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.

Sir,
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)



Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Yellow cars





Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Best Cover Ever: A Will Eisner and Ken Kelley pulp duet



Issue No. 10 of the Warren Spirit – cover drawn by Will Eisner and painted by Ken Kelley. Scan by Rip Jagger.

This post was first written for the Forbidden Planet International blog last year as part of their Best Cover Ever series.

Around the time Warren magazines stopped publishing in the early 1980s, a whole batch of their back issues appeared in a tiny sweet shop on Dominick Street, Galway, where they were watched over by a crotchety shopkeeper who insisted on no reading, or even peeking, before payment was made. I can’t imagine what strange accident brought this fantastically illustrated helping of sex and violence to my home town, but it was a lucky accident for me.

The real oddity in this already unusual presentation was The Spirit.

Nearly all of Warren’s output was horror, fantasy, or science fiction. The Spirit was, I think, Warren’s only non-horror title, only detective title, only humour title, only reprint title. It followed the same physical format as their other magazines, Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella: full colour cover, mostly black and white interior, with one colour story on better paper in the centre of the magazine.

Issue No. 1 had a fully painted cover by Basil Gogos, but issues 2 to 9 used ink drawings by Eisner combined with painted colours by others. Of the issues I have to hand, editor Bill DuBay coloured the cover for No. 2 in this way, and Ken Kelley painted colours for No. 4 and No. 7. This effect gives an interesting tension between parts of the picture delineated in black ink and other parts rendered only in colour paint.

A complete collection of the Warren Spirit covers here.

And a comparison between some of the finished covers and Will Eisner’s initial drawings here.

Complete scans of issue No. 1 (including ads) here.

Issues 10 and 11 returned to fully painted covers, but were to my eye greatly improved compared to the painting for issue No. 1. Both were painted by Ken Kelley and based on Will Eisner’s drawings. A student of Frazetta, Ken Kelley is best known for his fantasy art. His first professional art was for Warren’s Vampirella magazine. The Spirit covers were unusual subjects for him, but I think benefitted greatly from his technique.

Ken Kelley’s website: www.kenkellyfantasyart.com

The Spirit No. 10’s cover is particularly intense, not just in the death-defying stunts both hero and villain are engaged in, and the distressed state of their female audience, but also in the way Kelley has painted the scene. There is little or no consistency in lighting; instead he has painted each element in the most dramatic way he can. The tension between drawn black line and painted colour seen in earlier covers is still present; most obviously in the interaction between the title lettering and the painted villain hanging onto it, but also in the use of black to pick out certain details in the painting: pistol, eyes, wall cracks. The black lines used to bring forward the Spirit’s right shoe are in extreme contrast to the aerial perspective effect used to make his left shoe recede. This achieves a kind of super-exaggerated 3D effect with no need for glasses.

Other points in the painting also seem tonally and chromatically illogical in terms of any attempt at realism, but make perfect dramatic sense. This is cartoony pulp expressionism, and therefore completely in keeping with the artistic history of The Spirit, continuing Eisner’s initial aims in a paint technique that hadn’t been available to the original newsprint version. And I love it.

Compare the finished cover to Will Eisner’s earlier drawing here.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Video: Peter Tatchell on Syria



Peter Tatchell on why the international community needs to act on Syria.

More from Peter Tatchell at www.petertatchell.net.

Via Syria Solidarity UK.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Why we support a No-Fly Zone

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.







Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



Tuesday, 21 April 2015

In this UK election, let’s talk about emergency services.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.


Rescued in in the Aegean Sea, September 6, 2014. Photo: Coast Guard Aegean Sea Region Command.

With a death toll close to that of the Titanic sinking, a week of disasters in the Mediterranean has forced UK and EU leaders to pay attention to the failure of their brutal policy of withdrawing rescue services.
The UK Government can and should also act immediately to fund initiatives such as the joint MSF/MOAS rescue mission.

These disasters have made clear what is necessary. Still there are attempts by UK and EU leaders to displace responsibility, to distract from the primary causes and thus avoid effective action.

This exodus is not caused by “human traffickers”, it’s caused primarily by war. The term “human traffickers” is misleading, conflating people-smuggling with enslavement. Those fleeing across the Mediterranean, while they may be exploited by boat owners, are not enslaved by them. They have not been kidnapped and sold into bondage, but have for the most part made a rational choice between trying to survive war, and trying to survive the sea.

Attacking smugglers is no more a good answer than withdrawing rescue services was.

It’s not that long ago that some Europeans were charging other Europeans who were fleeing genocide enormous sums of money to make an escape by sea. For example Denmark proudly remembers 1943, when almost all of Denmark’s Jews escaped the Holocaust with the help of their fellow citizens. Less emphasis is placed on the fact that many were charged amounts equivalent of up to £5,500 for places on boats making the relatively short crossing to safety in Sweden.

Where there is desperation there will be exploitation, so tackle the reasons for the desperation to stop the exploitation.


Another diversion in some responses to the Mediterranean crisis has been to blame the deaths on NATO’s intervention in Libya.

But note that Libyans themselves are barely represented amongst those fleeing. Syrians make up over a third of those entering the EU irregularly according to figures from Frontex, the EU’s border agency. The next largest national group are people from Eritrea. 67,000 Syrians sought asylum in Europe last year, most arriving by sea.

