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Monday, 23 April 2018

Don’t give up on Syrian civil society



We Exist is an alliance of Syrian civil society groups working inside Syria and in the diaspora. This week they are in Brussels taking part in the UN and EU’s second Brussels conference on Syria.

On UN peace efforts, they say peace is only possible if Syrian organisations and democratic institutions play a leading role in the humanitarian response and any rebuilding of the country.

Syrian civil society organisations are providing millions of people with education, food, water, healthcare and humanitarian aid, despite daily bombardment and fighting.

The organisations in We Exist call for the protection and involvement of Syrian human rights and civil society groups to ensure that abuses such as sexual violence, forced displacement and targeting of civilians are documented, monitored and ultimately, prevented. A Special Tribunal should be established for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria.

Maria Alabdeh​ of one of the member organisations, Women Now for Development, said:
‘Investing in an active, vibrant and fully-funded civil society is the only hope for a peaceful and democratic Syria. As Syrian human rights and humanitarian workers, we are doing all we can to empower young men and women, train local leaders, document human rights abuses, advocate for property rights and treat traumatised children but we can’t do it alone.

‘International aid needs to help heal the emotional and physical wounds, hold perpetrators to account and stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our work is fighting extremism and challenging the continued war crimes but we are operating under fire from Russian and Syrian planes, on shoestring budgets, trying to make the books balance from one month to the next.’

We Exist’s demands:
  1. Stop the bombing of civilians and use of prohibited arms (not just chemical weapons), as well as the deliberate targeting of schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure.
  2. Halt the forced displacement of civilians. People have the right to remain in their homes, safe from bombardment or illegal detention.
  3. Guarantee safety for civil society organisations, including legal recognition and protection.
  4. Support survivors of sexual violence and prosecute the perpetrators.
  5. Ensure humanitarian programmes address the need of young men and offer alternatives to violence.
  6. Anyone who wishes to return home, needs support to do so—with health, psychological and education services, as well as reconciliation programmes.
  7. Pressure the Syrian government and all warring sides to release a list of names of all detainees, along with their current locations and statuses, and to immediately stop torture and mistreatment.
  8. Abolish exceptional courts, especially field, sharia law, war and counter-terrorism courts and guarantee fair trials under a supervision from the United Nations. Establish a Special Tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria.
  9. Consider Civil Society a leading partner in all issues concerning the future of Syria—whether it is humanitarian or development work, reconstruction or rebuilding.
  10. Accountability should be ensured for all war crime committed and for the use of all prohibited arms, not just chemical weapons.

Full press release via Women Now For Development.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Questions to ask after UK action in Syria

  • What do Syrians say?
  • What does the British public think?
  • Did this action really protect people in Syria?
  • Was this action legal?
  • Will this action protect people in the UK, or put them in danger?
  • Will this action escalate the war?
  • Doesn’t Libya prove that anything we do makes things worse?
  • What effect will this have on the search for a political solution?
  • What does this mean for the fight against ISIS?
  • What next?

The UK Government has joined the governments of the United States and France in military action against the Assad regime in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than forty people, many of them children.

The action consisted of limited targeted missile and air strikes against three military targets carried out in the space of under an hour.

What questions should we ask in debating this action? Here are some to consider.

Is Theresa May in breach of international law?

By Clara Connolly

Whether the 13th April intervention in Syria by the US, France and the UK was within the parameters of international law is not the only nor perhaps even the most significant question. But it is the nub of the criticism of UK Government action by the Leader of the Opposition and internationally by Russia and the Syrian Arab Republic, so it is worth considering.

The legal justification is based on the concept of ‘humanitarian protection’ using arguments outlined by the Labour government in the case of Kosovo in 1998/9. The legal case for humanitarian intervention without UN Security Council approval was rehearsed again in 2013, when action against Syria was debated in Parliament after a major chemical attack on civilians.

Sir Bethlehem gives a useful reading list on the history and development of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. He makes clear that it is neither codified in international law, nor established in the UN Charter, which prioritises the sovereignty of states and the illegitimacy of interference by outside bodies. The UN makes an exception of self defence, and grants itself the power to intervene when ‘international peace and security’ is threatened. So where does that leave the justification for action outside the UN, when it cannot agree on what action to take?

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Robin Cook’s legacy and Labour’s response to the chemical weapons massacre

We have written to Labour MPs with our concerns over Labour’s response to the latest chemical attack in Douma, Syria. We are concerned that:

  • Labour ignored the UN-OPCW’s 2017 verdict on Assad’s use of nerve agent
  • Emily Thornberry suggested spending UK money on the Assad regime
  • Labour has lost touch with Robin Cook’s true legacy on protecting civilians


ON LABOUR’S RESPONSE TO LAST YEAR’S ATTACK

Responding to the chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed over forty civilians, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has called for “an urgent independent investigation” and said that “once this investigation is complete” those responsible must be held to account.

Emily Thornberry took the same approach last year after the April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun sarin nerve agent attack that killed over seventy Syrian civilians including tens of children. Then she criticised the US military response and called for a UN investigation leading to international action.

The UN and the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) did investigate Khan Sheikhoun and in November last year found the Assad regime responsible. The Leadership Panel of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism wrote to to the UN Secretary-General that it was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017.”

Russia responded by blocking the joint investigation with its Security Council veto. As for Emily Thornberry, far from calling for any action against Assad after the UN-OPCW investigation’s guilty verdict, she instead stood up in the House of Commons in December and suggested Assad be left in place and the regime be granted international funding for reconstruction.


OUR DINNER DATE WITH EMILY

We and other SyriaUK activists recently gatecrashed a fundraising dinner hosted by the Shadow Foreign Secretary in her Islington South constituency.

