People in Aleppo are suffering unthinkable violence
The Rally for Aleppo at Downing Street at noon today is potentially very significant.
I hope most people will have some understanding of why it is being held, of the level of violence people in Aleppo are being subjected to particularly by Putin and Assad’s air forces, and of the great humanitarian need to end the siege against civilians.
What is particularly important about this demonstration is the number of big NGOs that have come together to call on the UK Government to implement an effective strategy to protect civilians. Syria campaigners have been demonstrating for years calling for action, but NGOs have in the past been reluctant to go beyond vague ‘Stand with Syria’ type slogans. See the NGO letter to Theresa May.
The collective NGO letter doesn’t prescribe what ways and means the strategy should use, but some of the NGOs do go into detail. Colin Walker of War Child calls on the UK Government to consider robust economic sanctions, tracking military aircraft involved in assaults on civilian areas, a helicopter no-fly zone, and a no-bombing zone.
Avaaz, who are also backing Saturday’s rally, commissioned a set of polls by YouGov which showed very strong support for a no-fly zone by people in France, Germany, and the UK, ranging from 59 per cent in France to 69 per cent in Germany.
As significant as the high level of support was the tiny level of outright opposition. Only six per cent of those polled in the UK opposed a no-fly zone.
Syrian groups in the UK support the proposal for a no-bombing zone. Unlike a no-fly zone this doesn’t require air patrols or the shooting down of aircraft. Instead it proposes to deter attacks on civilians by retaliating with long range missile strikes against Assad regime military targets like runways, bomb factories, and regime aircraft on the ground.
A no-bomb zone wouldn’t put British pilots at risk, wouldn’t have to bomb air defences, and wouldn’t have to directly engage with Russia. If Russian planes continued to bomb civilians, retaliation would still target the Assad regime’s military.
There has been a lot of noise around Boris Johnson recently picking up on Ann Clwyd’s remarks about demonstrating outside the Russian Embassy. Syria activists have demonstrated outside the Embassy a number of times in the past, but we know Putin isn’t going to be swayed by public opinion in the UK. What’s needed for that is action by the UK government.
There has also been a lot of attention given to Stop The War’s opposition to any action against Russia, even against any economic measures. Syrians and their supporters have protested at Stop The War’s events several times, but we shouldn’t let the miserable spectacle of Stop The War distract from the issue of Syria itself. There has been a wider failure by civil soiety in the UK to engage on Syria.
Last year there was a major positive shift in engagement on the issue of refugees, but Syrians still inside Syria need solidarity and protection as well. Let’s hope that this more forward leaning stance by NGOs in the UK can lead to greater engagement. One area where we hope that might happen is in education.
Syria activists in the UK are involved in a number of measures on that. One is an emergency appeal for a school in Aleppo. We know the people involved in Aleppo, and put them together with the UK registered charity managing the fundraising.
Another more long term effort on Syria is the Education For Freedom campaign. They are preparing educational materials for UK schools and planning school visits. The aim is to build direct links between schools in the UK and schools in Syria.
Please join the Rally for Aleppo (12 noon,Downing Street) this afternoon and show your support for Syrians still in Syria, For the children of Aleppo, for their mothers and fathers and grandparents, for Syria’s medics, rescue workers and teachers.