DÁIL DEBATE ON SYRIA 5TH DECEMBER 2017
On the 5th December, 2017, Deputy Clare Daly moved a Private Member’s motion in Dáil Eireann as follows:
“That Dáil Éireann:
— the continued imposition of economic sanctions against Syria by the European Union and the United States of America; and
— the kidnapping of 54 children from the towns of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya in Syria, who went missing following an attack on 15th April, 2017, on a convoy of buses transporting evacuees from those towns; and
calls on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to:
— advocate at the EU Foreign Affairs Council for the lifting of the EU’s economic sanctions against Syria;
— immediately make contact with the US Ambassador to Ireland, to raise the issue of lifting the US economic sanctions against Syria; and
— work with all relevant authorities for the return of the 54 missing children from al-Fu’ah and Kafraya.”
What ensued was a shocking debate – followed two days later by a vote – that revealed not only the lengths to which Deputies Clare Daly and her colleague Mick Wallace are prepared to go to in order to minimise the crimes and atrocities of the Assad regime but also a willingness on the part of other Teachtaí Dála to row in behind Daly and Wallace on this issue. It also the exposed the empty rhetoric of the government which claims to be standing by the long-suffering people of Syria whereas, in reality, it does far too little to protect civilians from years-long campaigns of starvation sieges, chemical weapons attacks and mass bombings by the Assad regime and its allies.
Please see the response of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement to this sorry state of affairs which was sent to all members of Dáil Eireann.
As previously communicated, as members of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement, we are horrified at some of the comments in the Dáil debate of 5th Dec 2017. We would like to further elaborate on those concerns here and would appreciate your feedback.
As a group of concerned individuals, we have been working to bring attention to the mass atrocities in Syria since 2012. In 2013 we formed Irish Syria Solidarity Movement. Since June 2012 the Joint Foreign Affairs Committee have heard a number of presentations on Syria that we have organised:
Dr Hassan – a Syrian consultant working for many years in Ireland and representative at the time of Syrian Irish Humanitarian Aid urgently appealed to committee members on June 14th 2012: ‘I am begging you all – on behalf of thousands of people who have been killed in Syria, thousands of women who have been raped or widowed, thousands of children who have been orphaned, abused or raped, and thousands of honest people whose hearts are bleeding – to please take action. All of you who are watching this Government killing our people should do something. The one who watches the crime without intervening is partly responsible for that crime. I am begging the Irish Government, through the United Nations and the EU, to do something to protect our people…. How many thousands of people must be killed before we reach the threshold of action? How many women must be raped before action is taken? How many children will have to disappear?’ (The death toll quoted at the time was 15,000. Today it is estimated to be around 500,000.) http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/committeetakes/FOJ2012061400003?opendocument
Other speakers included Dr Thomas Pierret, University of Edinburgh, http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/committeetakes/FOJ2014041600002?opendocument#A00300
Rafif Jouejati – Syrian American activist met members of the committee informally on two separate visits to Dublin. Rafif is the founder and Director of the FREE-Syria Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria. In addition, she is the English spokeswoman for the activist network of Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, and Executive Committee member of the Day After Project.
Farouq Habib, Robin Yassin Kassab and Rafif Jouejati have been interviewed for the excellent “Syria The Impossible Revolution” documentary by Anne Daly and Ronan Tynan of Esperanza Productions which has just been released. Almost all of the above speakers have also been interviewed on RTÉ and by the Irish Times.
Members of the Syrian community here and abroad are currently reading through the 5th Dec Dáil debate. With so much information available from very reputable sources, including the information provided via ISSM speakers, we feel TD’s should properly inform themselves before speaking or tabling motions – especially in view of what many Syrians living among us have been through to escape from the genocidal Assad regime and allies Iran and Russia.