We distributed a special menu to diners setting out some of Emily Thornberry’s recent unsavoury offerings on Syria, and calling for an alternative policy menu focused on protecting civilians. In order to glide among diners without causing undue alarm or hostility, we posed as waiters.

Our title was “Don’t give Assad Syria on a plate,” because of Emily Thornberry’s worrying remarks in Parliament in December when she floated a proposal to keep Assad in power.

Her exact words in a question to Boris Johnson on 11 December:

“… may I ask specifically what conclusions he reached from his discussions on the prospects for a political solution to end the fighting in Syria? Is Iran ready to accept, as an outcome of the Astana process, that it will withdraw its forces from Syria, and will Hezbollah and the Shi’a militias do likewise, provided that President Assad is left in place, that all coalition forces are withdrawn, and that Syria is given international assistance with its reconstruction? If that is the case, will the UK Government accept that deal, despite the Foreign Secretary’s repeated assertion that President Assad has no place in the future government of Syria?”

Along with the Labour Campaign for International Development, we wrote a joint letter to the Shadow Foreign Secretary making clear our objections, only to receive a rude reply where Emily Thornberry denied responsibility for her own words.


NO UK TAXPAYER MONEY FOR ASSAD

In Emily Thornberry’s scenario, she suggested that international assistance—in other words UK taxpayers’ money—could help pick up the bill for reconstruction of the towns and cities bombed by Assad and Putin, while leaving Assad still in power.

Assad’s regime in Syria is based as much on economic exploitation as political repression. Assad family members and cronies control major parts of the economy in regime-held Syria, and already profit from Damascus-based UN aid operations which are unable to operate independently of the regime’s mafia-like control. Investing in regime-held Syria would not only be rewarding the perpetrators of the worst set of atrocities this century, it would further entrench the corruption and exploitation that was a primary driver of the first 2011 protests against Assad’s regime.

Back in October 2017, Emily Thornberry made clear to one of our fellow activists that she supported reconstruction funding even with Assad still in place. He raised with her the issue of detainees. As many as 200,000 civilians have been detained or disappeared by regime security forces. Photographic evidence shows several thousand corpses of those tortured to death in Assad’s prisons. But Emily Thornberry’s response was to say that “a few political prisoners” were not more important than “starving Syrian children.”

The UN Commission of Inquiry into Syria in a recent report said that reconstruction aid should depend on the release of detainees, on criminal accountability for perpetrators of torture and killing, and on truth and justice for the survivors and the families of victims.


ROBIN COOK’S LEGACY

Writing recently in the Mirror, Emily Thornberry commemorated Robin Cook’s famous resignation speech opposing the Iraq war. She quoted his words, ‘Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement, and a world order governed by rules.’

In Syria, that world order governed by rules is being destroyed daily by Assad and Putin’s flouting of all UN resolutions passed since 2013: resolutions banning use of chemical weapons, demanding an end to bombardment of populated areas, demanding an end to sieges against civilians, authorising unrestricted humanitarian access by UN agencies.

When we remember Robin Cook’s legacy, let us also remember Kosovo where he stood up to Russia’s bullying and supported humanitarian action to enforce the declared will of the UN Security Council. Read his words on Kosovo in 1999, on national interest and upholding international law, when he said “one should not commit servicemen to take the risk of military action unless our national interest is engaged,” but that “I firmly believe that upholding international law is in our international interest.”

Robin Cook noted then that Serbia was on NATO’s border, as is Syria. He noted that NATO credibility as a guarantor of international agreements was at stake if Milosevic was allowed to trampled on agreements with impunity. On refugees, he said that “they should be able to return to their homes under international protection.”

Today the entire credibility of UN authority, UN structures, UN agencies, as well as the very concept of international humanitarian law, is at stake. Will Emily Thornberry now show the same resolve now as Robin Cook did then? Will she reject appeasement of Putin, and stand up for the enforcement of international law for the security of all, and for international protection to allow Syrians to live in their homes in peace?

Labour’s own credibility is also at stake, with Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Syria receiving the endorsement of former BNP leader Nick Griffin. Some may be confused when the Labour leader condemns violence ‘on all sides’ without blaming Assad in particular. Nick Griffin, a long-time supporter of Assad, clearly believes he understands Corbyn very well.

We are now at a decision point. After this latest chemical weapons outrage, with the Assad regime’s responsibility for previous attacks already established by the UN and the OPCW, will Labour MPs now show that Labour is capable of supporting action to punish the guilty and protect the innocent?

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Assad’s latest chemical weapons massacre of civilians

  • UK POLITICIANS NEED TO STEP UP
  • IMPUNITY ENDANGERS EVERYBODY

The Assad regime has once again used chemical weapons to massacre civilians in Eastern Ghouta.

At least 42 people are reported killed according to Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets). Other reports from the scene put the number killed much higher.

More than 500 people were brought for medical treatment, the majority of them women and children, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

Areas of Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus were the site of the Assad regime’s deadliest chemical weapons attack in 2013 when at least 1,400 people were killed with Sarin nerve agent.

Since then the Assad regime has repeatedly used chlorine chemical weapons in attacks on civilians, including in Eastern Ghouta.

And this time last year the Assad regime killed over 70 people including tens of children in a nerve agent attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib.

From medical reports, this latest attack appears to have combined nerve agent with chlorine. The Assad regime is reported to have previously combined the two to mask its use of nerve agent.

UK politicians need to step forward.

UK MPs who blocked action following Assad’s 2013 nerve agent massacre have a particular responsibility today to face up to the consequences of inaction both for Syria’s people and for the UK's own security.

We have seen the normalisation of chemical weapons use in Syria be followed by the use of chemical weapons within the UK.

Impunity endangers everybody.

It is time to stop Assad now. Deny the Assad regime its use of military means to terrorise and kill Syria’s people. Ground Assad’s air force with targeted strikes against his airbases. Silence Assad’s heavy weapons. End Assad’s use of the weapons of total war against civilian communities.

