Friday, 29 April 2016

Springtime for Corbyn

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Navigating with my own map.

I am here again.

(Seen earlier here, or was it here?)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Humanitarian Impact of Russia’s Intervention

The same day as the House of Commons debated airstrikes, elsewhere in Westminster the APPG for Syria was hosting a briefing by GOAL, an Irish NGO working inside northern Syria. The briefing was led by CEO Barry Andrews.

GOAL’s programme began in 2012, and is now reaching over a million people in rebel–held or contested areas. They distribute food to nearly 500,000 people. They supply flour to over 50 bakeries providing bread at stabilised prices to nearly one million people.

GOAL also supports water and hygiene services for over half a million people. In 2016 they plan expanding water systems and rural sanitation.

On livelihoods, GOAL supports farming families with pesticides, and plans on supporting related businesses and market systems, and developing small business groups accessible to women.
When GOAL first set up projects inside Syria, it was in the expectation that the war would end more quickly, and that the effort would support post–war transition and reconstruction. As things are, their work has helped temper the flow of refugees, making it possible for many to stay inside Syria. Their North Syria Response Fund is reaching over 200,000 internally displaced people, many from Aleppo and Homs.

Now the violence of Russia’s intervention has thrown the future of all this in doubt.

Russia is seen as carrying on Assad’s work, choosing to hit non-ISIS forces and infrastructure. There are fewer of Assad’s barrel bombs now, but the Russian weapons have far greater intensity. Buildings are gone in a single strike. They are targeting areas that were previously relatively safe, targeting border areas, hitting humanitarian convoys as well as commercial traffic.

People who before were prepared to stay now lack confidence that it is tenable, and there is a danger that pressure on Aleppo and Homs could displace as many as a million more.

While they see some grounds for hope in negotiations, GOAL are concerned not just by the bombing of civilians, but also at the bombing of FSA forces “holding the line against ISIS.”

While some have questioned the existence of moderate Syrian forces to fight ISIS, GOAL’s experience is that where there is extremism it’s amongst foreign fighters, whereas Syrian fighters are nationalists and “can be reasoned with.”

Where once there was talk of humanitarian intervention, now the focus has shifted to security threats and funding for aid has reduced even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened.

There is both a humanitarian and a political reason to continue aid work inside Syria, Barry Andrews argued; if you want forces of moderation to resist extremism, they need to be able to live and survive.

With thanks to the APPG for Syria Chair Roger Godsiff MP and his staff.

First published in Syria Notes.

Related at EA WorldView: Russia’s Aerial Victory—80% Aid Cut, 260,000 Displaced, Infrastructure Damaged.

Monday, 5 October 2015

An alternative letters page for The Irish Times

The Irish Times is not the newspaper it once was, and it may be that it simply doesn’t have the budget to be choosy in its foreign correspondents, nor the staff to read all the mail it receives. Below is a recent letter to the paper from a member of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement, the latest in a series of unpublished letters on the newspaper’s coverage of Syria.

Phenomenal. Another psychedelic “analysis” piece from Michael Jansen on Saturday (Assad remains in power as bulwark against Islamic State). This writer has already in your pages (Op. Ed July 2nd, 2011) spectacularly confused the MASSACRE of Hama (1982) when the current presidential incumbent's father slaughtered up to 40,000 people (estimates vary) in the city of Hama with the BATTLE of Hama (605 BC.) between the Babylonians and the Egyptians. In her latest wide-ranging synopsis of the Syrian and middle-eastern crisis, she has managed in the nearly 1000-word article never once to mention a single human-rights violation by the Assad regime. She gushes of Assad “his army constitutes the only force on the ground countering and containing Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda radicals.” That surreal assessment requires no further comment. She provides no data to back up her outlandish claims such as Assad having the backing of the Kurdish minority. Nor does she provide any analysis on why it would possibly be that people who are being bombed out of opposition-held towns and districts would flee to regime-held districts insofar as that is the case. In the context of the regime's terrorism strategy of barrel-bombing, sniper attacks, chemical weapons attacks, starvation sieges, etc., etc., the conclusion of the analysis: “the flow into government-held areas demonstrates strong aversion to his opponents” really beggars belief.
Yours, etc.
Michael Lenehan

The Irish Times article referred to by the letter is here: Assad remains in power as bulwark against Islamic State (Analysis: Western leaders know Syria president’s army is only ground force in region) by Michael Jansen.

