9:30 am - September 1st 2013
When we are thinking today about Syria there’s only one place to start: the desperate situation of up to 8 million people in urgent need of help.
More than a million and a half are refugees in neighbouring countries, states that have their own problems, serious economic strains, and that need help to provide the homes, the blankets, the care, that these often traumatised refugees need.
Millions more are displaced, or at risk, within Syria. We need to ensure that every effort is made to get humanitarian supplies, medical supplies, to them.
And we need to find a way for the UN to protect them from future attacks of all kinds, to fulfil its responsibility to protect. The UN should be creating safe corridors through which they can escape – and eventually to achieve a ceasefire in the civil war.
I agree with President Obama on one thing: “We cannot accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale.” Indeed, we – the international community, acting collectively under UN auspices — must save them from attacks of all kinds.
And yet the US focus, the French focus, is on what are clearly plans for a missile strike against the Syrian regime, a strike that no one is claiming is going to remove the dreadful President Assad, that no one claims is going to take any productive step towards helping to construct an alternative government for Syria, a strike that will, simply, take more lives, including, undoubtedly, lives of people, men, women, and children, who have nothing to do with the conflict, but are simply trying to survive in the middle of an awful civil war.
But there’s no evidence, no sense, in the claim that a US missile strike, covered with a fig leaf of whatever other countries beyond France can be persuaded, bribed or pushed into “participation” in the attack, is going to stop any future gas attack, from whichever side it might come.
And no, we haven’t seen real evidence, independent scrutiny, in what happened in that hell in a Damascus suburb on August 21. John Kerry says: “This is common sense. This is evidence. These are facts.” Well, we’ve heard that before, and we’ve good reason not to believe it.
The vote in Parliament this week was a big step forward – a step forward for British democracy, a step forward for our place in the world. And the impact has been found around the world.
It seems unlikely that this evening’s decision by President Obama to refer his plans for an attack to Congress would have occurred without the Westminster vote. But is for Britain this should be only the start. We could take three more steps – important steps.
1. Call off the world’s biggest arms fair planned for London next month.
2. Stop selling UK arms to abusive regimes. Our £12bn arms industry is a trade in misery, in death, in supporting regimes like that of President Assad, and the dreadful human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
3. Scrap Trident nuclear weapons, making us truly world leaders. So I say to Congress, I say to President Hollande, I say to whichever Arab regime the Americans are hoping to bribe, bully or persuade on board an attack, please, stop, think.
The combined UN-regional talks route to a ceasefire in Syria is a difficult route, strewn with obstacles. But it’s the legal route. It’s the route that can help the people of Syria and the region to together find a way forward – not have it imposed on them, as the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, had the route imposed on them, with continuing awful results.
The route to justice for a horrific gas attack is the International Criminal Court. As Caroline Lucas said this week: “Crimes against humanity and international law have been committed. Once there is evidence of responsibility for these appalling attacks, those responsible must be dealt with by the International Criminal Court.”
The UN and the International Criminal Court are the right routes. But it’s time the world – America, Nato, the UK – took the right route.
This article is an adaption of a speech I made today at the No Attack on Syria demonstration.
Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
· Other posts by Natalie Bennett
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Middle East ,Westminster
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