Tag Archives: Assad

It’s quite possible that both sides have used chemical weapons in Syria

What happened in the suburb of Damascus that resulted in the death of 1,429 Syrians on the 21st August?

This question sits at the heart of the debate about what the International Community should do in response to the attack.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry is pretty clear that he thinks he knows what happens and what needs to happen. In short, he believes Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on its own people – an act constituting a war crime. Commenting on a declassified report Kerry said that the findings are “are as clear as they are compelling.”

His suggested course of action  is immediate air-strikes.

The UK knows that the Assad regime has stockpiles of chemical weapons partly because 10 months after the outbreak of the most recent conflict the UK government sold nerve gas chemicals to the regime.

Despite all this, many are still claiming that there is not sufficient evidence that the Assad regime is definitely responsible for these attacks. Natalie Bennett, leader of The Green Party, writing on Liberal Conspiracy said: “no, we haven’t seen real evidence, independent scrutiny, in what happened in that hell in a Damascus suburb on August 21.”

The UN inspectors are still compiling their evidence and have given no indication of when they will announce their results.

Bennett’s suggested course of action  involves the ICC. She comments, “The route to justice for a horrific gas attack is the International Criminal Court. As Caroline Lucas said this week: “Crimes against humanity and international law have been committed. Once there is evidence of responsibility for these appalling attacks, those responsible must be dealt with by the International Criminal Court.”

Of course, none of this is anything new in Syria.

We know that there have been reports of deaths after chemical attacks for months before this most recent attack. For example, in March this year 26 people died in the Khan al-Assal area (just outside Aleppo) after an attack that is believed to have involved Sarin. On this occasion, the Russian government produced a report suggesting rebel forces were responsible for the attack- a reported that was contradicted by US evidence.

We also know that rebel forces have been in possession of chemicals such as Sarin. In May this year, Turksih forces “found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front” .

It is worth reminding ourselves that Al-Nusra is a listed terrorist organisation that is a splinter of AL-Qaeda and is also widely considered to be the most powerful military force currently fighting Assad’s regime. We also know that Al-Nusra have claimed responsibility for attacks on civilians areas – a failure of the principle of distinction and itself a war crime. This, when combined with a series of brutal killings, starts to paint a bleak picture of what some within the opposition stand for.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons but I am under no pretence that some of those who are opposing Assad are just as capable of such atrocities.

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From knighthoods to bombs. Blair switches sides on Assad.

British PM Tony Blair hosted the dictator at 10 Downing in 2002. So high was his esteem for Assad that...
The hand-wringing has to stop. We must act” wrote Tony Blair.

In a passionate article Blair calls for intervention in Syria. He comments, “It is time we took a side: the side of the people…”

Blair pulls no punches in his opposition to Assad. At one point, Blair even compares the violent Bashar al-Assad regime to the “dark days of Saddam”. An awkward reminder of his illegal war in Iraq.

His opposition to this murderous dictator (connected to the death of over hundred thousand Syrians) has not always been this clear cut.

It has emerged, that the previous New Labour government considered bestowing a knighthood on Assad during his trip to the UK in 2002. This is despite 10 downing street referring to him at the time as, “this nasty dictatorship that locks up its own MPs”.

During his visit he also had an audience with Elizabeth Windsor and a platform in parliament.

Of course, it wasn’t just Blair who was flirting with Assad. Buzzfeeds have done an excellent job in reminding us of the on-going relationship between Assad and the US.

Here is a photo of Kerry sharing a cool drink with Assad in 2009 (after widely documented human rights abuses took place – eg cracking down on human rights activists in 2007):

The US and their old friend Tony seem to be clear enough now on whose side they are on (or at least whose side they are NOT on) – but it hasn’t always been that clear.

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Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror” – and it’s only going to get worse

Today’s papers are filled with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League peace envoy, comments to the UN Security Council that Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror”.

His comments come in the aftermath of the UN estimate that 60,000 have now died in the conflict. Although the actual death toll is likely to much higher as the UN excluded any partial or unverifiable reports of killings.

Last summer Amnesty International reported of a “tide of increasingly widespread attacks on civilians by government forces and militias which act with utter impunity”. Significantly, Amnesty International highlighted evidence that war crimes had been committed by both the opposition and government forces.

In November the human rights organisation made a direct plea to William Hague to try and curb the pattern of abuse against civilians being perpetrated by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

It is hard to imagine the situation getting worse.

Worryingly, some of Mr Brahimi’s comments that went less reported suggest just that. He commented, “The region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad”.

