wants to persuade Syrians that countries like the UK are turning a blind eye to the horrors of the Assad regime and are instead choosing to attack them because this is a wider clash of civilisations. Bombing ISIL while ignoring the much greater violence of the Assad regime would feed this narrative.

The only way to defeat ISIL is by stopping the Assad regime’s indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including areas controlled by moderate rebel groups. Once this happens, Syrians will be freed up to drive out ISIL themselves, as they have proved themselves capable of doing.

To make this happen, the UK and other countries need to get serious about the political resolution of the conflict. The peace talks that started a few weeks ago in Vienna offer hope to build on the agreements made two years ago in Geneva for a political transition in Syria, but we need to go beyond hope. While barrel bombs continue and entire towns remain under starvation siege and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners remain in government jail, there can be no progress. There needs to be a guarantee for civilian protection from the Assad regime’s use of indiscriminate air attacks.

We are urging you Prime Minister to prioritise the resolution of the conflict in Syria over the bombing of Raqqa. It is simply not possible to defeat ISIL while Assad maintains his grip on power and keeps the war burning and refugees pouring over the borders. Once the indiscriminate attacks stop you will see how.

Kind regards,

Dr. Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House
Dr. Mohamed Najjar, Peace and Justice in Syria
Dr. Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Dr. Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr. Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Review: Syria’s Rebellious Women



By Clara Connolly

Zaina Erhaim is an award-winning journalist from Damascus, who currently works as project coordinator for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. This, her first film, is currently on a world tour, and for the showings she is accompanied by some of the women whose stories are narrated in the film. One had to drop her section of the film because of fears for her family’s security, and two others were refused entry visas to Britain. At the (fully booked) showing on Thursday 12 November in London, the Director was joined by Zein, one of the film’s stars. It was followed by a lively discussion between both of them and Lindsey Hilsum, international editor for Channel 4 News.

FILM

We saw four short films documenting the extraordinary lives over 18 months of some of Erhaim’s women friends, working in free Aleppo and caught between the regime’s (and now Russia’s) constant aerial bombardment, and the jihadists. As Ahed says, ruefully, “I only wanted the Free Syria Army and I got FSA, Nusra Front and ISIS. We said Syria is for all. Now we got them all here.”

The first story is that of Waed, a lively young woman who joined the early demonstrations of her fellow students in Aleppo, and who persuades her father to let her leave the family (in a government controlled area) to return as a paramedic to Aleppo, volunteering in field hospitals and on the front lines. She becomes a video journalist. We see her working in Aleppo, and on leave in Turkey where she joins her young friends for life on the town. The contrast is stark: she dresses casually in Turkey with hair uncovered, but on the job in Aleppo she is carefully dressed so as not to offend the strict dress code for women that is now enforced there. She chafes at that, but accepts its necessity, and states that “freedom from Assad is only the first step in the revolution.”



Then we meet Ghalia, an older woman who was a housewife and mother in a small town in Idlib before the revolution, and is now a community activist. We see how her life has changed; she has trained her teenage son to cook and her family to become self reliant.

Despite the fact that the first women’s centre she opened was subject to repeated attack, she has gone on to found a series of these centres, teaching women (many of them war widows or with husbands at the front) the skills to help them to earn money to feed their families.

We meet Ahed, a cheerful tomboy who says she knows no fear: “the barrel bombs fly away from me!” She has always been known as “the troublemaker” among her friends; she organised women’s contingents in the Aleppo demonstrations which started off with just a few brave friends, but grew to significant size before being driven off the streets by aerial bombardment. She now does humanitarian relief work.

Last is Zein, a schoolteacher who now works in ‘field schools,’ underground because of the constant targeting of schools by the regime. We see her teaching in a rudimentary basement schoolroom, with few facilities, but the girls she teaches seem cheerful, like any other schoolchildren.

Unlike the other women, who seem remarkably carefree despite the extraordinary risks they face on a daily basis, she is sombre, and clearly marked by her experience of 13 months detention in Assad’s dungeons. She says she has given up all thought of marrying and having children, because the men who propose “do so out of pity, and I will not be pitied by anyone.” She is separated from her family, and lives in a house with other women, including Ahed. Because rape is so prevalent in detention, the assumption is that women who are released have been ‘dishonoured’ by their time there—whether this has happened or not.

It’s a bitter way for Zein to have won her autonomy, but she gives the impression that she is making the most of it.