It is time to stop Putin by imposing overwhelming economic costs, not just for Putin’s actions in Europe and in the UK, but also for Putin’s actions in aiding Assad’s campaign of mass murder.

We have heard for years that there is no military solution. But the UK has sent its diplomats to do the impossible by denying them the military and economic means to exert pressure for a political solution.

To enable a political solution, deny Assad and his allies their military options.

Protect civilians.

The UK has been intervening militarily in Syria against ISIS since 2015.

What the UK has not done is enforce any of the series of UN resolutions broken every day by Assad and his backers.

What the UK has not done is protect civilians.

If we choose, we have the power to save lives.

Extract from SAMS press release:

On Saturday, April 7th, at 7:45 PM local time, amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighborhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases -the majority of whom are women and children- were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent. Patients have shown signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor.

During clinical examination, medical staff observed bradycardia, wheezing and coarse bronchial sounds. One of the injured was declared dead on arrival. Other patients were treated with humidified oxygen and bronchodilators, after which their condition improved. In several cases involving more severe exposure to the chemical agents, medical staff put patients on a ventilator, including four children. Six casualties were reported at the center, one of whom was a woman who had convulsions and pinpoint pupils.

Civil Defense volunteers have reported more than 42 casualties found dead in their homes, with similar clinical symptoms of cyanosis and corneal burns. Civil defense volunteers were unable to evacuate the bodies due to the intensity of the odor and the lack of protective equipment. The reported symptoms indicate that the victims suffocated from the exposure to toxic chemicals, most likely an organophosphate element.

Following the chemical attack, the target site and the surrounding area of the hospital receiving the injured were attacked with an explosive barrel, which hindered the ability of the ambulances to reach the victims.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) have documented nearly 200 uses of chemical weapons in Syria since 2012. Previous United Nations Security Council Resolutions on this matter have failed in stopping the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Full SAMS press release.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Syria Solidarity UK serves up a surprise at Emily Thornberry’s dinner

Syria Solidarity UK had an unexpected surprise for Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry during her Spring Fundraising Dinner at Frederick’s Restaurant in Islington.

With the title, “Don’t give Assad Syria on a plate,” Syria Solidarity UK’s “waiters” politely presented Shadow Foreign Secretary and her guests with the unappetising bill of fare that is Emily’s record on Syria.

Emily Thornberry has suggested in Parliament that the UK might make a deal with Russia to keep Assad in power, with the UK taxpayer picking up a bill for reconstruction of cities bombed by Putin and Assad.

Emily Thornberry has dismissed the hundreds of thousands of people detained and tortured by the Assad regime as “a few political prisoners” whose fate should not be a bar to paying UK money for the reconstruction of Syria under the regime.

Emily Thornberry has also spoken approvingly of the regime’s forced displacement of Syrian civilians from Homs, describing it as an evacuation of terrorists.

A recent article by Emily Thornberry in The Guardian discussed Syria with no mention of the war crimes committed by Assad and Russia. It was written in the midst of the regime’s starvation siege and relentless bombardment of civilian communities in Eastern Ghouta.

Emily Thornberry has not properly held the UK government and its Coalition partners to account for their failure to protect civilians, and for the enormous civilian death toll inflicted by the Coalition.

Syria Solidarity UK want an alternative policy menu on Syria. An ethical policy on Syria must put protecting civilians as its first priority.

Our three courses:

  • We need a Labour policy on Syria that puts protecting civilians first.
  • We need a Labour policy that commits to stopping Assad’s crimes.
  • We need all parties and all members of Parliament to unite in supporting action to end the slaughter.


See our full menu (PDF).

Read more about Labour and Syria.


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Syria Comes to Salisbury

By Clara Connolly

The recent nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil has caused outrage in Parliament, and has prompted speculation as to how the UK could retaliate. The attack has also caused widespread alarm in the town of Salisbury.

This incident has brought England a little closer to the horrors of Syria, where civilians suffer attacks from chemical weapons on a regular basis. If a narrowly targeted nerve agent attack on two people can cause such harm and alarm, imagine the effects on the population of Ghouta when 1,400 residents died of a Sarin attack in August 2013. That attack targeted the small neighbourhood of Zamalka  in Eastern Ghouta, and Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta which had a population similar in number to Salisbury.

Four years on the horror and pain of the Ghouta chemical massacre attacks have  not subsided for those who survived. Here is a description of its effects.

Sarin is as deadly a nerve agent as that used on Sergei Skripal and his daughter. It has been used several times by Assad on Syrian  civilians, most recently in April 2017.

It is not the only chemical weapon in use by Assad against ordinary people: he has also developed chlorine bombs. Chlorine gas was used by the German army in the First World War to kill 5,000 allied soldiers. Today it is the most common chemical weapon used against towns and villages in East Ghouta. Napalm and other incendiary weapons have also been used, with horrific consequences.

Assad and Putin believe they can act with impunity to inflict the most heinous war crimes on Syrian citizens. Last November, Russia twice vetoed the extension of the UN’s investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria.

As in Syria, Putin believes that he can act with impunity to kill his enemies in Britain. Indeed his ambassador gloats at their misfortune.

Hamish de Bretton–Gordon, a former commander of the British regiment that specialised in dealing with chemical weapons, said of the Salisbury incident that ‘this is symptomatic of the fact that chemical weapons have become the norm. We haven’t done anything about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iran. Now we’re paying the price.’

If the UK government is finally to take action to protect British citizens and residents against chemical attack, I  hope that they will spare a thought also for Syrian civilians, who have endured immeasurably worse. In responding to Putin over the Salisbury attack, we must also end Putin and Assad’s impunity in Syria.

