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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?

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. "...with the Assad regime’s responsibility for previous attacks already established by the UN and the OPCW..."

    That is fantasy and you know it. US Defense Secretary Mattis himself admitted that there is no proof of Syrian government responsibility.

    Lying only discredits the rest of your work.

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    Replies
    1. You are mistaken. If you check the relevant transcript of Mattis’s remarks you will see he has been misrepresented.

      The UN-OPCW report saying that “the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun” is linked to above, and again here:
      https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/seventh-report-organisation-prohibition-chemical-weapons-united-nations

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    2. Would that be the same OPCW that certified the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile in 2013, as part of a UN-mediated process?

      You got your strike anyway, it cost millions of dollars that could have improved people's lives, and achieved nothing, other than bringing WWIII a little closer. Hope you're happy xxx

      Delete