What is moving about all the women is their dignity and rueful reticence—they clearly do not say everything on their minds. These are not ‘true confessions’ in the TV-tabloid sense. Neither are they boastful about their extraordinary courage and resilience. Although they are unusually free of family and community restraint, they are also ‘ordinary’, like anyone’s daughter, sister or mother. It is Ephraim’s achievement, and a testimony to the close relationship between her and her subjects, that the women are so natural and down to earth in front of the camera.



DISCUSSION

Lindsey Hilsum is well informed on the Middle East; but she started the discussion on a personal note, asking gentle but probing questions of Zein, who was seeing the film played back for the first time. Zein said it was difficult to watch, because she had to “remember all the details I shared with you,” but she recognised herself: “it was me.” She said that it was impossible to keep in contact with her family “because they live in an ISIS controlled area.”

She spoke of her work as a teacher: among the difficulties she mentioned are frequent absences because of the barrel bombs; and trying to answer questions from the children like: “why is this happening to us?” She is successful in persuading parents to send their children to school—including 3 children who lost their hands. She is dealing with the children’s physical and psychological problems constantly. When asked about her vision for the future, she said: “working to topple the regime, or be killed. We hoped that the international community would protect us, but the they let us down so we are on our own. The FSA protect us, I hope they can just hold on, and we can keep providing the basic services.” When asked what she wanted people to understand from the film she said: “We rose for our human rights, we are not monsters or extremists, we want to live with dignity.”

Zaina Ephraim started by saying she made the film to document women activists’ lives in a predominantly masculine society so that there would be a record of role models for the future. There are many women like this in Syria—some are reluctant to speak to camera, others are afraid because their families live in regime held areas. But many more women are simply no longer in the ‘liberated’ areas—they and their children have been sent to safety in Turkey and elsewhere while the men stay to fight the regime. She said that although ISIS is a huge threat to women, the main threat to civilians, including women, is Assad. She is disappointed that the world does not seem to understand that.

When asked if the international community helps, she said: “we could not survive without international aid, but we are concerned that most of the money is being spent on overheads and not getting into the besieged areas.” As an example, she said that the White Helmets (the Civil Defence) are paid 100 dollars a month, and their international monitors between 2 and 3,000 dollars.

The difference made to Northern Syria by the Russian intervention? The civilians now get no break from the bombing, because Russian unlike Syrian planes “can fly in all weathers.”

She believed that there are 100,000 more displaced people as a direct result. These people have nowhere to run except to the countryside inside Syria.

When asked about whether women’s lives would be better or worse in a future Syria, she said: “the women in this film work in Aleppo and surrounding areas, and although not religiously conservative themselves, try to conform outwardly to a society which was conservative before the revolution. The longer the war goes on the less likely that the future will be good for women. She admires the women fighters of Rojava but they have little effect on other areas in Syria; since the war the territory of Syria is fragmented and there is little contact between towns or even neighbourhoods. If the war were over soon Syria could be reunited and the women activists across the country could learn from and support each other. But she fears that there will be little left of Syria: there is a huge population drain, especially of the richer and more liberal-minded middle class.

Asked what sustained her and her women friends, she said, “there is a huge burden placed on us by those we have lost. We have to keep going for their sakes. I still believe in Syria; even the small gestures inspire me, like the Civil Defence, and the cleaners who mop up after the bombing raids. Like the work that the women in my film are doing, they keep life going.”



Read more about Zaina Erhaim’s films in Tracy McVeigh’s article for today’s Observer, The Syrian women fighting to save their city.

UK rejects visas for Syrians seeking to highlight women’s war activism, by Mary Atkinson, Middle East Eye,

UK denial of visas for Syrian female activists is counterproductive, Caabu press release.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians



The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians, and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime.

Stop the War Coalition was formed in 2001 to oppose US and UK military action against the Taliban. Its cause is opposition to UK military and foreign policy. Its focus is Western-centric and UK-centric, only actively opposing military action by the UK and its allies, while providing at most lip service to criticising military action by states opposed to the UK. The justification it gives for this is that as a UK organisation it has no influence over these other states.

It follows that Syria Solidarity UK and Stop the War have very different concerns regarding Syria: Syria Solidarity is concerned with ending the suffering of Syrians under the Assad dictatorship; Stop the War with opposing any UK military involvement regardless of consequences for Syrians.

We oppose the British government’s proposal to mimic the American ISIS-only counter-terrorism war; not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.

We do call for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone.