Image: Coverage of the attack in the Salisbury Journal.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Don’t trade with Sukhoi – Don’t fly CityJet


At the CityJet check-in desk, London City Airport. Photo: Steve Eason

“Don’t fly CityJet” is the call by Syria solidarity activists in the UK and Ireland today.

Dublin-based airline CityJet is Europe’s leading purchaser of passenger aircraft from Russian state company Sukhoi which also supplies war planes used by Putin and Assad to attack civilians in Syria.

This morning protesters went to London City Airport (above) and Dublin Airport (right) to protest CityJet’s trade with Putin and Assad’s arms supplier.

At the CityJet desk in London City Airport, activists made a “civilian protection announcement” chanting “Sukhoi jets are killer jets” and do not fly killer jets, do not fly CityJet.”

Syria solidarity activists in the UK and the Republic of Ireland issued the following joint statement:

Don’t trade with Sukhoi – Don’t fly CityJet
PDF version

  • CityJet is a leading customer of Russian state-owned arms manufacturer Sukhoi.
  • Sukhoi aircraft have been used to kill thousands of innocent civilians in Syria.
  • Today activists in London and Dublin say: Don’t fly killer jets – don’t fly CityJet.

Sukhoi fighter planes supplied by Russia have been used by the Assad regime to target civilians since 2012. The Russian Air Force has targeted and killed Syrian civilians with its fleet of Sukhoi war planes since directly intervening in September 2015.

In 2016, the Russian Air Force in concert with the Syrian Air Force used Sukhoi jets to deliberately bomb a UN aid convoy in Aleppo. Russian Air Force Sukhoi jets have repeatedly targeted schools and hospitals.

These attacks are crimes against humanity, breaking multiple UN Security Council resolutions and violating international humanitarian law.

This has not stopped CityJet from doing business with Sukhoi. CityJet was the first European airline to purchase Sukhoi’s SuperJet and in 2017 it placed a billion dollar order for Sukhoi aircraft. Sukhoi considers CityJet a valued customer and hopes that CityJet’s operation of Sukhoi aircraft, both under CityJet’s own name and under the names of other carriers on “wet-lease” contracts will boost Sukhoi’s sales.

CityJet’s willingness to trade with the same state company supplying the planes killing innocent people in Syria is sending Putin and his government a message that whatever the crimes they commit, it will be business as usual with Europe.

Now in Eastern Ghouta an ongoing aerial campaign has killed hundreds of men, women, and children and destroyed homes and hospitals despite yet another Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire. Russia is flouting both this UN resolution and the most basic conventions against the targeting of civilians.

Sukhoi Su-22 and Su-24 jets have been photographed dropping bombs in Ghouta over the past few days. In the first six months of the Russian intervention in Syria, Sukhoi Su-25 jets dropped 6,000 bombs on Syria. Russia has been using Syria as a testing ground for new Su-57 stealth fighters.

Sukhoi, which is today part of the United Aircraft Corporation, a company in which the Russian state holds the majority of shares, is an integral part of the Russian machine of murder in Syria.

Syria Solidarity UK and the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement today calls on CityJet to stop trading with Sukhoi, a company which exports death to Syria.

We call on the governments of the United Kingdom, of the Republic of Ireland, and of other EU states, to tighten sanctions on Russia and prohibit trade with Sukhoi, United Aircraft Corporation, and others manufacturing weapons to kill civilians.

We call for an immediate ceasefire in Ghouta and effective action to protect the civilians there and in the rest of Syria.



Thursday, 8 March 2018

Reports of chemical weapons used in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Statement by Rethink Rebuild Society and the Syrian British Medical Society

Rethink Rebuild Society and the Syrian British Medical Society express their outrage at the suspected use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta yesterday, and calls for immediate investigations into their alleged use.

A press release by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations reported yesterday March 7th a chlorine attack that hit the towns of Saqba and Hammourieh in Eastern Ghouta around 9.00pm Damascus time which affected more than 50 people. Dr. Imad Kabbani, manager of the Damascus and Rural Damascus’ Directorate of Health, dismissed an alleged chemical attack earlier this week but confirmed yesterday’s chlorine attack. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) reported treating 29 patients with symptoms of a chlorine attack yesterday in one of their facilities.

More than 85 people have been killed yesterday in what was one the most devastating nights Eastern Ghouta had endured over the past years, with Syrian regime attacks reported to have used napalm and cluster bombs in addition to chemical weapons. As a result of the severe bombardment, an aid convoy originally planned to enter Eastern Ghouta today has been postponed.

According to SAMS, yesterday’s chlorine attack was the fifth chemical weapon attack in Eastern Ghouta and the eighth in Syria this year only. Moreover, a report released yesterday by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria confirmed the documentation of the regime’s use of chemical weapons during its fighting with rebel groups in Harasta in November of last year.

Rethink Rebuild Society and the Syrian British Medical Society demand an immediate investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons towards determining the validity of these attacks. While world powers continue to reiterate their commitment to preventing the use of chemical weapons, such as the latest “International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons” initiative, such attacks are believed to have continued. Use of such weapons are a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Syria is a signee, and perpetrators must be held accountable. We urge the enforcement of UN resolution 2401 that called for a 30-day ceasefire, the entry of direly needed humanitarian relief and the evacuation of medical cases to end the indescribable suffering of civilians in the enclave.

International Women’s Day under siege, chlorine and napalm


Art by Reem Yassouf.

A message from Women Now For Development
Via Facebook

Today on International Women’s Day, we usually celebrate women’s achievements, highlight their successes and shine a light on their empowerment. But today is not a normal day. It has been 17 days since our team, consisting of over 60 women, along with all civilians in Eastern Ghouta have been forced underground. They are living in damp, dark and ill-equipped bunkers that have no kitchens or bathrooms. They are also unable to eat, as there is no food reaching the area.

