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Wednesday 13 November 2019

The quiet soldier

By Clara Connolly

Syria Solidarity UK is devastated to hear of the death this week, at his home in Istanbul, of James Le Mesurier.

Whatever the circumstances, which are not yet clear, it cannot be seen as a coincidence in the week of his death that he has been attacked by the Russian Foreign Ministry, libelled as a supporter of jihadists; and that the Russian bombing of hospitals in Idlib has resumed.

For James le Mesurier, and his organisation Mayday Rescue, have been centrally involved in the training of the Syrian Civil Defence—more commonly known as the White Helmets—a volunteer group of first responders in Syria’s opposition areas, who also serve as vital sources of information about Russian and other atrocities in the Syrian conflict.

James Le Mesurier was a British soldier whose experience in Bosnia first led him to consider humanitarian work. He left the army and worked in the UN and then in private security companies for a time, but was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of either for the protection of civilians in conflict.

So in 2013, seeing Syrian civilians struggling to respond to relentless air attacks by the Assad regime, he launched the first training course for twenty-five Syrian volunteer first defenders, with the help of Turkish disaster response teams.

Since then, he was until his death intensively involved in training successive White Helmet teams. Their autonomy as Syrians remained essential to him: he has remained a trainer and provider of equipment rather than an organiser. He and they believed that their freedom from interference by outside political actors has remained essential to their integrity.

Le Mesurier is one of a number of remarkable British men and women whose individual initiatives have placed the protection of civilians at the heart of their work for Syria. I’ll mention two others: the surgeon David Nott who has trained Syrian doctors in the war zone; and Jo Cox, the MP who spoke often and eloquently in Parliament for the protection of Syrians.

The outstanding work of such individuals has been in stark contrast with British and other governments who have never placed first priority on the protection of civilians. They have remained unmoved by the pleas of the White Helmets and others (most recently Kurdish civilians) for a No-Fly Zone, and have been (to put it mildly) careless about civilian casualties in the Coalition war against ISIS.

At this sad time for his family and for his colleagues, we salute the quiet heroism and dedication of James le Mesurier, and we condemn the inaction of Britain and the world in the face of the continued suffering of Syrian civilians.