Stop the War similarly oppose British government proposals to bomb ISIS, but not because they would leave Assad alone; for Stop the War also oppose any action against Assad. This puts Stop the War against Syrians who are being bombed by Assad: it puts them not just against Syrian revolutionaries but also against Syrian doctors, against Syrian White Helmets rescue volunteers, and against Syrian civil society activists, all of whom call for international action to stop Assad’s bombs.

This is why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians.

THREE LIES?

The Stop the War Coalition event in Parliament on 2 November was only the latest in a series where they have tried to exclude Syrians from discussion of their own country. Now the embarrassing exposure of their attitude on the BBC’s Daily Politics show has led them to issue a statement claiming they are being lied about.

This statement lists three claimed lies about their 2nd November meeting: that Stop the War’s Andrew Murray had called for support for the Assad government to fight ISIS, that Syrians were prevented from speaking at the meeting, and that Police were called to the meeting to control protesters.

THE FIRST

Denying the first, Stop the War say Andrew Murray’s position is that ISIS can only be defeated by strong and credible governments in Syria and Iraq. If Andrew Murray does not mean Assad when he talks of a Syrian government, what does he mean? Elsewhere he makes clear that he is against the fall of Assad, saying that a no-fly zone should be opposed because “regime change is the real agenda.”

Andrew Murray also calls on foreign powers to abandon “all the preconditions laid down for negotiations,” language that echoes the Assad regime and its backers in Moscow. Why? Because there is just one precondition that is contested: the demand that Assad step down. This was not originally a Western demand, but first and foremost a Syrian demand.

So Andrew Murray’s “strong and credible government” is one where there is no change of regime, and no demand for Assad to step down: in other words, a continuation of the Assad regime.

There is no lie here.

THE SECOND

Denying the second, Stop the War say Syrians were not prevented from speaking at the meeting, and claim that a Syrian activist “was given ample time at the meeting to make her case” at Stop the War’s meeting. Not so.

Stop the War did allow the Syria Solidarity activist to speak in the meeting, but only when other members of the audience called for her to be heard. She was the only Syrian allowed to speak, she was interrupted, and for the rest of the meeting all other Syrians were deliberately ignored by the Chair, Diane Abbott, even when other speakers Catherine West MP and Caroline Lucas MP said they wanted to hear from Syrians. Caroline Lucas has since said she wrote to Stop the War about the way the meeting was conducted.

And so the second is no lie either.

THE THIRD

Stop the War deny that Police were called to the meeting to control protesters. This is the most blatant and astonishing falsehood. Police in the Houses of Parliament were called to the meeting. Syrian and Arab audience members were repeatedly told “you are going to get arrested.” One Syria Solidarity activist was prevented from re-entering the meeting by Police who arrived in numbers and were visible to all at the doors of the meeting by its end. One of the Arab attendees denied the opportunity to speak by the Chair was also talked to by Police after the meeting.

So finally, no lie here.

DON’T BOMB SYRIA?

If Stop the War’s slogan “Don’t bomb Syria” is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.

If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.

Lastly, if Stop the War are against war, let them stop denying war crimes; for this is their latest response, publishing a claim that Assad wasn’t responsible for the Ghouta chemical weapons massacre, “because it was so obviously not in Assad’s political and military interests.”

This latest comes in an article by Matt Carr. He writes that he has “never really doubted the brutality of the Syrian regime” before going on to do just that by claiming Assad’s violence has been deliberately exaggerated. Matt Carr is known as a champion of refugees; he should listen to them, and learn that most Syrian refugees are fleeing Assad’s violence.

His argument as to why he doesn’t believe Assad responsible for the Ghouta massacre crosses the line from naive to wilfully ignorant. Assad repeatedly tested the West’s willingness to act with smaller chemical attacks prior to Ghouta, and confirmed there was little or none. Assad’s forces were the only party with the industrial capacity to produce the amount of Sarin chemical used, the only party to have the kinds of rockets used in the attack, and the only party with a clear motive to kill the civilians in those neighbourhoods.

Matt Carr goes on about polls of Assad’s popularity: this in a dictatorship which has tortured thousands to death.  Who under regime control would dare answer no? Incredibly, one such survey was an internet poll with no more than 98 respondents in Syria.

He asks “what would happen to the Syrians that have supported the regime” if the Free Syrian Army win. The question Matt Carr fails to grasp is what is happening to millions of the dictator’s victims right now? The Free Syrian Army are the people who have defended their homes, freedom and justice against Assad for the last five years and against ISIS for the last three, and who are now being bombed by Assad’s ally Putin. The Free Syrian Army are not the ones levelling neighbourhoods and driving millions from their homes.

