The Liberal Democrats for Free Syria support a Syrian-led, Syria-focused end to the war and a just and sustainable peace.

We judge events and policy proposals according to the evidence and the circumstances rather than dogma or clumsy comparisons with other foreign policy disasters of our time.

We support Syrians in their quest for a peaceful, democratic and inclusive future where all can pursue their dreams and live in dignity.

For more information please email ld4freesyria@gmail.com

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Find us on Twitter: @LD4FreeSyria

Friday 18 November 2016

Call on UK councils to support the Local Council of Aleppo City

In her work on Syria, Jo Cox was particularly struck by how civil society has carried on in the most appalling conditions. A key example of that is the local councils that have been set up in opposition areas.

Read about Syria’s local councils in the last issue of Syria Notes published before Jo’s death.

This week Russian forces have resumed attacks on besieged civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo. 275,000 people remain trapped in east Aleppo according to Stephen O’Brien of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A third of those are children according to UNICEF.

UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is trying to negotiate an end to the siege of Aleppo. As part of his proposal he calls for the recognition of the Local Council of Aleppo’s administration in eastern Aleppo.

Aleppo’s Local Council was founded in March 2013 to meet the needs of the area of Aleppo free of regime control. Members are elected through the general commission which includes representatives of borough councils and independent members. The term is one year.

The Local Council of Aleppo City provides water/waste management services, electricity supply services, rubbish collection, street cleaning, road maintenance, educational supplies and stationery, humanitarian aid, air raid shelters, and a burial service.

Before the siege, the council already faced all the difficulties of life under bombardment as well as the lack of a fixed budget, lack of heavy equipment, and lack of trained personnel. Even under siege, with shortages of food and fuel, the council continues to do all it can to maintain life and hope for Aleppo’s future.

Staffan de Mistura made clear in his recent interview with The Guardian that a military victory by the Assad regime will not bring peace but instead more instability and terrorism. Civil society initiatives like Aleppo Local Council are trying to build an alternative both to Assad’s failed state and to the terror state of ISIS, and we need to support them.

Local authorities in the UK can do their part to support Staffan de Mistura’s peace efforts, and to show support for besieged civilians in Aleppo including tens of thousands of children, by supporting Aleppo Local Council’s democratic project.

Metz, France, has a Charter of Friendship with the Local Council of Aleppo City. Now is the time for similar statements of support from UK local authorities.

The Charter of Friendship between the City of Metz, France, and the City of Aleppo, Syria, says:
“Lorraine and Metz experienced several conflicts in their turbulent history and suffered the humanitarian consequences: denial of rights, displacement of populations. It is with this history that the City of Metz decided to initiate a Charter of Friendship with The Civil Committee of the City of Aleppo, in Syria, at war today, but looking to reconstruction tomorrow.

“The aim of this Charter is to demonstrate our common desire to strengthen ties between the City of Aleppo and the City of Metz. It is not limited in time. It includes all citizens and structures present in a city and lays the foundation stone of a lasting friendship between our two councils.”

Please call on your local councillors to similarly extend friendship and support to the besieged people of Aleppo.

You can write to your local councillors via www.writetothem.com

Friday 30 September 2016

Assad, Appeasement, Aleppo and the Collapse of International Law

By Jonathan Brown
First published at Liberal Democrat Voice

The latest ceasefire in Syria failed—and was always going to fail—due to a complete lack of will to enforce its provisions. This failure of the international community to respond to the worst humanitarian crisis of a generation is eroding the system of international laws and norms that underpin democratic societies.

As previously, the Syrian regime and its international backers used the ceasefire to prepare for a renewed military offensive. Fatally undermining the faith of Syrians in the political process, just as on every previous occasion, was the unwillingness of the outside world to protect civilians. As of 31st August 2016 107 airdrops of humanitarian supplies had been made to regime-held Deir Ez-Zur (besieged by ISIS) and 82 to regime-held Qamishli (besieged by Kurdish YPG forces). But not a single one had been made to any opposition-held part of the country. This is despite the fact that as the result of a UK government proposal, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) had set a deadline of 1st June for the Assad regime to grant full humanitarian access to besieged areas. Since then, one of the seven most critical areas identified has been completely depopulated (Daraya) and East Aleppo has come under complete siege.

The Aleppo Council, Kesh Malek (a charity providing schooling, until the 27th September to children in Aleppo) and war surgeon David Nott report fierce barrages of napalm, cluster munitions, phosphorous, barrel bombs, chlorine gas and bunker buster bombs targeting the city’s underground hospitals and neighbourhoods. And John Kerry meekly warns that if Russia does not put an end to this, we will walk away from talks that the regime has never shown the slightest interest in.

Syria’s refugee crisis has already destabilised European politics, providing ammunition to the extreme left and right. It has pushed governments into contortions over their legal and moral responsibilities to those in desperate need of help. UNRWA today provides support to 5 million Palestinian refugees descended from 750,000 who were expelled from their homes in 1948. Today’s Syrian refugee population already numbers over 5 million. If you think (and you’d be right) that we’ve failed the refugees today, think how difficult it will be to provide for them in future.