In contrast UNHCR figures show the current total of Libyan refugees and asylum seekers at under 6,000 worldwide—though the number seeking refuge abroad may yet rise significantly as UNHCR believe up to 400,000 Libyans are internally displaced.

The true role of Libya in the Mediterranean crisis is as a place of transit, though it is far from being the only one. Sailing from Libya has become easier since the fall of the Gaddafi dictatorship. Previously a deal between Italy and Libya resulted in the regime acting as Europe’s outsourced border guards, locking up people trying to flee on boats. Here’s a description from a 2010 report by PRI’s The World, describing the experiences of Daoud from Somalia:
Daoud tried to make the trip north aboard a smuggling vessel, but he was arrested as he tried to board, and sent to a prison in Tripoli, where he became seriously ill.

“I believe it used to be a chemical plant because all of us had skin rashes and the Libyan prison guards used to beat us at least twice a day,” Daoud said. “And that’s what created and forced us to break out of jail. My intention was just to get out of Libya and head to the seas and to see where my luck takes me.”

Daoud alleges that his dark skin color had a lot to do with how he was treated in Libya: “They directly called me a slave. So, it was horrible. They will tell you in your face.”

Jean-Philippe Chauzy is director of communications for the International Organization for Migration in Geneva. He’s traveled frequently to Libya, and said Daoud’s story is shared by many migrants there.
Daoud’s experience shows why this policy was morally unsustainable. The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime showed it was also practically unsustainable. Had NATO not intervened to protect civilians there, the likely result would not have been a more stable Libya, but a longer and more bloody revolution as we’ve seen in Syria, with many more desperate people fleeing to Europe’s shores.

Links:

The 900 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean were killed by British government policy, by Dan Hodges, The Telegraph, 20 April 2015.

Mediterranean migrant deaths: where British parties stand, Channel 4 News, 15 April 2015.

UK Election Notes: Foreign Policy Opportunities – Resettling Syrian Refugees, by Dr Neil Quilliam, Chatham House, 10 April 2015.

Restart the Rescue: Help stop children drowning in the Mediterranean, campaign by Save the Children.


Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



In this UK election, let’s talk about education.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.


Above: From a Syria Civil Defence video of a bombed elementary school in Aleppo city, 12 April 2015. At least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded. Via EA WorldView.

Schools in opposition-held territory in Aleppo shut for at least a week following the deaths of at least five children in the April 12 air attack pictured above. See Syria Deeply and EA WorldView for more.

An overview of the war’s impact on education within Syria:
Education is in a state of collapse with half (50.8 per cent) of all school-age children no longer attending school during 2014- 2015, with almost half of all children already losing three years of schooling. There is a wide disparity in school attendance rates across the country as the conflict is creating inequality in educational opportunities. The conflict has generated increasing inequality between the different regions, while the quality of education also deteriorated. The loss of schooling by the end of 2014 represents a human capital debit of 7.4 million lost years of schooling, which represents a deficit of USD 5.1 billion in human capital investment in the education of school children.
From a UN-published report, Syria: Alienation and Violence, Impact of the Syria Crisis (PDF), March 2015.

Save The Children report that:
  • Basic education enrolment in Syria has fallen from close to 100% to an average of 50%.
  • In areas like Aleppo which has seen active conflict for a prolonged period, that is closer to 6%.
  • At least a quarter of schools have been damaged or destroyed.
  • Almost three million Syrian children are out of school.
  • In 2014, half of refugee children were not receiving any form of education.
  • Education programmes are underfunded by almost 50%.
From The Cost of War: Calculating the impact of the collapse of Syria’s education system on Syria’s future (PDF), March 2015.

There is also an education crisis for children who have escaped Syria’s dangers. According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 400,000 out-of-school Syrian children in Lebanon. For The Guardian, Maggie Tookey describes the difficulty of supporting education for refugee children in Arsal, on Lebanon’s border with Syria. And at Syria Deeply, Lamia Nahhas talks of the difficulties in establishing and sustaining schools for refugees in Al-Rihaniyeh, Turkey, and for internally displaced children in the Atmeh camp on the Syrian side of the border.

Lastly, have a look at these descriptions by Robin Yassin-Kassab and blogger Maysaloon of working on Zeitouna education projects for Syrian refugee children.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



Friday, 17 April 2015

In this UK election, let’s talk about healthcare.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.


Aftermath of regime attack on the Hilal Hospital belonging to the Syrian Red Crescent in the city of Idlib,  March 29, 2015. Photo by Firas Taki/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

In Syria, healthcare personnel, medical facilities, and ambulances are deliberately and routinely targeted as part of the military strategy of the Syrian government, according to a recent report by the Syrian American Medical Society.

At least 610 medical personnel have been killed, and there have been 233 deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on 183 medical facilities. The Syrian government is responsible for 88 percent of hospital attacks recorded by Physicians for Human Rights, and 97 percent of medical personnel killings, with 139 deaths directly attributed to torture or execution.

For people in Syria, life expectancy at birth has plunged from 75.9 years in 2010 to an estimated 55.7 years at the end of 2014, reducing longevity and life expectancy by 27 per cent, according to a March 2015 UN report.