Last night was the worst night since the assault on Ghouta began. Our team is reporting that it was “a catastrophic night under chlorine gas and cluster bombs”. Adding to this, the recent aid convoy had been stripped of 70% of its medical aid supplies and was also unable to finish its distribution. This is one of the most dire developments of the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta.

Under these circumstances, women are calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed, for the weapons to fall silent, aid to be allowed to enter the area and the siege to be lifted. Above all, the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law must be guaranteed.

On this day on which we celebrate women’s achievements, we should not forget those who have been forced into darkness. And even from these dark cellars and bunkers, messages reach us daily, updating us about the situation, and showing women’ strength and leadership. We have been publishing the stories and providing a platform for these women to share their fears, thoughts and hopes.

The situation all over the country is dramatic and civilians are under threat in many areas. Desperate pleas reach us from women all over the country, fearing for their lives and their families’ futures. We stand in solidarity with all civilians in Syria.

On this day, please take action and raise awareness about the situation in Eastern Ghouta and the rest of Syria. We can no longer afford to be silent in the face of such atrocities!

There are three actions you can take:

  1. Follow and share women’s stories and stay updated on Ghouta on our Facebook and Twitter
  2. Send us your messages of support on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which we can share with our colleagues and other women in Ghouta
  3. Donate to support Syrian women and girls in Syria and help us continue our work.


Women Now For Development – women-now.org

Monday, 5 March 2018

Atrocities in Syria and the United Nations


Dead children in shrouds made of UNHCR plastic sheeting, Eastern Ghouta 4 March 2018. Via Akram Abo Alfoz.

Hundreds of MPs made a dreadful error in August 2013 when they blocked action to respond to Assad’s mass murder of innocents.

Today we don’t need guilt or shame from those MPs. We need honesty, intelligence, bravery, and determination to act NOW.

What has changed since 2013? Numbers killed and injured rose by hundreds of thousands. Numbers of refugees rose by millions.

And since that vote in 2013, the Security Council has passed a series of resolutions that have all been flouted.

Resolution 2118 demanding the destruction of chemical weapons, passed in September 2013 has been repeatedly broken, most notoriously by the April 2016 attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Resolution 2139 demanding an end to barrel bombs and sieges has been broken every single day since it was passed in February 2014.

Further resolutions have been passed and ignored, resolutions repeating demands to protect civilians, to grant humanitarian access, to release detainees from Assad’s torture prisons.

Now UN Security Council Resolution 2401 demanding a 30 day cessation of hostilities across all of Syria has been met with utmost violence and contempt by the Assad regime and its allies, including by Putin’s government.

In 2013, MPs called for working through the UN. With more than four years of broken resolutions, it should now be put to Parliament that the UK should enforce these UN resolutions and uphold international law. UN resolutions from UNSCR 2139 on have demanded:
  • an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment;
  • rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access;
  • that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality;
  • that all parties take all appropriate steps to protect civilians.
It has been argued that since the invasion of Iraq, the UK has turned against military intervention. But the UK has been militarily engaged in Syria since 2015. What the UK has not yet done in Syria is protect civilians.

The UK Government has a duty to act, to defend international law and enforce the declared will of the UN Security Council, and to take all appropriate steps to protect civilians by acting to end the slaughter.

We now need Parliament to affirm that the UK Government has a mandate to uphold UN Security Council Resolution 2139 and subsequent resolutions and to enforce the declared will of the UN Security Council in Syria.

We need Parliament to affirm that actively protecting civilians must be the primary goal of UK forces engaged in Syria.

If we don’t act now, the Syrian war will end with the United Nations itself in the grave.

Dr Batool Abdulkareem, SyriaUK
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Dr Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Don’t let humanitarian corridors be a cover for forcing Syrians from their homes

On ‘safe’ passage out of Eastern Ghouta, by Bronwen Griffiths, SyriaUK

“When we talk about an ‘agreement’, in reality there was no agreement at all; it was either we leave or we die.” (Activist from Daraya)

On Monday 26th February, Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, asked the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, what discussions have taken place at the UN to enable the opening up of a corridor in Eastern Ghouta for humanitarian relief and “to allow civilian safe passage out of the city.”

On the surface, Thornberry’s comment seems eminently sensible. Who would not wish for the people of Eastern Ghouta, who have suffered so terribly, a means to escape? But there are a number of very serious questions which must be asked. For one, where will they go to? Are there safe places in Syria for them to go to? When will they be able to return to their homes? Will those who overtly oppose the regime—such as citizen journalists—be able to leave without fear of arrest and imprisonment?

A report from Amnesty International in 2017, We Leave or We Die—forced displacement under Syria’s reconciliation agreements, states that:
“Over the past five years, the Syrian government and, to a lesser degree, armed opposition groups have enforced sieges on densely populated areas, depriving civilians of food, medicine and other basic necessities in violation of international humanitarian law. Besieged civilians have further endured relentless, unlawful attacks from the ground and the air. The systematic use of this policy by the government has become widely referred to, including by the United Nations (UN), as a ‘surrender or starve’ strategy.”

‘Reconciliation’ agreements were agreed between August 2016 and March 2017 in the following areas: Daraya, eastern Aleppo city, al-Waer, Madaya, Zabadani, Kefraya, and Foua. These agreements are presented by the government and its allies as a ‘reconciliation’ effort, but, in reality, they come after prolonged unlawful sieges and bombardment and typically result not only in the evacuation of members of non-state armed groups but also in the mass displacement of civilians. The deals have enabled the government to reclaim control of territory by first starving and then removing inhabitants who rejected its rule.


Photo: Forced displacement from Aleppo, December 2016, via The Guardian.

During the recapture of rebel-held parts of Aleppo, pro-regime forces arrested doctors and aid workers and committed reprisal executions. The same is likely to happen in Eastern Ghouta.

A United Nations report (March 2017) concluded that the Aleppo evacuation agreement (which was overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross) amounted to the “war crime of forced displacement”.

