How long can we ignore the genocide happening in Syria?
A wounded Syrian girl awaits rescue from under the rubble of a building following reported shelling in the town of Khan Sheikhun in the southern countryside of Idlib province
Date: 2019-06-28 14:18
Were it not for Brexit and the ongoing leadership debates, the atrocities unfolding in Idlib province would be filling our TV screens and dominating the newsprint. The international shock of Syria’s crimes against humanity and the West’s inability (and unwillingness) to act, will reverberate long after our domestic issues are resolved.
Since late April, the province of Idlib in Northern Syria has come under relentless bombardment by the Assad regime and its Russian allies. The Idlib Health Directorate, who we advise, has just issued a report, whose gruesome and shocking findings should give pause to policymakers and concerned citizens alike.
So far nearly 700 civilians have been killed this year. There are 500,000 internally displaced people in Idlib, many without homes. There is evidence of further chemical weapon attacks, while Russian and Assad aircraft have conducted 29 attacks on hospitals in the past 6 weeks, with many now out of commission. A small handful of hospitals and doctors are tasked with caring for 3 million civilians.
Against this backdrop, we have stopped sending UK aid directly into Idlib since November 2018. One recent UN proposal gives the lunatic suggestion of sending all foreign aid bound for Syria - including UK aid - through Damascus, in effect direct to the Assad Regime. This would be illogical in the extreme.
Those concerned about these developments must keep the pressure on politicians in Westminster, particularly ministers, to act proactively to save civilians in Idlib. There are four tangible and viable routes the Government could pursue. This situation will only be resolved satisfactorily through political and diplomatic means. The UN Geneva peace process has been allowed to drift for months; this would be a difficult topic for most member-states to approach, but as a permanent member of the Security Council we should lead this process with close allies like the US and France.
Secondly, we must do all we can to stop the direct targeting of hospitals, schools and civilians. Platitudes at the UN, have time and time again proven completely ineffective. If we are not prepared to intervene militarily to protect these people, we should at least be prepared to “name and shame” those aircraft attacking hospitals and provide evidence to the International Criminal Court for prosecutions in the future.
For reasons better known to DFID than us, UK aid has not gone directly into Idlib since November 2018. There are worrying reports that both the UN and WHO are planning to put all aid into Syria via Damascus. The UK has already pledged £2.8 billion, money which would go directly into the coffers of the tyrannical Assad regime. We cannot allow taxpayer funds to be squandered in this way.
Finally, we must engage with Russia. Though the Russians are complicit in Assad’s atrocities, they are also permanent members of the Security Council, and could make change in Syria. President Putin wields huge influence with Assad. Along with diplomatic and political dialogue with Russia, the UK is uniquely placed to assert severe financial constraints on Russia and Putin’s allies, given the huge amount of Russian money and assets sloshing around London.
Unfortunately, some of our politicians who should be taking a lead in resolving this humanitarian disaster are locked in a leadership battle for the next 4 weeks and barely register the genocide happening on the doorstep of Europe. Disappointed, as Rory Stewart must be to be, to be out of the running, we hope he can now focus on what he does best; directing humanitarian support, through DFID, to help those in Idlib who cannot help themselves.
Because we have done nothing to prevent them, these crimes against humanity; strikes on hospitals and chemical weapons attacks, will continue to haunt us long after Tory leadership battles and our departure from the EU are distant memories.
By David Nott and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (Directors of the charity Doctors Under Fire)
Link to the original source of the Telegraph