Syrian friends are scratching their heads to put it mildly at the depiction of the opposition to Assad by some of the people Niall Farrell quotes in his account of the “Peace Delegation” trip to Damascus, of which Deputies Wallace and Daly were members, as a “backward rural people who succumbed to the poisonous sectarian messages of Saudi Wahhabis and Qatari Muslim Brothers” (article for the Galway Advertiser. http://www.advertiser.ie/galway/article/96633/a-journey-in-syria-among-its-resilient-people)
Mr Farrell’s association of IS with the White Helmets is outrageous, slanderous, completely wrong and highly dangerous: “…IS and its White Helmets, detonated a car bomb beside the buses, killing more than 100 people, including 39 children”. This supports the utterly untrue propaganda which Assad and his Russian /Iranian allies use to justify their deliberate targeting of the White Helmets – a humanitarian organisation dedicated to the rescue of casualties of the war. Targeting humanitarian workers is a crime against humanity.
Let us be clear: We do not support any sanctions that impact on cancer or other vulnerable patients in Damascus hospitals. We support sanctions against individual members and associates of a regime which has perpetrated thousands of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The impact of the sanctions on the vulnerable must be addressed by the EU and regularly monitored.
Similarly, we condemn outright the reported kidnapping of 54 children from the towns of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya in Syria, who went missing following an attack on 15th April, 2017, on a convoy of buses transporting evacuees from those towns and we support the Irish government’s stated commitment to help with an investigation into what happened to the children.Deputy Clare Daly asserted that the motion she proposed was “simply a humanitarian proposition dealing with the situation facing ordinary Syrian people at the moment… This is about the people of Syria. They do not want our opinions; they want our help.”
However, this proposed motion only refers to the population in Assad regime controlled territory.
For example, though deputies Wallace and Daly visited Damascus, not only did they ignore the brutal onslaught against the population of East Ghouta nearby, but Deputy Wallace shamefully stated regarding the opposition enclaves: “There are two opposition enclaves left. There is not a Syrian in either. They are Saudi and Chechen members of Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. This is not the Syrians fighting the Syrians. This is outsiders coming in and creating havoc to destroy a civilisation.” This is untrue and is the same narrative propagated by the Assad regime to try to ensure that blanket bombing remains unchallenged. It leaves the population in these areas at immensely increased risk, a risk Deputy Wallace increases by his casual and untrue assertions in a national parliament.
Contrary to Deputy Catherine Connolly’s assertion, referring to the trip to Syria by her colleagues, that “there is no propaganda here”, characterising the opposition to Assad as JAN and Al Qaeda foreign jihadists is straight out of the Assad-Russian-Iranian handbook in justification of their relentless onslaught on besieged populations.
And where is the evidence of “a tremendous amount of research” on which Deputy Connolly states the motion was based?
While the Daly/Wallace motion quotes from the UN Asia report, what about other UN reports on Syria? For example, one would have expected some reference to the UN/WHO alarm calls in the past week to world powers to help arrange medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta which has become a “humanitarian emergency”. Nine patients have died in recent weeks while waiting evacuation according to UN envoy Jan Egeland. “Malnutrition rates in the besieged rebel-held area, about a 45-minute drive from the capital, are now the highest seen so far in Syria since the beginning of the crisis” -WHO http://news.trust.org/item/20171206120528-8vyja
Deputy Bríd Smith of PBP amended the Clare Daly motion to include mention of East Ghouta and quoted the UN’s comment that the 400,000 civilians were facing “catastrophe”. Yet the overall focus of the debate ignored the urgent calls for evacuation of the ill and injured and the urgent need to break the siege and one was left with the impression that the sanctions were responsible for the overall ‘catastrophic’ situation in Syria. Deputy Connolly stated in that regard: “Some 4.8 million people have fled. Some 6.6 million are internally displaced. Significantly, half of the 6.6 million are children. Some 300,000 are dead and millions have been injured and maimed. Despite these statistics, the Minister is sitting here tonight still standing over sanctions that are totally unjust and not achieving what they were intended to do.”