Restoring healthcare in Syria depends on ending the worst of the violence. Dr Samer Attar wrote recently recently in the Wall Street Journal of his experiences as a volunteer surgeon in Aleppo, saying “no amount of humanitarian aid will offset the systematic and sustained slaughter of civilians.”
Ask any doctor in Aleppo how to help them save lives and their first response is not more aid. They all say the same thing: “Stop the barrel bombs.” A year ago, I asked a doctor there what he would need if the bombings didn’t stop. “More body bags,” he said.

Reports:

Syria: From bad to worse, by Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, Head of Mission of the MSF team in Aleppo in 2014, MSF—Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders 7 January 2015.

Syrian Medical Voices from the Ground: The Ordeal of Syria’s Healthcare Professionals, February 2015 report(PDF) by the Syrian American Medical Society.

‘If the medics leave, the civilians will die’ – a UK doctor’s story from Syria, by Aisha Gani, The Guardian, 12 March 2015.

Syria: In a besieged hospital, sleeping and resting were an impossible luxury, by Dr. S, a young surgeon in a makeshift hospital east of Damascus, MSF—Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, 13 March 2015.

Syria field post: ‘I had to do procedures I’d never seen. YouTube helped a lot’, by Lubna Takruri, The Guardian 16 March 2015.

Doctors in the Crosshairs: Four Years of Attacks on Health Care in Syria, Physicians for Human Rights report, March 2015.

Syria: Alienation and Violence, Impact of the Syria Crisis (PDF) by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR), UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), UN Development Programme (UNDP), March 2015.

Aleppo Diary: The Carnage From Syrian Barrel Bombs, by Samer Attar, Wall Street Journal, 12 April 2015.


Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.


In this UK election, let’s talk about housing.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.


Damaged buildings in Jouret al-Shayah, Homs, Syria, on February 2, 2013. Photo by Yazen Homsy/Reuters.

The city of Homs, pictured above, has seen some of the worst physical destruction of the past four years, but it is not alone. A March 2015 UN report used satellite imagery to record tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed across Syria. Some were hit by shelling or air attacks, others were levelled when the Assad regime demolished entire neighbourhoods considered sympathetic to the opposition. As thousands of families were driven from their homes, satellite photos also recorded the growth of refugee camps in surrounding countries. Mass graves of many of those who didn’t escape were also recorded in satellite images.

Full report: Four Years of Human Suffering: The Syria conflict as observed through satellite imagery (PDF) By UNITAR/UNOSAT, March 2015.

Report excerpts: A bird’s-eye view of war-torn Syria, Washington Post, 20 March 2015.

Over half of Syria’s population have been displaced. Over 4 million refugees have fled the country, over 3.9 million of them to neighbouring countries. In the space of a year, Zaatari camp in Jordan became the world’s second largest refugee camp and Jordan’s fourth largest city. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is equal to at least a quarter of Lebanon’s population prior to the crisis.

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, says one-tenth of Syrian refugees require resettlement, but for now UNHCR have called on governments to provide places for 130,000 of the most vulnerable people. To date less than 85,000 resettlement places have been confirmed. Norway has pledged to resettle 2,500, Sweden 2,700, and Germany has pledged places for 30,000.

The UK resettled just 143 people up to February of this year.


Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



In this UK election, let’s talk about our shared history.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.


Photo: Firemen at work in bomb damaged street in London, after Saturday night raid, circa 1941. Source: US National Archives.

Over 67,000 British civilians were killed in the Second World War. Around 40,000 of them were killed by air raids.

When Hitler’s air force attacked, pilots from several other nations joined in defending Britain, including experienced fighter pilots from Poland and Czechoslovakia: the 303 “Kościuszko” Polish Fighter Squadron was amongst the most successful squadrons fighting in the Battle of Britain.

Today, more civilians have been killed in Syria than were killed in Britain in World War Two. The vast majority of them have been killed by the Assad regime: over 95% according to records collected by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria.

Today, no international pilots have come to defend Syrian civilians from Assad’s attacks. The US-led coalition is intervening in Syria, but not against Assad. He is free to bomb cities and towns and villages with Russian-supplied helicopters and Iranian jet aircraft. Two in five of all civilians killed last year were killed by Assad’s air attacks. Over half the women and children killed in 2014 were killed by Assad’s air force.

This month marks 70 years since Anne Frank was killed in the Holocaust. The Anne Frank Declaration is intended to draw from her life lessons for the present, not just memories of the past. It says:
Anne Frank is a symbol of the millions of innocent children who have been victims of persecution. Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.

Because prejudice and hatred harm us all, I declare that:
  • I will stand up for what is right and speak out against what is unfair and wrong
  • I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves
  • I will strive for a world in which our differences will make no difference – a world in which everyone is treated fairly and has an equal chance in life
Many leading British politicians have signed this Declaration, including David Cameron and Ed Miliband, but when we look at their actions on Syria, we have to ask how well they are living up to their pledge.

On the last day of Parliament, the Coalition Government announced that they were joining the US-led effort to train Syrians to fight ISIS. Earlier it was reported that if re-elected the Conservatives intended to join US-led strikes against ISIS in Syria. Whatever the merits of these policies, they contained nothing to defend Syrian civilians from their greatest threat: the Assad regime. Assad and his allies are responsible for over 95% of killings of civilians. Assad’s forces continue to target civilians with barrel bombs, chlorine bombs, and Scud missiles.