Syrian civilians need protection from Assad’s mass murder. Stop the War have nothing to offer Syrians, and so they stop their ears.



Sunday, 8 November 2015

Events in November: On screen; on the street; in Parliament


Contact info@syriauk.org to let us know of an event.



Wednesday 11th November
  • Screening: Syria’s rebellious women, Caabu screening with director Q&A.
    Filmmaker Zaina Erhaim presents a series of short documentaries shot in Northern Syria.
    RSVP to Joseph Willits: willitsj@caabu.org
    11am–1pm,
    Boardroom, Arab British Centre, 1 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE.

Thursday 12th November

Saturday 14th November
  • Demonstration: Stop Russia’s bombs! Protect Syria’s doctors!
    Medecins Sans Fronteires reports that over 12 hospitals have been bombed by Russia since their attacks started on September 30th.
    Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/767854673343123/
    2pm,
    Russian Embassy in London, 13 Kensington Palace Gardens, W8 4QX

Tuesday 17th November
  • APPG Friends of Syria: A ministerial overview of the crisis with Tobias Ellwood MP.
    First of a series of evidence sessions leading to a report on UK strategy on Syria.
    RSVP to: secretariat@thesyriacampaign.org
    5–6pm, Committee Room 9.

Tuesday 17th November

Wednesday 18th November
  • Book talk: The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the evolution of an insurgency
    Author Charles Lister, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, works on the conflict in Syria, especially the makeup of the anti-government insurgency and its various jihadi components.
    LSE Department of International Relations public lecture.
    http://www.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2015/11/20151118t1400vHKT.aspx
    No booking required.
    2–3pm,
    Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House, 99 Aldwych, London WC2B 4JF.

Thursday 18th November
  • Ibrahim Olabi - Syrian Legal Development Programme
    Ibrahim Olabi, who recently completed his LLM (Security and International Law) and LLB degrees at Manchester University, is the founder of the Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP).

    The SLDP team consists of researchers, lawyers, on-the-ground trainers and human rights advocates, who put together and provide educational programmes focused on international law. The goal is to strengthen the application of international law (especially international humanitarian law) in the Syrian conflict.

    Ibrahim travels regularly to Syria and neighbouring states, where he provides training seminars to combatants and civilians near the front lines. His talk will focus on the SLDP’s work, the legal and practical challenges it faces in Syria, and the process of founding a human rights organisation as a young activist.

    UCL Department of Political Science, talk sponsored by the Human Rights MA Programme.
    Free, booking required via Eventbrite.
    6–7:30pm,
    Medical Sciences 131 AV Hill Lecture Theatre, Medical Sciences building, Malet Place, London WC1E 6BT.

Monday 23rd November
  • APPG Friends of Syria: Evidence session on the humanitarian crisis and policy response
    RSVP to: secretariat@thesyriacampaign.org
    11am–1pm, Committee Room 11, House of Commons.

    There will be a range of speakers to give a current picture of the situation within Syria and in the region, and to discuss the UK’s response.

    Max Hadorn, UNOCHA
    Amal Kaoua, Save the Children
    Rouba Mhaissen, Sawa for Development and Aid
    David Nott, emergency trauma surgeon
    Aula Abbara, Hand in Hand medical team
    Wael Aleji, Syrian Network for Human Rights

    This is one of a series of evidence sessions leading to a report on UK strategy on Syria.

    RSVP to: secretariat@thesyriacampaign.org

Thursday 26th November
  • Dealing with the Refugee Crisis: Europe and Britain
    UCL Department of Political Science, with Baroness Sarah Ludford, David Goodhart, of Demos, Dr. Sarah Fine of Kings College London, Professor Alex Betts of University of Oxford. Chair: Dr Avia Pasternak, lecturer in global ethics, UCL.
    https://www.ucl.ac.uk/global-governance/ggi-events/refugeecrisis
    5:30– 7pm, JZ Young Lecture Theatre, Anatomy Building, Gower St, London WC1E 6XA.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Syrians at the Stop Sisi protest: 4 November 2015, Downing Street, London



Above: Syria Solidarity UK speaking at a protest outside Downing Street against the visit of Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi this week.

Below: Egyptian and Syrian protesters together outside Downing Street on 4 November.



“Egypt’s freedom is incomplete without Syria’s freedom. Syria’s freedom is incomplete without Egypt’s freedom.”

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Stop the War refuse to listen to Syrians during debate…on Syria


Photo by Ross Hawkins – via Twitter

By James Bloodworth for Left Foot Forward

The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) have been accused of preventing victims of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from speaking at an anti-war event.