The population ‘transfers’ in Syria on the now-infamous green buses have come to symbolise dispossession and defeat. These ‘reconciliation agreements’ must be viewed in the context of the myriad of international humanitarian law violations and human rights abuses preceding, during, and after their implementation. Forced displacement of large numbers of people cannot be viewed as anything but a war crime.

A just end to this siege means not just allowing humanitarian access and medical evacuations, it also means Eastern Ghouta’s people being able to live in their homes in safety, and being free to come and go as they please.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Humanitarian catastrophe in East Ghouta



PDF version.

To:
Rt Hon. Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

boris.johnson.mp@parliament.uk
fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk

21 February 2018

Dear Mr Johnson,

Humanitarian catastrophe in East Ghouta

The Head of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) this week described the current assault on East Ghouta as ‘one of the worst attacks in Syrian history, even worse than the siege of Aleppo.’ Russia and the Assad regime have pummelled homes, hospitals and schools to dust, and the civilian casualty rate is stunning, even to a world and UK public grown used to the horrors of Syria.

We come to your door to remind you that our Government and our Foreign Office can make a real difference to the protection of civilian lives, given the political will.

You could:

  • Summon the Russian Ambassador to demand an end to the bombing;
  • Airdrop food and medical aid to East Ghouta communities under siege;
  • Track and publish the flight data of killer planes attacking civilians;
  • Impose UK sanctions on Russia and call for European sanctions;
  • Ground Assad’s air force by striking bases responsible for bombing civilians.


These are just some of the actions the Government could take immediately. Don’t just shrug your shoulders and blame current inaction on mistakes in 2013. The UK has been militarily engaged in Syria since 2015, and we have the power to save lives now. History will not look kindly on the powerful who stood by while Syrian towns, and their inhabitants, were obliterated.

Yours sincerely

SyriaUK
www.syriauk.org
info@syriauk.org



Tuesday, 20 February 2018

From Aleppo to Ghouta



A video of Jo Cox MP speaking on Aleppo, 3 May 2016.

Everything that Jo Cox said about Aleppo then is true today about Eastern Ghouta.

The UK has the power to protect civilians.

We have the power to ground Assad’s air force.

We have the power to sanction Putin.

We have the power to airdrop aid.

If we choose to, we have the power to save lives.

Read Jo’s 2016 speech on Aleppo here.

Take action to help East Ghouta’s civilians today.

Russia threatens to turn Eastern Ghouta into another Aleppo

UPDATE: The death toll for East Ghouta for February 19th and 20th now stands at 250 

Yesterday, Russia and the regime killed 97 people and injured over 500 people in east Ghouta, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM). Not a single town in this small rebel-held enclave was spared bombardment and five hospitals were damaged and put out of service by the attacks. One of these, the Al-Marj Hospital was completely destroyed by three barrel bombs.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that Russia could “deploy our experience… of freeing Aleppo in the eastern Ghouta situation.” The east Ghouta area, which is home to roughly 400,000 people, is the last opposition-held area in the environs of Damascus. Other areas previously held by the opposition around the capital, such as Daraya and Wadi Barada, have either surrendered and been cleared of their inhabitants or have entered into “reconciliation agreements” giving the regime total control of their affairs.

The CEO of UOSSM, Dr. Zedoun Al-Zoabi described the attack as “one of the worst attacks in Syrian history, even worse than the siege on Aleppo.” As the attack which targeted homes, hospitals, civil defence workers, and any building which may be used to store food supplies show, Lavrov’s threat to “free” east Ghouta is not an idle one. The Russian and regime capture of eastern Aleppo at the end of 2016 saw dozens of people killed in airstrikes and massacres, the bombing of every single hospital in the city, and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of people. At the time Russia and the regime used the presence of a small number of fighters from the formerly Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front (today known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) as a pretext for their attack on east Aleppo, even though there were only a few hundred fighters from this group in the city out of approximately 10,000 fighters overall.

Dead bodies of civilians at the morgue of a field hospital in the town of Hamouriya in eastern Ghouta on February 19th. At least 97 civilians were killed in yesterday's airstrikes. (Photo by Abdul Moyeen Homs / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

Russia has once again used the presence of the Al-Nusra Front as a pretext for the latest attack on east Ghouta, saying that Al-Nusra was using the civilians there “as a human shield”. In fact, it is doubtful today whether there is any armed Al-Nusra presence in Ghouta at all. The two largest rebel groups in East Ghouta are Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) and Failaq al-Rahman (the Brigade of the Merciful). In May last year Jaysh al-Islam signed up to a de-escalation agreement guaranteed by Russia and Failaq al-Rahman followed suit in August. This agreement was supposed to put an end to attacks on the rebel-held enclave and guarantee food, medical supplies, and where necessary, medical evacuations, for its inhabitants. Since September, however, Ghouta has been under attack by the regime and the five year siege on the area has been tightened to the point where child malnutrition rates became “the highest seen so far in Syria since the beginning of the crisis” as the World Health Organisation representative to Syria, Elizabeth Hoff, said on December 6th of last year.

Following the de-escalation agreement, the other rebel groups in East Ghouta became exceedingly hostile to the Al-Nusra Front’s presence in the area. Beginning in May of last year Jaysh al-Islam began attacking Al-Nusra Front fighters in East Ghouta, killing approximately 40 and arresting 150. The Nusra Front lost 70% of its equipment and ammunition as a result of these clashes. There were also several popular demonstrations in the area calling for the Al-Nusra Front to leave and posters were placed on mosques calling for fighters from the group to register in preparation for departure from the area. In November, Jaysh al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman started negotiating with Russia for the departure of the remaining Al-Nusra Front fighters. These negotiations were not completed however, and Syrian observers speculated that the Assad regime did not want the Nusra Front to leave Ghouta because that would mean the loss of its last pretext to attack east Ghouta.

