Parliament’s concerns are very partial
This week saw parliament reconvene and a major debate take place concerning the attack on chemical weapons facilities in Syria. These attacks took place in a coordinated way by British, French and American forces and the reason for them was claimed to be the crossing of a ‘red line’ by Assad because of his use of chemical weapons in his latest attack. This led to calls for parliament to be recalled and considerable debate about whether we should have joined in the bombing. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbin called for a War Powers Act to be enacted to clarify when a prime minister could and could not engage in military actions.
The death and destruction in Syria is appalling. The use of barrel bombs dropped on civilian areas has caused terrible damage and thousands of innocent citizens have been killed. The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that over 217 thousand civilians have been killed; over 13 thousand have been tortured to death and over 27 thousand children have been killed. Of those, 80% were killed by Syrian forces and 6% by Russians. These figures have been broadly supported by the Syrian American Medical Society and White Helmets, an aid agency working in the country. There has been universal condemnation including by the UN’s Secretary General.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, another conflict is underway also causing considerable death and destruction. As we noted in an earlier post, thousands have died, cholera is widespread, and the country is being steadily bombed back to the stone age. Millions have been displaced and medical and other humanitarian supplies are prevented from entering the country because of a blockade. There has not however been much in the way of outrage from parliamentarians about this and no calls to recall parliament.
Another key difference is while Assad is treated as a pariah, the Saudis who are carrying out the bombing of Yemen – including schools, hospitals, civilian facilities and weddings – are feted in the UK, get to meet the Queen and receive visits by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family. This is because we are major suppliers of weapons to the regime. RAF personnel are involved in some way helping the Saudis. (Picture: Campaign Against the Arms Trade)
It was claimed that the justification for the bombing of Syria was the crossing of the red line. This suggested that Assad had used chemical weapons for the second time and we had to send a message to deter him.
One problem: it is not the first or even the second time he has done this. The SNHR estimate that he has used them on 207 occasions and on 174 occasions since the Ghouta attack.
207 chemical weapons attacks by Assad
The very notion that a red line has been crossed is therefore not tenable as Assad has regularly used these weapons, on average three times a month. In addition to chlorine he has on occasion used Sarin.
Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives or have lost loved ones in these terrible conflicts. The destruction of buildings will take decades to do and billions to repair. In one case we continue to profit from the supply of arms and roll out the red carpet to those who are responsible: in the other case we say a red line has been crossed – which it has on many, many occasions – and bomb the country.