During a panel event on Monday evening to discuss the case against British military intervention in Syria, StWC included no Syrians on the speaker’s panel and reportedly refused to allow Syrians to speak from the floor.

The meeting was chaired by Labour MP Diane Abbott and featured chair of the Stop the War coalition Andrew Murray, former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, Labour MP Catherine West, Tory MP Crispin Blunt MP and SNP MP Tommy Shephard.

According to human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who attended the event, no Syrians were included on the panel and the Syrian activists who turned up to the event were threatened with arrest.
Speaking to LFF, Tatchell said:

“Some Syrian victims of Assad’s brutalities turned up but were not allowed to speak. They eventually shouted out in frustration, turning the meeting into momentary chaos, as they were jeered by some of the audience and as StWC stewards tried to eject them – allegedly threatening that they’d be arrested. The police turned up soon afterwards.”

Before the storm: Aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon



Sawa for Development and Aid is an NGO dedicated to helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Started in 2011, they work on a range of activities to improve refugees’ lives. With refugees facing another hard winter, they are now holding a fundraising drive.

From the Facebook event page:
This winter is expected to be the harshest in years… let’s not wait until the storm hits to react. Join us in keeping every family in the Bekaa camps warm.
Supporting local on the ground organisations like Sawa for Development and Aid is a particularly effective way to get resources to where they’re needed the most. For supporters outside Lebanon, you can donate online here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Caesar photographs at the House of Commons


Photo: Joseph Willits

Event on evidence of torture in the Caesar photographs, House of Commons, 28th October 2015.

Notes by Bronwen Griffiths and Brian Slocock.

Speakers

Mouaz Moustafa
Ambassador Frederic Hof
Prof. Steven Heydemann

Chair: Roger Godsiff MP

With testimony from Syrian detainee Farah; video messages by Stephen Rapp, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, and Holocaust survivor Margit Meissner; and images of Assad regime torture victims from the ‘Caesar’ collection of photographs.

Short summary

The main points of the discussion were on US and Western policy toward Syria and how this needs to move forward with respect to No-Fly Zones and Safe Areas.

Stephen Rapp, outgoing US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, formerly of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. (By video.)

These photos are important to lay the foundation for future accountability in Syria, Stephen Rapp said. The evidence provided by Caesar has been examined by the FBI and no inconsistencies found. These are real images of people starved and eviscerated by the regime—eyes gouged out, bones broken, limbs beaten, skin burned. There is evidence so far of 11,000 tortured and killed in this way by the regime. This crime is continuing, with 100,000 Syrians currently in custody.

Who are these victims? What was their supposed crime? Some parents have come forward to identify the victims. Security services pick up young people who come from certain areas and villages known to be opposed to the regime. The regime’s target is the moderate centre, trying to force us into a choice between the torturers and the radical extremists. But this is not a choice the West should accept. Above all justice needs to be served, and we must do everything we can to bring about justice for these victims and those who follow. Prosecutions can take place even if the perpetrators are still in Syria, particularly where the victims have dual nationality, as in the case of Dr Abbas Khan from the UK.

Mouaz Moustafa, Executive Director, Syrian Emergency Task Force, Washington DC.

Mouaz Moustafa provided background on Caesar: He was a forensic photographer before 2011. In early 2011 he was asked to attend two military hospitals in Damascus to take pictures of 15 individuals—men and women—who had obviously been starved and tortured to death. For two and a half years he risked his life taking photographs of torture victims—images that were smuggled out of Syria in order to give families closure. In August 2013 the risk to his life became more extreme and he left for the USA. When the images were released there was a ‘never again’ moment but the reality is that this torture continues to this day. The regime acts with impunity. There has been outrage but no action. These arbitrary arrests are one of the reasons Syrians are fleeing their country in large numbers. The regime is not just killing one ethnic group but all groups. Arbitrary arrest and torture are but one part of the toolbox of killing by the regime, which also includes barrel bombs on civilian areas, chemical weapons and starvation. We cannot make a choice between two evils, Assad and IS.

Farah, teacher, aid worker, refugee. Farah asked to be identified only by her first name in order to protect her family.

Farah worked as a teacher in Syria. After the uprising broke out, she became an aid worker; and when her friends were detained by the regime she decided to leave for Lebanon, However she was arrested at the border and taken to a prison in Homs where she spent 36 days in detention. She was called a terrorist because of her opposition to the regime, and subjected to harsh interrogation, including threats to her children and threats of rape. But she believes that she was treated less severely than others held with her because she has a British passport. She claims her jailers were “not normal.” She asked one man, “How can you do what you are doing?” He got angry but he also showed her the pills he was taking, saying, “Because of these.” Farah worries about what the children are experiencing in Syria, the violence and constant fear of death. What is it doing to them? What would the UK do if it was our children suffering in this way?