The real reason for the current escalation probably has much more to do with what happened at the failed Russian-sponsored Sochi peace conference. The Syrian opposition boycotted this conference on the grounds that attendance would amount to accepting the regime and Russia’s terms for the future of Syria. An ominous response came from the Facebook account of the Russian Hemeimim military base in Syria, saying that the opposition’s refusal was not in its interests and “would have consequences on the ground”.

While Lavrov wants to repeat the experience of Aleppo in east Ghouta, and there is a real danger of this taking place on the ground, the situation there differs from the one that existed in Aleppo in important aspects. The safety of Ghouta was guaranteed by an agreement to which both Russia and the two main rebel groups in the area are signatories. One of the other so-called de-escalation areas, Idlib province, is also being attacked and the regime has threatened to attack another, northern Homs province, and expel its inhabitants to Idlib. The attack on Ghouta and the siege which the area has been subjected to in the preceding months has underlined just how meaningless the de-escalation agreements are. As a Syrian radio presenter pointed out last week, what is the worth of an agreement “where the guarantor is the criminal?”

When the people of eastern Aleppo were forced out of their city, they took refuge in nearby opposition-held areas—the rural western areas of Aleppo province and Idlib province. Today the 400,000 people of Ghouta have literally nowhere to go. Idlib province, which was used as a dumping ground last year for people from opposition-held areas which the regime overran, is now overcrowded and itself under attack. It is very difficult to imagine what fate Russia and the regime have in mind for the people of eastern Ghouta beyond more massacres and more siege-induced starvation. The fact that Russia can get away with being both the guarantor and the criminal is the result of the international community letting it take the lead in Syria and looking the other way while it massacres civilians.

WHAT YOU CAN DO – SUGGESTIONS FROM THE UOSSM AND THE SYRIA CAMPAIGN

  • Join the global advocacy campaign on social media #BreakGhoutaSiege & #SaveEastGhouta
  • Organise events and hold vigils on behalf of eastern Ghouta
  • Write articles to submit to your local media.

Labour and Assad

 
  • We need a Labour policy on Syria that puts a commitment to protecting civilians first.
  • We need a Labour policy on Syria that commits to stopping Assad’s crimes.
  • We need all parties and all members of Parliament to unite in supporting action to end the slaughter in Syria.

We are deeply concerned at the current treatment of Syria by Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary.

In listing what’s currently happening in Syria for her Guardian article last week, Emily Thornberry covered everything EXCEPT Assad and Putin’s attacks on civilians. The Assad regime, responsible for most of the killing, wasn’t even mentioned. Why was that?

A reminder: In October Emily Thornberry was giving her backing to a pro Assad conspiracy theorist attacking the BBC.

Also in October Emily Thornberry told an activist that the UK should fund Syria’s reconstruction even with Assad in place, that “a few political prisoners” were not more important than “starving Syrian children.”

In December Emily Thornberry introduced into a debate in the Commons a proposal to make a deal with Russia and Iran to keep Assad in place, where Iranian and Coalition forces would leave, and the UK would help fund reconstruction under Assad’s rule.

Emily Thornberry then said the proposal wasn’t hers, but she didn’t say whose proposal it was, and she didn’t rule out spending UK taxpayer money on rebuilding Syrian cities bombed by Assad while still keeping the Assad dictatorship in place.

Protect Civilians

Emily Thornberry’s blanking of Assad and Putin’s ongoing attacks on civilians was one problem with last week’s article. Another was her falling in line with Jeremy Corbyn’s distorted view of the 2011 NATO mission to protect civilians in Libya, and of what followed after.

Evidence suggests NATO likely saved many lives in Libya up to September 2011. But the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) wasn’t up to the task it was given after that.

NATO’s 2011 mission was legally defined as protecting civilians. Today the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition’s legal justification is collective defence of a state, Iraq. The effect of this is that NATO was responsible for relatively few civilian deaths in 2011, but the Coalition has killed thousands.

Airwars estimates that the Coalition strikes killed over one thousand civilians in the assault on Raqqa. Many more civilians were killed in other towns and cities, particularly in taking Mosul in Iraq.

One might expect Labour’s Emily Thornberry to be concerned about the number of civilians killed by the Coalition in Raqqa. But it seems not.

Instead she used a Parliamentary debate on the taking of Raqqa as a cue to attack UK support for Syria’s pro-democracy opposition.

We need a Labour policy on Syria that puts a commitment to protecting civilians first.

We need a Labour policy on Syria that commits to stopping Assad’s crimes.

We need all parties and all members of Parliament to unite in supporting action to end the slaughter in Syria.

Friday, 16 February 2018

UN agencies have the power to deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta NOW

  • The UN is failing Syria’s civilians.
  • After months of waiting, this UN convoy only had 1 month of food for 1 out of every 50 people.
  • While UN airdrops fed 100,000 people in Deir Ezzor for 1½ years, the UN has never once dropped aid to besieged Eastern Ghouta.
  • Drop aid now.

On 14 February, a UN and Syrian Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy took food for 7,200 civilians for one month to Al-Nishabieh in besieged Eastern Ghouta. It was the first UN aid convoy to Eastern Ghouta since November. There are about 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta. This aid delivery was a drop in an ocean of need.

Medical supplies such as painkillers were included in Wednesday’s convoy, but medications needed to treat chronic illnesses were not, local council member Abu Saleh told Syria Direct.

UN OCHA tweeted: ‘If Nashabiyeh East Ghouta is a sample of communities in need, then the situation is far graver than imagined.’

According to OCHA’s report, ‘in Nashabieh, the UN technical team of the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the World Health Organization found a tired and exhausted population following long months of isolation. Families are forced to skip meals, some only having one meal a day. A young ailing girl informed the team she has been eating yogurt and nothing else.’