The devastation described by Deputy Connolly is not attributable to sanctions, but to the war against the civilian population of Syria waged relentlessly by the regime – the chief agents of which are the focus of these sanctions.
In contrast to the apparent welcome given to deputies Daly and Wallace in Syria, representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic have been refused access to the country. We would appreciate if deputies might please acquaint themselves with some of the other important reports of the UN and other human rights groups. For example, regarding the central issue of detainees for many Syrians, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that “my Office and the Commission of Inquiry have been refused access to the country, and no international human rights observers are admitted to the places where very probably tens of thousands of people are currently held. They are places of torture. Detention remains a central issue for many in Syria – one which may determine the fate of any political agreement… Today, in a sense the entire country has become a torture-chamber: a place of savage horror and absolute injustice.”
(High-level panel discussion on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic-Statement by the High Commissioner http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session35/_layouts/15/WopiFrame.aspx?sourcedoc=/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session35/Documents/A_HRC_35_15_AEV.docx&action=default&DefaultItemOpen=1
(14th March 2017)
EAST GHOUTA, EAST ALEPPO, MADAYA, DARAYA, AL-WAER, MOADAMIYA…: As the Dáil debate glossed over East Ghouta, despite Deputy Smith’s amendment and with the fate of East Ghouta already resembling that of East Aleppo – (and that of Madaya, al-Waer, Daraya, Moadamiya, and many other towns) – it is important to remind deputies of UN and other reports on the regime’s barbaric operations with the help of its allies Russia and Iran.
While Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan appears to excuse the Russian intervention as it was in “accordance with international law. Russia was invited into Syria by that country’s Government. That is the reality, regardless of whether we like that Government. All the other interventions, however, are violations of international law.”– she has not appeared to notice that core principles of international law such as the Geneva Convention principle of medical neutrality have been abandoned. The Physicians for Human Rights report on the fall of East Aleppo states: “Syrian hospitals and medical facilities have been attacked – either intentionally or wholly indiscriminately – at least 400 times since the start of the conflict. Well over 90 percent of these attacks have been carried out by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies. The facts speak for themselves. This is not an anti-terror operation. It is a scorched-earth campaign against anyone who threatens the authoritarian rule of President Assad or Russia’s stronghold in the Middle East…As both Syrian and Russian government spokespeople have made plain, anyone who remains in opposition-held areas such as eastern Aleppo or who merely provides assistance, including medical aid, to the opposition will be treated as a terrorist and destroyed.” (The irony of Deputy Mick Wallace’s dismissal of the inhabitants of the remaining opposition enclaves in Damascus as foreign jihadists echoing former U.S. president George W. Bush’s assertion just nine days after 9/11, at the beginning of the war on terror: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” !) Physicians for Human Rights – Aleppo in Crisis: “We Have Witnessed the Defeat of the Human Spirit in Aleppo” https://shar.es/1MZOKS http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/aleppo-in-crisis-we-have-witnessed-the-defeat-of-the-human-spirit-in-aleppo.html
Even UN Special envoy for Syria, De Mistura felt obliged to call out the regime’s actions: “it is.. totally unacceptable that the Syrian airforce attacks its own territory in an indiscriminate way, killing its own citizens, as it brutally happened today in Aleppo” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51011#.WivFidJl9dh
UN Report: Forced evacuation of East Aleppo was a war crime https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/01/syrian-regime-aleppo-airstrike-aid-convoy-united-nations-report
U.N. Investigators Say Syria Bombed Convoy and Did So Deliberately:
CHILDREN: Children bear the “disproportionate lethal impact” of the Syrian war, according authors of a recent study published in Lancet Global Health. “Over the course of the conflict, the proportion of child civilian casualties increased from 9% of 4,354 deaths in 2011 to 23% of 11,444 civilian deaths in 2016.” Contrary to Deputy Clare Daly’s apparent conclusion that all sides share equal responsibility, the Lancet report states that the rise stemmed from “increased reliance on aerial bombing by the Syrian government and international partners”. Civilians accounted for about 97% of barrel bomb deaths “suggesting indiscriminate or targeted warfare … possibly constituting a war crime”
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has put the total number of children killed in the Syrian war from March 2011 to November 2017 at 26,446. “Drawing on a network of sources as well as survivor accounts, the UK-based organisation estimates that 81% died in attacks by Syrian government forces. Russian forces were calculated to be behind 5.8% of child deaths, with armed opposition factions accounting for 3.5%, extremist Islamist groups 3%, and international coalition forces 2.7%.”