The legal basis for joining US-led strikes against ISIS in Syria would be collective defence of the Republic of Iraq, not the humanitarian defence of Syrian civilians. It would not live up to David Cameron’s promise to “defend those who cannot defend themselves.” For that he would have to back action to stop Assad bombing civilians.

As for how well Ed Miliband is living up to his promise: Since he signed the Anne Frank Declaration, Ed Miliband has been talking about his August 2013 decision to block joint UK-US action in response to the Assad regime’s mass killing of civilians with Sarin chemical weapons. But in his telling of the story there was no mention of the men, women, and children poisoned. In his telling there was no mention of standing up to Assad, only of standing up to Obama.

Ed Miliband said that his decision in August 2013 proved that he is “tough enough” to be prime minister: “Hell yes.” Many of his supporters seem to agree, and “Hell yes” t-shirts have been produced, celebrating Ed Miliband’s toughness in helping get a mass-murdering regime off the hook.

Not that those supporters see it in quite that way. Jamie Glackin, Chair of Scottish Labour, denied that there was any connection between Ed Miliband’s “hell yes” phrase and the August 2013 chemical attack: “It’s got nothing to do with that. At all.”

But it has everything to do with that. Ed Miliband’s chosen anecdote to show toughness was to point to the time he prevented action against a mass-murdering dictatorship, one that gave refuge to a key Nazi war criminal, that has tortured its citizens on an industrial scale, that is inflicting starvation sieges on hundreds of thousands of people, that has driven half of the population from their homes, four million of them driven out of the country as refugees, and that has continued killing civilians in their tens of thousands since Ed Miliband said “no” to action.
Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.

When asked about the consequent events in Syria, Ed Miliband avoided taking any responsibility. “It’s a failure of the international community,” he said. But we are the international community. The UK is a key member of the international community, one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of only three functioning democracies amongst those five. When Ed Miliband blocked UK action, the consequences were critical.
I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

Anne Frank was 15 years old when she was killed in the Holocaust. You can read more about her at the Anne Frank Trust, and  at the Anne Frank House museum.

According to a November 2013 report by the Oxford Research Group, Stolen Futures: The hidden toll of child casualties in Syria, 128 children were recorded amongst the killed in the Ghouta chemical attack: 65 girls and 63 boys.

Something of two of those girls, Fatima Ghorra, three years old, and her sister, Hiba Ghorra, four years old, is told by Hisham Ashkar here.

The names of 54 of the girls killed are listed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. For some, clicking on a name will give a little more information, such as a photograph of one in life, or in death, or their age.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



In this UK election, let’s talk about our shared future.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.


Rescue in the Mediterranean. Photo: Amnesty International.

A British general election is about deciding how Britain is governed, about Britain’s future. But our future here, and the future of our children, doesn’t only depend on what happens within the borders of the UK, it depends on events in the wider world.

We can’t have a safe country in an unsafe world. We can’t build a caring home for our children if we care nothing for others. We can’t expect a prosperous future on these islands if we turn away from the rest of humanity.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



Thursday, 16 April 2015

A manifesto for Syria

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.



In this UK election, let’s talk about Syria.

For a peaceful, democratic Syria, a Syria without Assad and a Syria without ISIS, we support the calls by Planet Syria activists and Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers for action to stop the violence.

Read more:

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



Saturday, 11 April 2015

Planet Syria: Signal received


The family were in Dorset earlier this week, so on Planet Syria’s day of global solidarity we sent our response from the Jurassic Coast via Twitter.


Planet Syria is a joint campaign by non-violent activist groups in Syria calling for an end to Assad’s air attacks in order to enable meaningful peace talks, even if that requires a no-fly zone. Read more at planetsyria.org or on their Facebook page.


Before we left London for the sea, I helped prepare Syria Solidarity UK’s response.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Just words? Ed Miliband and the the Anne Frank Declaration

Cross-posted from NFZSyria.org.

Recently Ed Miliband, along with all other members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, signed the Anne Frank Declaration:
Anne Frank is a symbol of the millions of innocent children who have been victims of persecution. Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.

Because prejudice and hatred harm us all, I declare that:

  • I will stand up for what is right and speak out against what is unfair and wrong
  • I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves
  • I will strive for a world in which our differences will make no difference – a world in which everyone is treated fairly and has an equal chance in life

Since then, Ed Miliband has been talking about his August 2013 decision to block joint UK-US action in response to the Assad regime’s mass killing of civilians with Sarin chemical weapons. He said that this choice proves he is “tough enough” to be prime minister: “Hell yes.” Many of his supporters seem to agree, and “Hell yes” t-shirts have been produced, celebrating Ed Miliband’s toughness in helping get a mass-murdering regime off the hook.

Not that they see it in quite that way. Jamie Glackin, Chair of Scottish Labour, denied that there was any connection between Ed Miliband’s “hell yes” phrase and the August 2013 chemical attack: “It’s got nothing to do with that. At all.”