Jakob Kern, Country Director of the UN’s World Food Programme in Syria, tweeted: ‘We need much more such convoys. Fighting has to stop to deliver much needed aid to all civilians in need.’

The day before, 13 February, Jakob Kern tweeted impressions from the World Food Programme’s team in Deir Ezzor: ‘Abu Sufian told WFP: “Your airdrops kept us alive. We had at least some food to keep us going during the siege.”’

The UN successfully airdropped enough food and medical aid to besieged Deir Ezzor to sustain as many as 100,000 people for a year and a half.

In that time, the UN’s World Food Programme completed 309 airdrops of food and medical aid.

There have been ZERO aid airdrops to Eastern Ghouta.

UN agencies were given a mandate to plan aid airdrops to all besieged areas by the International Syria Support Group in June 2016. Today’s starvation in Eastern Ghouta is in part the result of a dereliction of duty by UN officials who didn’t want to rock the boat.

Eastern Ghouta was an agricultural area before the war. Space is available for drop zones.

Whether by road or air, UNSC resolutions empower UN agencies to deliver aid cross-line WITHOUT Assad regime permission.

Load the trucks. Drive them to the checkpoints in front of the cameras of the world’s media.

Load the planes. If necessary use JPADS remote-guided parachutes as in Deir EzzorDrop aid NOW.


What legal power do UN agencies have to deliver aid inside Syria?

UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners are authorised to use routes across conflict lines in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance, including medical and surgical supplies, reaches people in need throughout Syria through the most direct routes, with notification to the Syrian authorities.

This means that Syrian authorities, upon receipt of notification, do not have a legal right to stop UN agencies delivering humanitarian assistance across conflict lines.

UN agencies have a legal right to declare that they are going to deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta, and the Assad regime then has no right to stop them.

Here is how that is set out in UN Security Council resolutions:

On 19 December 2017, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2393 renewing legal authorisation for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access in Syria by UN agencies. The details of the authorisation are set out in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the earlier UN Security Council Resolution 2165 (adopted 14 July 2014).

Paragraph 2 of Resolution 2393 states that the Security Council:

2.   Decides to renew the decisions in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Security Council resolution 2165 (2014) for a further period of twelve months, that is, until 10 January 2019;

And those paragraphs 2 and 3 of Resolution 2165 state that the Security Council:

2.   Decides that the United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners are authorized to use routes across conflict lines and the border crossings of Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa, Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha, in addition to those already in use, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance, including medical and surgical supplies, reaches people in need throughout Syria through the most direct routes, with notification to the Syrian authorities, and to this end stresses the need for all border crossings to be used efficiently for United Nations humanitarian operations;

3.   Decides to establish a monitoring mechanism, under the authority of the United Nations Secretary-General, to monitor, with the consent of the relevant neighbouring countries of Syria, the loading of all humanitarian relief consignments of the United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners at the relevant United Nations facilities, and any subsequent opening of the consignments by the customs authorities of the relevant neighbouring countries, for passage into Syria across the border crossings of Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa, Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha, and with notification by the United Nations to the Syrian authorities, in order to confirm the humanitarian nature of these relief consignments.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Syria briefing on Hezbollah


A supporter of Assad holds a Hezbollah flag in Damascus, 15 May 2008. Photo by Khaled al-Hariri, Reuters, via Newsweek.


Last week, UK MPs debated a call for all of Hezbollah to be banned by the UK. At the moment, the UK government makes a distinction between military and political parts of Hezbollah, proscribing only those parts it recognises to be clearly military.

The debate was spurred by a call from London’s mayor Sadiq Khan for Hezbollah to be completely banned after complaints to him about Hezbollah supporters openly parading in London with the Hezbollah flag.

The motion for the backbench debate, moved by Joan Ryan MP, focused on the threat to Israel from Hezbollah:

That this House believes that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation driven by an antisemitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel; notes that Hezbollah declares itself to be one organisation without distinguishable political or military wings; is concerned that the military wing of that organisation is proscribed, but its political wing is not; and calls on the Government to include Hezbollah in its entirety on the list of proscribed organisations.

Syria Solidarity UK felt that Hezbollah’s current extensive crimes against Syrian civilians should instead be our most urgent concern, and in the days prior to the debate, we sent a detailed briefing to MPs across the House of Commons on Hezbollah’s attacks on Syrian civilians.

View and download a PDF version of the briefing.

Despite our briefing, MPs gave relatively little attention to Syria in their debate.

Read the 25 January 2018 House of Commons debate on Hezbollah.

In the debate, MPs made 106 mentions of Israel, 61 mentions of Lebanon, 38 mentions of Iran, and just 13 brief mentions of Syria.

UK MPs seemed more interested in talking about Hezbollah flags than about Syrian civilians under attack by Hezbollah.

There were 36 mentions of flags in the debate, compared to the 13 mentions of Syria.

Below is the full text of our briefing. PDF here.

Monday, 1 January 2018

An evening with ‘Syria’s Disappeared’ and ‘Suspended’



Saturday 27 January 2018, 18:30–21:30
St James’s Piccadilly, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL

Syria Solidarity UK and The City Circle invite you to join us for a screening of Syria’s Disappeared. It tells the hidden story of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who’ve been disappeared in Syria. This will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s director Sara Afshar.

The evening will end with a beautiful musical performance by Sana Wahbaa on the Qanoon, a key instrument in Syrian music.

The screening will take place in the vicinity of Arabella Dorman’s art installation, Suspended, which highlights the plight of Syrian refugees.

Proceeds will go to the Starfish Foundation and Syria Solidarity UK.

The film screening starts at 7pm sharp.

Book via Eventbrite.

Facebook event page.



‘Suspended’ by Arabella Dorman. Photo by Tim Ireland, via It’s Nice That.