FORCED DISPLACEMENT: Deputy Clare Daly euphemistically concludes: “Much of Syrian territory has been retaken and is being rebuilt…. What the Syrian people want is assistance to rebuild.” But there is no apparent recognition of what the regime’s “retaking territory” has entailed – After the barrel bombs and starvation of Syrians in besieged regions, the devastated population has no choice but to leave.
According to Amnesty International “The government’s campaign of sieges, unlawful killings and
Philip Luther Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International concludes: “The Syrian government is committing war crimes on an epic scale in Eastern Ghouta” – Philip Luther
Whereas Deputy Daly concludes her Dáil motion with what seems like an entreaty to her fellow deputies not to be too hard on poor Assad: “Singling out Assad as the only bully in the world does not hold traction”.
REBUILDING SYRIA: Regarding Deputy Daly’s comment re assistance to rebuild Syria – does she mean handing over reconstruction aid to Assad?
Instead local communities must take ownership of any rebuilding plans but unless they are protected from the regime and its external enablers, the reconstruction aid will only serve to strengthen Assad, as is actually already happening in certain areas e.g. East Aleppo report by award–winning Guardian journalist Emma J Beals. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/11/16/un-allowing-assad-government-to-take-lead-in-rebuilding-aleppo.html )
“Absent a political settlement, rebuilding should focus on areas outside government control. The regime should be bypassed, as the alternative is … almost certain to reinforce those aspects of Syria’s political economy that led to the conflict in the first place.” (Rebuilding Syria by Faysal Itani and Tobias Schneider http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/reports/rebuilding-syria )
CHEMICAL WEAPONS: On 17th November Russia once more wielded its Security Council veto –this time to terminate the ongoing investigation by the UN of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. This despite the fact that it was Russia that undertook to ensure that Syria relinquish its further use of chemical weapons following the 2013 chemical attack on Al-Ghouta. Since then the UN has documented 23 chemical attacks, all of them carried out by the Syrian regime, including the appalling attack in April last on Khan Shaykhun, which as the UN reports ‘killed dozens and wounded hundreds.’ Yet this latest veto by Russia –another gross abuse of its permanent seat on the Security Council –appears to have elicited no obvious reaction either from the Irish Government or from the Dáil members recently returned from Syria?
Role of the UN, major recipient of Irish aid: Despite UN reports on the fall of Aleppo etc, many Syrians feel the UN has failed them. For example the regime has been able to exploit the UN’s role in transporting people after the population has been forced into submission and a local agreement or truce is signed in order to ensure transfer of the population. So the United Nations ends up playing the role of middleman, standing by as residents are expelled from their home regions.
According to reports published by human rights and humanitarian organizations, there are now nearly 6 million Syrian refugees and more than 8 million internally displaced persons within the country, making Syria currently the largest crisis of displaced persons in the world. A Pew Research Center report on refugees states that “about six-in-ten Syrians are now displaced from their homes, a number unprecedented in recent history for a single country”. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/05/key-facts-about-the-worlds-refugees/
The Syrian regime along with its Iranian allies are also changing the demographics in the region. “The Syrian regime intends. to expel residents of areas around Damascus, and replace them with Shiite settlers from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, who will take over land, homes, and property that does not belong to them”.e.g. “Iran’s intervention in direct negotiations a year ago, when it insisted on implementing demographic change between the region of al-Zabadani, which has a Sunni majority, and Shiite towns of Kufriya and al-Fu’ah near the city of Idlib.’ http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/increasing-tactics-of-forced-displacement-in-syria
Dr Annie Sparrow, co–winner of the American Red Cross National Hero award was scathing in her criticism of WHO Syria’s assistance, “which should be delivered according to need, the principle of impartiality, one of WHO’s founding ethical principles. Yet WHO Syria has been anything but an impartial agency serving the needy” and she says has prioritised warm relations with the Syrian government over meeting the most acute needs of the Syrian people.