But it has everything to do with that. Ed Miliband’s chosen anecdote to show toughness was to point to the time he prevented action against a mass-murdering dictatorship, one that gave refuge to a key Nazi war criminal, that has tortured its citizens on an industrial scale, that is inflicting starvation sieges on hundreds of thousands of people, that has driven half of the population from their homes, four million of them driven out of the country as refugees, and that has continued killing civilians in their tens of thousands since Ed Miliband said “no” to action.
Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.
When asked about the consequent events in Syria, Ed Miliband shirked responsibility. “It’s a failure of the international community,” he said. But we are the international community. The UK is a key member of the international community, one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of only three functioning democracies amongst those five. When Ed Miliband blocked UK action, the consequences were critical.
I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Anne Frank was 15 when she was killed in the Holocaust. The Anne Frank Trust is holding a #notsilent campaign to mark the 70th Anniversary of her murder on the 14th of April. You can also read more about her at the Anne Frank House museum’s website.

According to a November 2013 report by the Oxford Research Group, Stolen Futures: The hidden toll of child casualties in Syria, 128 children were recorded amongst the killed in the Ghouta chemical attack: 65 girls and 63 boys.

Something of two of those girls, Fatima Ghorra, three years old, and her sister, Hiba Ghorra, four years old, is told by Hisham Ashkar here.

The names of 54 of the girls killed are listed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. For some, clicking on a name will give a little more information, such as a photograph of one in life, or in death, or their age.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

“Hell yes”
















See also: Ed Miliband is peddling a lie about his volte-face on Syria, by Dan Hodges.

So proud are Mr Miliband’s supporters, they’ve made a “Hell yes” t-shirt.

I have voted Labour in every general election until now. But not this time.

Related posts: A letter to Ed Miliband, and For readers of the LRB.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Washington DC Friday: Rally to Stop the Bombs in Syria

Cross-posted from NFZSyria.org.



This Friday 27 March, 1-2pm at the White House.

From the Facebook event page:
Join us as we stage a protest to demand the United States take action to stop the Syrian regime dropping barrel bombs and chemical weapons on civilians.

Come and add your voice to the voices of Syrian volunteer rescue workers - the White Helmets, thousands of non-violent activists in Syria and nearly 600,000 people around the world who are calling for a no fly zone.

On the 16th March the Syrian regime dropped barrels of chlorine on civilians in Sarmeen, Idlib killing six and injuring dozens.

The attack came just 11 days after the UN Security Council voted on a resolution saying it would take further measures, including the possibility of military force, if chlorine gas was used again in Syria. Now it has been used. The Syrian regime is testing us – if the international community doesn't take action, if our leaders break their word, it will be a green light for thousands more to be killed using poison gas and barrel bombs.

The attack also comes 390 days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning the use of barrel bombs. Despite these threats, the Syrian regime is doing nothing to ease its attacks on civilians. Barrel bombs have killed nearly 2000 children.

Every barrel bomb Assad drops also strengthens ISIS. Any support these extremists have in Syria is directly linked to the mass human rights violations of the Assad regime. If we want to defeat ISIS we have to end the violence in Syria.

Stand with the Syrian people because no one is free until we’re all free.

Please join if you can.

A call from Planet Syria: Is anybody out there?

Cross-posted from NFZSyria.org.



Planet Syria is an initiative by non-violent Syrian activists. They write:
Non-violent activists across Syria are calling for global solidarity around their joint demands of stopping the regime's barrel bombs and pushing for inclusive peace talks.

Scroll down on their website, www.planetsyria.org, to read more:
STOP THE BOMBS

Extremism breeds from injustice – the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today is the ‘barrel bomb’. These are often old oil barrels filled with explosive and scrap metal and rolled out of government helicopters and planes miles up in the air onto hospitals, schools and homes.

The UN Security Council unanimously banned them a year ago. Nothing has changed since then – nearly 2,000 children have been killed since UN Resolution 2139 was signed on February 22, 2014.

Many of us were against foreign military intervention in Syria. But in September 2014 the US-led coalition started bombing ISIS in our country. Now there is a deep hypocrisy to letting the Assad regime fly in the same airspace and kill civilians. Many more than are killed by ISIS.

The international community must follow through on its demands and stop the regime’s barrel bombs and air attacks – even if that means with a ‘no fly zone’.

You’ll also find Planet Syria on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Ask your MP to support Syria Civil Defence – ‘The White Helmets’

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.



Syria Civil Defence, known as The White Helmets, are volunteer rescue workers who have saved thousands of people from the rubble of air attacks.

After Assad’s forces again attacked civilians with chlorine bombs on 16th of March, Syria Civil Defence called on UN Security Council members to enforce a no-fly zone.

You can help.

If you live in the UK, this page can help you write an email to your MP.

Please ask your MP to support The White Helmets in their call for action to end Assad’s air attacks.

Get started here.


Photo above: Kafranbel protesters call for a No-Fly Zone, 21 March. More here.

Below: London protest outside the US Embassy, 22 March. More here.




Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Syria Civil Defence ‘White Helmets’ call for No-Fly Zone following chemical attack

 

Above images via Syria Solidarity UK: 17th March London protest outside the US Embassy following new Assad regime air attacks with chlorine bombs.

There will be a further protest at the US Embassy this Sunday, 2-4pm. Facebook event page here.

Note that last Saturday’s march to Downing Street also called for a No-Fly Zone.

Following the 16 March attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime.You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.