In it, not only does Ms Jansen implicitly deny the existence of Free Syrian Army and Syrian Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, she asserts that “Syrian protests, far smaller than those elsewhere, were within days infiltrated by armed men backed by external interests and powers seeking his overthrow,” a grotesque distortion of the peaceful protests of 2011 that were met with gunfire by the regime, as well as with torture, mutilation, and murder in regime prisons.

And as Michael Lenehan points out, on internally displaced people fleeing violence, Ms Jansen claims that “the flow into government-held areas demonstrates strong aversion to [Assad’s] opponents,” without making any mention of the daily bombing of civilians in opposition-held areas by Assad’s air force.

It’s a miserable state of affairs for Ireland’s old newspaper of record that it should now rely on such a blatant propagandist for the Assad dictatorship to fill its pages.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

London’s refugee march on Twitter

Peter Tatchell demonstrated how to present a clear message:

But his effort wasn’t matched by co-organiser Syria Solidarity UK. It was easier to see Stop The War placards than Syria Solidarity ones. And Stop The War’s visual message was clear.

From Amnesty activist Kristyan Benedict:

From Syrian blogger Maysaloon:

From Mauritanian-American activist Weddady:

From an Assad apologist:

UPDATE – here is Clara’s excellent speech that so annoyed Mr Winstanley:

Friday, 10 July 2015

Never again, and again, and again

Reckless Diplomacy Disguised as Caution Cost Lives in Srebrenica. And It’s Happening Again, This Time in Syria

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey former Bosnian foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations joined with Najib Ghadbian, Special Representative to US and UN, National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces to write this comparison of two avoidable man-made disasters.
“As Bosnia & Herzegovina’s first Ambassador to the UN and the Syrian opposition’s first Ambassador to the UN, we are struck by the painful parallels between our two conflicts, and how indecision and a lack of moral courage are once again leaving innocent civilians to pay the ultimate price.”
Sacirbey and Ghadbian argue that although a no-fly zone in Syria lacks the wide support given to the no-fly zone in Bosnia, it would be even more effective in saving lives, it would counter extremism, and it would make a political solution more possible. Read the rest.

From an interview with Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and former U.N. humanitarian chief, at Syria Deeply:
“We have Srebrenica happening every few months in Syria in terms of civilians killed and maimed.”
Read the rest: Jan Egeland: It’s Time to Change the Narrative for Syria’s Refugees.

James Bloodworth also writes of UK complicity with the Srebrenica massacre, and compares it with Syria.

For more detail on how British, French, and US government decisions helped pave the way for the Srebrenica massacre, see How Britain and the US decided to abandon Srebrenica to its fate, by Florence Hartmann and Ed Vulliamy.

As it was in Bosnia, so also in Syria it is within the power of the UK, France, and the US, acting singly or together, to stop much of the killing.

The single greatest culprit in the killing of civilians is the Syrian Air Force.

Chart from Violations Documentation Center in Syria report for May 2015. More details.

Last month, 81 NGOs called on the UN Security Council to enforce its own Resolution 2139 to end the barrel bombing. Realistically, this won’t happen by collective Security Council action. Russia has blocked any effective Security Council measure, including blocking a resolution to give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction in Syria. This week Russia even blocked a resolution recognising the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide.

On Syria, as on Kosovo, in the absence of Security Council unanimity, individual Security Council member states must act.

Assad’s barrel bombings kill mostly civilians, and mostly in areas not held by ISIS but held by the Syrian rebels who are fighting both Assad and ISIS.

Assad’s air attacks have actually been helping ISIS attack Syrian rebels.

As the greatest danger to civilians, Assad’s air attacks are the greatest driver of refugee flows. The number of refugees has more than doubled since the UK, France, and US, turned away from military intervention in 2013.

Aid for Syria is becoming the most expensive sticking plaster in history, costing billions and still woefully underfunded. The need will not end until the violence is stopped, and the violence is mostly Assad’s.

If you are in the UK, write to your MP here.

If you are in the US, write to Congress here.

Download and share Syria Solidarity UK’s document: Ongoing chemical weapons attacks and bombing of civilians by the Syrian Air Force: A call for action (PDF)