For any political process to stand a chance, pressure has to be placed upon the Assad regime and its principle backers. At the very least, the UK should actively monitor Syrian airspace, tracking military flights by the regime and Russia, matching flights with attacks to determine which base each attack originates from and therefore which air force is responsible – and which officers and officials have command responsibility. Russian and Iranian military officers and officials identified as having command responsibility for attacks on civilian targets should be added to existing sanctions lists and preparations made for bringing war crimes charges. The UK should work with EU partners to impose new Syria-related sanctions on Russia and Iran, and call on Iraq to block Iranian flights through its airspace.

The RAF should press ahead with airdrops and airlifts to besieged areas; not just as a logistical second-best option for delivering aid, but as a means of pressing for ground access. And as advocated by the late Jo Cox, the UK should, with its allies, institute a no-bombing zone. This NBZ, or ‘deter and retaliate’ model no-fly zone would not require any boots on the ground or UK aircraft to enter Syrian airspace. It would not target Russian forces. But it would answer further air attacks against civilians with precision strikes against carefully selected regime military targets.

For Western political leaders, talks have become an end in themselves rather than a means to one. But over and over again, as red line after red line has been crossed, it has been demonstrated that diplomacy without pressure cannot deliver a political solution. When laws are not enforced; when there are no consequences for committing war crimes, they are repeated. This video shows what the ‘peace’ that Assad is imposing on the country looks like. Unless pressure is brought to bear upon the regime and its international backers, no inclusive or sustainable peace is conceivable.

Anyone wanting further information on Syria and on the opinions of Syrians living here, elsewhere in the diaspora and inside Syria are invited to follow the Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction on our website or Facebook page or to email us on info@LibDems4FreeSyria.org

* Jonathan Brown is the Chair of the Chichester Party, founder of Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction and is an executive committee member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. He is writing here in a personal capacity.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Five years into a revolution betrayed, Liberal Democrats need to build links with Syrians

By Jonathan Brown
First published at Liberal Democrat Voice

Five years ago, on Friday 18th March 2011, Syrian civilians in the southern town of Deraa took to the streets to demand freedom, dignity and a fair future. The regime of Bashar al-Assad and his coterie responded immediately with deadly force, and over the following weeks more and more protesters were shot down, more and more mourners were murdered while attending funerals and more and more innocent Syrians were rounded up for torture – in many cases never to be seen again.
In May 2011 the civil uprising was invigorated by the desperately sad revelation that 13 year old Hamza al-Khateeb had died in prison. When his body was returned to his family, “the boy’s head was swollen, purple and disfigured. His body was a mess of welts, cigarette burns and wounds from bullets fired to injure, not kill. His kneecaps had been smashed, his neck broken, his jaw shattered and his penis cut off.” Even Syrians, after decades of oppression, were shocked that the regime would stoop so low.

As this post explains: “By June 2011, Islamist radicals, many of whom had been released in presidential amnesties, began to organize into small militias conducting hit-and-run attacks on the army. Now thoroughly disabused of the notion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government could be swayed by peaceful protest, many former demonstrators and military defectors also took up arms.”

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it, the international community has completely failed Syria. We have stood by or allowed fuel to be poured on the fire of one of the worst humanitarian crises since WWII.

As someone who lived in Syria for several years, and who remains in contact with Syrians there, and in the refugee communities, it is clear that my sympathies lie with the Syrian people, divided though they may be. Last week’s conference debate on the emergency motion ‘Towards a Stable and Peaceful Syria’ was, despite the perhaps unrealistic optimism of the title, nevertheless a step forward. As a party we have debated air strikes and united around Tim Farron’s call that we should do much, much more for refugees (not all of whom are Syrian, it should be noted). What we have not been good at doing, as a party, a government, a country or even as a continent, is to really listen to Syrian voices and create space for them to lead and inform our debates.

If the controversy around air strikes has achieved one thing, it has been that this has begun, ever so slightly, to change. On Saturday 9th January many of us attended the very informative “Syria Vote and Beyond—Radical Ideas for Difficult Problems” conference, and heard from two Syrian speakers. We were privileged that one of them, Yasmine Nahlawi of the Manchester Syrian Community’s Rethink Rebuild Society, came to speak at the ‘Safe at Last? Syrian Refugees in the UK’ Fringe in York last weekend.

I have founded, and aim shortly to officially launch the Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction. The primary purpose of the group is to help connect Lib Dems with Syrians and to enable us to hear directly from them. It exists to be a conduit for Syrians to connect with us. I hope that we will be able to develop links with, and learn from, organisations such as the Rethink Rebuild Society, the Syrian British Medical Association, Badael and many others. With the recent partial ‘cessation of hostilities’, Syrians have taken to the streets in great numbers once again, protesting against the horrific regime and the extremists who have attempted to co-opt the revolution. We should be with them in spirit and in solidarity.

I will write more soon, but if anyone would like to register their interest or get involved, please contact me via the Facebook page linked to above and/or email me on LD4FreeSyria@gmail.com

Jonathan Brown is a Liberal Democrat activist from Chichester, an executive committee member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and a Syrian rights campaigner. He is writing here in a personal capacity.

We would like to hear of any similar initiatives by members of other UK political parties, unions, or civil society organisations—please contact us at info@syriauk.org