Press release from The Syria Campaign:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
17th March 2015

CONTACT:
Bissan Fakih, bissan@thesyriacampaign.org, +961 71 377 364

SYRIAN RESCUE WORKERS REPORT THE USE OF CHLORINE GAS IN BARREL BOMB ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS IN IDLIB

Syrian Civil Defence call for the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone

Chlorine attacks took place in the town of Sarmeen and in the village of Kminas on Monday night. Kminas was hit by two chlorine-filled barrel bombs around 8:30 PM. The village is nearly deserted and no casualties were recorded. The smell of chlorine traveled west to the town of Sarmeen. Members of the Syrian Civil Defence – known as the White Helmets – responded to civilians who complained of choking but there were no serious casualties.

At 10:30 PM, the town of Sarmeen was hit with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. Six people are confirmed to have died in the attack. A husband and wife and their three children, and the husband’s mother. They are reported to have died in the field hospital due to lack of treatment options available.

Five civil defence centres responded to the attacks in Sarmeen – teams from Binnish, Maarat Nauman, Saraqeb, Balyon and Sarmeen were present. There were more than 70 cases of choking, including seven members of the White Helmets who were later discharged from the hospital around 2 AM. Some of the injured have been taken to Turkey for treatment, others have remained to be treated in field hospitals.

The government renewed their attacks two hours later in Kafr Takharim, using scud missiles. Seven were killed.

The chlorine attacks come just eleven days after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution specifically condemning the use of the gas as a weapon in Syria. Resolution 2209 [2015] – drafted by the United States – states that the UN Security Council will impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if chemical weapons including chlorine are used again. Chapter VII allows decisions to be enforced with economic sanctions or military force.

In response to the chlorine attack, the White Helmets are calling for the United Nations to uphold its demands and stop the chemical attacks and barrel bombs by implementing a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria. Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence said:
“When a child inhales chlorine they get a burning pain in their throat and eyes and they feel like they’re suffocating. Sometimes they vomit but often their breathing just gets shallower and they slip away, never to wake up again. It breaks your heart forever. I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes.”

He added:
“These children did not have to die. It’s not good enough for the United Nations to ban these chemical weapons on paper, they need to stop them from dropping from the sky. With a no-fly zone these children would be alive today.”

The White Helmets have launched their campaign for today at www.whitehelmets.org, in partnership with global advocacy group The Syria Campaign. James Sadri, Campaign Director of The Syria Campaign said:
“Only days ago the UN Security Council said it would impose Chapter VII measures if its resolution on chemical weapons was violated again. Well it’s been violated. Real action must be taken immediately to protect civilians – with a no-fly zone if necessary.”

Video: English language video of the Syria Civil Defence treating victims of the attacks
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmvVJYQGKnM&t=90

Video: A rescue worker shows signs of intoxication
https://youtu.be/gPa_6CoYD_o


Notes to Editors

The Syrian Civil Defense – or the ‘White Helmets’ as they are known – are volunteer rescue workers who arrive to the sites of barrel bomb attacks to dig survivors out from under the rubble and transport the injured to safety. Unarmed and neutral, they have saved people from all sides of the conflict.

Barrel bombs themselves were banned last year in a separate UN Security Council resolution 2193 on 22 February 2014. However, since then according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights at least 1,892 children have been killed by them.
http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Barrel_Bombs_2015_en.pdf

Resolution 2209 was passed after a fact-finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) earlier this year concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used on three villages in Syria in 2014, killing 13 people. The report included eyewitness accounts of helicopters dropping barrel bombs with toxic chemicals. The use of chlorine gas has been repeatedly reported by activists and rescue workers in Syria.

In the OPCW report they did not say which side was responsible for the chlorine attacks, but the UK, France and US have all accused the Assad regime of the attacks. Addressing the Security Council, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said there was not much doubt. “Let’s ask ourselves, who has helicopters in Syria? Certainly not the opposition. Only the regime does and we have seen them use their helicopters in countless other attacks on innocent Syrians using barrel bombs.”

The Syrian representative to the UN has persistently denied the use of chlorine gas and in a BBC interview in February Assad said that his regime were “definitely not” using chlorine as a weapon.

The Syria Campaign is an advocacy group mobilising public support around the world to stop the violence in Syria

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Four years is too long

Cross-posted from NFZSyria.org.



Last year, two out of every five civilians killed in Syria were killed by Assad’s air attacks.

Over half the women killed last year were killed by Assad’s air attacks.

Over half the children killed last year were killed by Assad’s air attacks.

There is no other single measure that could do as much to save civilian lives as stopping Assad’s air force.

Some say this should be done by giving the Free Syrian Army anti-aircraft weapons. That might help, but not enough. Not enough to stop Assad’s bombers. There are too many. They attack over too wide an area. They fly too high.

So the best way, the one way, the only way to ground Assad’s air force, is for the UK, France, the USA, one or all of them I don’t care, to make the decision.

Make the call.

Tell Assad this stops now. Tell him, your bombing stops now or we start hitting your air bases. UK, France, USA, ground Assad’s air force.

Four years is too long.

Syria needs a No-Fly Zone.

Join us today in London.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

Comparing Syria to DR Congo

Cross-posted from NFZSyria.org.