Ambassador Frederic Hof, Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East in Washington, DC; formerly Special Representative on Syria to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; formerly adviser on Lebanon and Syria to Special Envoy George Mitchell.

“We are here today because of one brave man who saw evil and tried to stop it.”

Hof talked about how Caesar had hoped that when the US government saw the photographs, they would come to the help of the Syrian people. He emphasised that “No one will deny that mass homicide has taken place—and is still taking place—in Syria, but because it is called mass homicide and not genocide, the UN Security Council does not act, it only condemns.”

He noted that most policy discussions on the options in Syria emphasise the risks; but, there is rarely discussion of the risks of inaction, which can be very high, as demonstrated by the rise of ISIS.

He concluded by saying that the images provided by Caesar form a mirror into which we in the West, may gaze at our leisure. But do we like what we see? If we do not, let us act.

Professor Steven Heydemann, Chair in Middle East Studies, Smith College, formerly Vice President of Applied Research on Conflict at United States Institute for Peace.

Prof. Heydemann referred to the 2009 UN Human Development Report on Security in the Arab World. This proved controversial because of its focus on cases where the state poses a threat to its own citizens. The Caesar photos are a potent example of this.

The US policy on Syria since 2011 has been one of ‘containment,’ aiming merely to limit the regional impact of events in Syria. This policy, Heydemann asserted, has proved a disaster and it is now almost obscene to use the word.

What is needed is a policy aimed stabilising the situation by ensuring the safety of civilians, public order and good governance. The way to begin to achieve this is through de-militarised safe zones backed by a Coalition of NATO members. He realises that this is controversial but he argues that Russia’s involvement in Syria makes this even more urgent. Western governments need to play a more pro-active role in creating security for the Syrian population.

Questions and comments from the floor

It was asked if there was any prospect of change in the Obama administration’s policy to which the general answer was negative. A similar view was expressed by senior British MPs about the prospect for any British initiatives, citing the “legacy of Iraq” as the major obstacle.

Commenting from the floor, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a security consultant for humanitarian NGOs working in northwest Syria, argued that it was feasible to create a safe zone in this area, and noted that the Russian intervention had sparked off consideration in the US of a wider range of options. He described the situation in the refugee camps that he had visited recently as “at a tipping point,” meaning that people in the camps are on the verge of abandoning any hope of going home and shifting their attention towards moving westwards.

There was a lengthy session after the event in which questions were put to Hof and Heydemann by the press and others. Both were pessimistic about the prospect of any change in the Obama administration’s policy. Hof indicated that the Administration had a blind spot when it came to Syria; from the very start of the fight against ISIS it had acknowledged the necessity of having a legitimate political regime in place in Iraq, but refused to extend that to Syria. But he stressed that it remained necessary to establish a framework for civilian protection in Syria, defined as “making it impossible or extremely difficult for the Assad regime to continue its mass homicide.”

Heydemann argued that in one respect the Russian intervention was an opportunity, as it focused western attention on the need to do something in Syria to counter Russia’s initiative. He suggested that available information suggested that the Russian intervention had been done very hastily and with little consultation outside the top Russian leadership. In his view a properly prepared western initiative to create a safe zone in northwest Syria could be implemented in a way which could avoid direct confrontation with Russia and make it difficult for Russia to oppose.

Conclusion

This was a very valuable event which helps to put the issue of civilian protection in Syria firmly on to the political agenda in the UK. While there is a huge amount of further work to be done both among MPs and policy makers, and with the wider public, and there is unlikely to be any dramatic movement in the near future, a framework for the discussion is emerging, and a network of advocates for positive action—both inside and outside Parliament—is being created. In particular some immediate steps have been identified, such as pressure on the shadow cabinet to support an opposition day debate on civil protection in Syria.

Links

Holocaust survivor Margit Meissner’s remarks by video.

‘They were torturing to kill’: inside Syria’s death machine. Caesar, the Syrian military photographer who smuggled shocking evidence of torture out of Assad’s dungeons, tells his story for the first time, by Garance le Caisne, The Guardian, 1 October 2015.

Geolocating the location where the Syrian “Caesar” photographs were taken, Bellingcat, 18 March 2015.