Statement on the conflict in Syria

I have been deeply concerned about the situation in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, and have worked together with colleagues on aspects of the humanitarian situation, peace-building, human rights and international law. 


I was a peace-activist long before I came into politics, and I am certainly opposed to the kind of dangerous interventionism that brought about the conflict in Iraq and Syria. I was out on the streets protesting against the Iraq war and continue to engage with grassroots organisations for peace. As a Member of the European Parliament, I have worked with such networks as Mayors for Peace, and the European Grassroots Anti-Racism Movement, to promote awareness of atrocities and war crimes. In particular, I have been an active member of the Parliamentarians for Global Action, and network of legislators from around the world who work to promote international law and human rights.


My political group in the European Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats with whom Labour MEPs sit, has had a clear position on Syria. Finding a credible solution for Syria involves a political transition, reconstruction, reconciliation, and transitional justice. The EU must also maintain its support for the large number of refugees and displaced persons – in Syria, neighbouring countries and the wider region. Our main and first goal must be to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. This can only be achieved if a ceasefire is fully respected and through an inclusive political transition that will stabilise the country, establishing the basis for democratic elections, and respect for religious pluralism in Syria.


While it is clear that any military intervention must only be within the framework of international law, it is also clear that the international community has a moral obligation to take action in the face of mass atrocities, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the use of chemical weapons. Daesh (so-called Islamic State), Assad regime forces, and various other militias are responsible for such crimes in Syria, as well as in Iraq. The international community must operate within the law to stop these crimes being committed, to work to bring peace, and to bring perpetrators to justice.


On May 4th, I joined a group of fellow MEP in sending a letter to Federica Mogherini and EU Foreign Ministers, calling on them to “to urgently step up and collectively ensure the full funding of the vitally important new Syria accountability mechanism established by the UN General Assembly on 21 December 2016 to collect, preserve, and analyse evidence of atrocity crimes committed by all parties in the Syria conflict, and to prepare files to facilitate and expedite criminal proceedings.”


On Tuesday May 16 the European Parliament held a debate on the situation in Syria, and I spoke to address some of these points. I spoke sending a message directly from Manchester-based Rethink Rebuild Society, a grassroots' Syrian civil society support group who I work closely with.  I stressed their urgent calls for the international community to take robust action for civilian protection.          


While I understand and share your frustration with the UN’s inability to act more decisively on these matters, I would urge you to keep in mind that it is nevertheless a vitally important body for international cooperation. The UN organises, funds, and coordinates countless numbers of programmes that are crucial to the most vulnerable people on this planet, including the refugees fleeing from Syria, as well as those benefiting from the UN Development Programme, World Food Programme, numerous peace-keeping missions and many other initiatives. Without the UN’s international treaties and legal instruments, much of the peace and prosperity that does exist in the world could unravel.