The war in Syria is very different to the recent wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet comparisons are occasionally made for whatever reason. In a January 2013 interview, President Obama brought up conflict in the DRC when contextualising his decision-making on Syria:
In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?

Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good.

As Michael E. O’Hanlon pointed out at the time, Congo presented a very different case to Syria. Most of the deaths were being caused by malnutrition and poor healthcare, not directly by violence. A UN peacekeeping mission was in place, and had been since 1999. The US had been involved in training the DRC’s military since 2009, though with mixed results.

Michael E. O’Hanlon argued that there was certainly more that the US could usefully contribute, but that the DRC conflict was much less violent than those the US had faced in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also that conditions in Syria and the DRC were quite different, so that even if the US decided to commit forces in both places, the kinds of forces each would require would not be the same, and so there would be few if any conflicting demands from the two missions.

So different are the problems in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo that it’s hard to believe the President was raising the DRC in his Syria answer as a genuine concern; it seems to have been more of an attempt to use Congo’s problems as a rhetorical diversion. This is what is known as ‘whataboutery’.

Turning from the President of the United States to a consistent opponent of American foreign policy, the British political commentator Owen Jones has been writing on Syria recently. In a column for The Guardian on the 3rd of March, he drew attention to the horror of the Assad regime’s barrel bombs, and contrasted the regime’s public relations approach, attempting to present its terror campaign as a legitimate disciplined military operation, with the PR strategy of ISIS, designed to flaunt its brutality.

Following this welcome highlighting of Assad’s deadly air campaign, Owen Jones accepted an invitation to speak at next week’s demonstration in London to mark the 4th anniversary of the Syrian uprising. That demonstration has as one of its demands a no-fly zone for Syria, calling on France, the UK, and the US, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, to act either individually or collectively to protect civilians, to enforce UN Security Council 2139, and to ground Assad’s air force. I very much look forward to hearing what Owen Jones has to say at the rally, particularly as he has in the past been wholly opposed to any military intervention by Western countries, and a change of heart would be very welcome.

In that same 3rd March column for The Guardian, Owen Jones made his own Syria/Congo comparison,  pointing to “the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo” as well as “Pol Pot and his killing fields” and “the mass murder of a million communists in Indonesia in the 1960s” to make the point that ISIS aren’t quite the most deadly phenomenon since the Nazis. In this he was criticising an opinion article published in the Independent, though I think the Independent article wasn’t actually making that precise claim.

Owen Jones has on a couple of other occasions compared Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first time that I’m aware of was at a speech to the Stop The War Conference in November 2013.

In that speech Owen Jones gave a justification of his opposition to Western intervention following the Assad regime’s chemical weapons massacre in the suburbs of Damascus (though the Ghouta massacre wasn’t actually mentioned in his speech) and then proclaimed his hope that the opening of US-Iran nuclear talks would lead to a peace deal for Syria. This was followed by a justification for selectivity in which wars the antiwar movement campaigns on, with a brief mention of DRC as a war “airbrushed out of existence by the corporate media,” and as “the most murderous conflict since World War Two.” Both of these assertions are questionable in my view, as I will explain further on.

On Friday he devoted his entire Guardian column to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Again he compared it to Syria:
Some lives matter more than others: the “hierarchy of death”, they call it. The millions killed, maimed and traumatised in the Democratic Republic of Congo are surely at the bottom of this macabre pile. The country was the site of the deadliest war since the fall of Adolf Hitler, and yet I doubt most people in the west are even aware of it. No heart-wrenching exclusives at the top of news bulletins; no mounting calls for western militaries to “do something”.

We are rightly appalled at a barbaric conflict in Syria that has stolen the lives of 200,000 civilians; and yet up to 6 million people are believed to have perished in the DRC. Not that the mainstream media alone can be berated for this astonishing lack of attention. The left have rightly championed the cause of a Palestinian people subjected to decades-long occupation and subjugation: surely the misery of the DRC does not deserve this neglect.

It is disappointing for an article ostensibly intended to correct the public’s ignorance on the DRC to include that misleading line about no calls for military intervention; military intervention in the DRC has been ongoing for several years, starting with a UN monitoring mission in 1999, expanded as a peacekeeping mission in 2000, and further expanded in 2004 with a Chapter VII mandate to use force to protect civilians. By 2013 the UN force had an offensive combat mandate and was using attack helicopters, tanks, APCs, and artillery, to force the withdrawal of rebel militias in eastern DRC.

US military training operations in DR Congo were mentioned earlier. The EU has also been engaged in Congo: Since 2005, the EUSEC RD Congo mission has been dedicated to reforming the DRC army, while a parallel EUPOL RD Congo mission has been dedicated to restructuring the police. And in 2006 the EU launched Operation EUFOR RD Congo, a military operation in support of UN operations in Congo.

The claim by Owen Jones that the 1998-2003 Second Congo War was “the deadliest war since the fall of Adolf Hitler” as he writes in The Guardian, or “the most murderous conflict since World War Two” as he claimed in his 2013 Stop the War Conference speech, should be looked at more closely, as should his comparison of 6 million deaths in DRC with “200,000 civilians” killed in Syria.

