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.