Similarly, Emma J Beals and Nick Hopkins have done a series of articles for the Guardian exposing the UN’s closeness to the Syrian government and its awarding contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to people closely associated with Assad as part of an aid programme that critics fear is increasingly at the whim of the government in Damascus, a Guardian investigation has found. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/29/un-pays-tens-of-millions-to-assad-regime-syria-aid-programme-contracts Why are such alarming reports on Syria ignored in Dáil debates?
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ciaran Cannon states that “Ireland will continue to prioritise the protection of civilians, particularly the most vulnerable of these, including children, in our response to the Syria crisis.” Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney states that “We cannot stand idly by as the Assad regime inflicts such suffering on its people”.
But as reports from East Ghouta filter in daily of deaths of children due to the refusal of Assad and allies to lift the blockade, Ireland seems to be doing just that – standing by.
Has minister Coveney for example telephoned the Russian /Iranian embassies as he did immediately following President Trump’s declaration that Jeruslaem would be Israel’s capital?
Are Irish ministers raising their concerns in Brussels, at the UN, and especially with Iranian authorities during trade missions-the 1st ministerial– led trade mission to Tehran following the lifting of sanctions is due any day? (UN coordinator for Syria Jan Egeland rebuke of Iran/Russia for failure to evacuate medical emergencies Eastern Ghouta (https://twitter.com/SemaanDiana/status/939150375256543233 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-42267289)
Has Ireland asked the WFP – a huge beneficiary of Irish aid – why food drops are not being arranged for Eastern Ghouta? World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops -Yet the World Food Programme has never made a single aid drop to any territory besieged by the Assad regime or its Iranian-backed ally Hezbollah. The vast majority of besieged areas are under siege from the regime
SANCTIONS: Irish humanitarian assistance for Syria is to be praised but as Robin Yassin Kassab stated last year at the Oireachtas JFAC: “Humanitarian assistance is absolutely essential but insufficient. Currently, 1 million people are under starvation siege in Syria. As much diplomatic and economic pressure as possible should be brought to bear on Russia and Iran to deter their assaults. Irish investment in Iran which, I hear, is speeding up, should be suspended until Iran removes these forces from Syria…Iran’s Shia occupation forces in Sunni majority Syria are one direct cause of the rise of Sunni jihadism. Shia forces are not just policing people; they are murdering them. This is in the interests of the security of Europe. If one does not care about people in Syria, surely one should care about people in Europe. Giving Sunni jihadists and identity groups an excuse for their narrative is not a good idea from a European point of view.”Robin said that Russia should be excluded from the SWIFT banking system “for its repeated war crimes, employing incendiary and cluster bombs and bunker busters on civilian areas and targeting schools, hospitals and aid convoys, including the United Nations aid convoy.”
Robin stated that Assad is responsible for the impact of sanctions: “What is hurting the poor in Syria is Assad’s war and, specifically, starvation sieges. There are also Assad’s checkpoints which charge bribes and so on. If a bag of tea goes through a checkpoint, then the price dramatically increases on the other side because the man in charge of that checkpoint takes his big cut on it, and that happens several times, so prices are inflated. It is because of checkpoints and because of the regime’s behaviour and corruption. The sanctions are not hurting the poor; the Syrian regime is hurting the poor.”