Starting with the Syria number, I think Owen Jones has likely made a mistake here, as I don’t know of any reputable organisation claiming 200,000 civilians have been violently killed in Syria. The most recent UN study arrived at a minimum count of 191,369 violent deaths up to the end of April 2014, but this included combatants as well as non-combatants. This is an average of over 5,200 violent deaths over the duration of the conflict. The count for the most recent 12 months of the report, May 2013 to April 2014, was a minimum of 61,816 killed, an average of over 5,100 per month, so certainly the number of violent deaths including both combatants and non-combatants is by now well over 200,000.

It’s very important here to understand the meaning of a minimum count: This is not an estimate of the true total, but a minimum number of violent deaths that could be individually confirmed. The true total is certainly higher, though to an unknown degree. Many casualty numbers reported for other conflicts are not minimum counts but estimates, often estimates based on sample surveys. Such estimates are more uncertain than minimum counts in that the true number may be either higher or lower than the estimated number. One should therefore be careful about directly comparing a minimum count for one conflict with a sample survey estimate for another conflict.

With regard to the UN’s minimum count of violent deaths in Syria, particularly striking is that they only had access to Syrian Government casualty figures from March 2011 through March 2012; after that date the Assad regime stopped releasing figures, so there is likely to be a very significant number of regime forces killed that are not included in the UN count.

The most widely reported mortality figures for the 1998-2003 Second Congo War have been those produced by the International Rescue Committee. Between 2000 and 2004, the IRC conducted a series of four mortality surveys. In aggregate, these studies estimated that 3.9 million excess deaths had occurred between 1998 and 2004:
Less than 10 percent of deaths were directly attributable to violence. The vast majority of Congolese died from the indirect public health effects of conflict, including higher rates of infectious diseases, increased prevalence of malnutrition and complications arising from neonatal- and pregnancy-related conditions.

This means that the IRC estimated total violent deaths in the Second Congo War at under 390,000 over five to six years. (The survey extended beyond the official end of the war.) As it’s an estimate, the true number could be above or below that, and the margin of error will be dependent on how representative the sample surveys were of the overall situation.

There is no research that I know of that has attempted to estimate excess deaths due to the war in Syria, therefore the only comparison of deaths we can make between Syria and the DRC is of violent deaths, and on violent deaths we can only say that in Syria at least 191,369 people were killed in just over three years, with the true number likely much higher, though we don’t know how much higher, while in the DRC more or less than 390,000 people were killed over a period of between five and six years.

It may be that more people have already been violently killed in Syria’s war than in the Second Congo War, or it may be that Syria’s toll will pass the DRC’s in the coming couple of years, or it may be that Syria’s war will mercifully end before that happens. We don’t know, and we can’t know on the available evidence.

Similarly we can’t know whether the level of excess deaths due to the war in Syria will be higher or lower than in the DRC, though with half the population displaced, with the enormous destruction of housing, and particularly with the ongoing deliberate targeting of health services by the regime, we can expect that the level of excess deaths in Syria will be very high indeed.

To return to Owen Jones’ 2013 phrase “the most murderous conflict since World War Two,” this I think is unjustified as ‘murderous’ implies violent deaths, and the IRC estimate for violent deaths in the Second Congo War is lower than the Rwandan Genocide, to take the most significant comparison. His more recent formulation, “the deadliest war since the fall of Adolf Hitler,” has more justification as the International Rescue Committee have used the words “arguably… the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II” to describe the Democratic Republic of Congo, based on their excess deaths estimate. Note however the use of the word “arguably” by the IRC: there isn’t adequate research on excess deaths across all conflicts since the Second World War to allow certainty in their statement.

As for Owen Jones characterising the Second Congo War as a war “airbrushed out of existence by the corporate media” in his 2013 speech, this was fantastically hyperbolic. Here are 33 pages of links to stories on Congo from The Guardian over recent years. Here are recent stories from The Telegraph; older stories can be found via their search facility. Here’s the New York Times topic page for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Google will get you more, like this 2001 story which shows that although most people’s attention was indeed elsewhere, CNN was still covering events in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But even if CNN reports it, that doesn’t guarantee that people will read it, and it does look as though Owen Jones perhaps hadn’t read enough before writing, noticing as he did the cannibalism, mentioned in both of his recent columns, but missing the years of effort by the international community to bring security and stability. There are further issues to explore of how that effort might have been improved, and going back further, of whether a more interventionist policy prior to the Rwanda Genocide might have averted the entire cascade of violence, but they are beyond the scope of this post.

Finally we have to come back again to the term ‘whataboutery’. In making these repeated comparisons between Syria and the DRC, is Owen Jones, like Barack Obama, using the Democratic Republic of Congo’s history as a diversion, or is he treating it as a subject in its own right?

The same question was raised by some when he wrote about Assad’s barrel bombs: was this a rhetorical diversion to diminish the importance of the fight against ISIS, or was it a sincere attempt to draw attention to Assad’s murderous air attacks on civilians, attacks that France, the UK, and the US, have the means to stop? I hope we’ll find out on Saturday.

Come along on Saturday March 14th in London to show your solidarity and support for a peaceful, democratic Syria: a Syria without Assad and a Syria without ISIS. Call for better treatment of Syrian refugees. Call for the protection of civilians. Call for a no-fly zone.




UPDATE: Owen Jones didn’t make it to the demo after all, and as far as I know he still hasn’t commented on the call to enforce a No-Fly Zone.