This is an understatement.

Firstly there is Iran. A key player in the conflict that is desperate to keep a Shi’a regional ally – not least as a potential arms link export market for terror organisations working in and around Palestine and Lebanon. Many, including the West’s regional partners such as Saudi Arabia, see a functional transition of power from Assad as a way of reducing Iran’s regional influence.

With neither side strong enough to win the war outright, the regional external players are only likely to increase the bloodshed. There is a growing possibility that the fighting will cross borders to draw in more concrete action from regional players.

Secondly, where there is war, there is a killing to be made through arms exports. This opportunity hasn’t passed the UK and US. Currently using routes through Jordan, the UK and the US is ensuring that arms reach their favoured groups – ignoring the above mentioned war crimes. Of course the UK would argue they are acting to ‘protect civilians’ and the arms trade is an inconsequential side note. Whether or not we believe them is a different question.

Either way, the arms industry (which we know to have a small influence on our government) is more than happy to see this war drag out.

Finally, the West’s aim, the overthrow of Assad, also has the chance to further increase the bloodshed. Haytham Manna writing in the Guardian highlights the thorny side of the armed opposition including al-Nusra who Obama has labelled a “foreign terrorist organisation” and who Manna said “indiscriminately targeted non-Sunni people”. Will they and other Islamist groups form part of the new government when they are playing such a pivotal role in the armed resistance?

Even after the overthrow of Assad, will this end the civil war?

Bahimi’s warnings are clear and should act as a warning, not just to the Russians and Chinese who continue to block calls for sanctions against Assad, but also to the West who seem all too eager to jump into bed with those who fulfil their short term goals.

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The UK has turned its back on victims of war crimes

This article was written for Social Justice First.

White phosphorous used by the Israeli military at a UN school in Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP

“We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army” Chris Cobb-Smith, a British weapons expert who visited Gaza.

“Commanders ordered their subordinates to shoot civilians and ‘hors de combat’ fighters, and to torture and mistreat detainees. Orders were often enforced at gunpoint and anyone hesitating to comply risked arrest or summary execution” UN report on war crimes in Syria.

These quotes are from two wars and describe two different accusations of war crimes.  Britain’s response to these atrocities should deeply worry us all.Last month Cameron all but offered Assad a safe passage out of Syria. Rightly there was outrage. Amnesty International commented that, “Instead of talking about immunity deals for President Assad, David Cameron should be supporting efforts to ensure that he faces justice, ideally at the International Criminal Court at The Hague”. They rightly then drew attention to the mass indiscriminate bombings that Assad had overseen – actions that constitute a war crime.

The arrogance that Cameron showed on that occasion was alarming. He believed that his idea of getting Assad out of the country at any cost was somehow superior to that of International Law. That he could bring peace where established human rights mechanisms couldn’t.

This was the first time I had heard this government leave its staunch “we support international law” line that it hides its inactions behind. Sadly it looks as though it wasn’t a one off. The Foreign Office on Monday night implied that the UK is prepared to back a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN if, and only if, Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for the war crimes it has committed.

Can anyone tell me, since when has the UK started to hand out impunity for war crimes in return for entering into peace talks?

I can’t believe that these two incidents are not connected and I fear that they are signals for what is to come from the FCO.

The consequences of Cameron’s words

The UK is saying is that Abbas should not pursue justice for the victims of Israel’s 2009 “indiscriminate and reckless” use of white phosphorus. In contrast, Human Rights Watch said that senior leaders should be held to account as civilians “needlessly suffered and died”.

Equally, it is saying that Abbas should not follow up the evidence that suggests Israel used indiscriminate attacks in the latest up-surge of fighting in Gaza.

The UK has asked Abbas not to apply for membership of either the International Criminal Court(ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The first being a body that aims to offer accountability by bringing to justice those who have committed the worse crimes – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The latter is a pre-judicial body that aims to settle legal disputes between states based on international law.

The Foreign Secretary needs to be asked why it is he thinks Palestine should be a state – but should not have access to these bodies!

Clearly the UK is acting in this way for some reason – perhaps trying to compromise with a hard-line US position for example. Or perhaps they are hoping to avoid Israel annexing settlements in the West Bank. But, this is a price too far.

Once you start to compromise on these internationally agreed standards – standards that Israel has signed up to – then you stand at the top of a very slippery slope!

What we need is for the UK to be making clear and bold statements calling for all those accused of war crimes to be held to account through the established bodies – regardless of who the perpetrators are!

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