A garden in Ghouta

In Syria and Afghanistan, a failure to protect
18 AUGUST 2021
       
This Saturday will mark eight years since the Ghouta chemical massacre, when Assad regime forces attacked besieged neighbourhoods of Damascus with Sarin nerve agent, killing more than 1,400 people.

Today, MPs debate the failure of the UK and its allies in Afghanistan. Many argue that a failure to protect civilians and a failure to protect British security are bound together in Afghanistan.

The failure to respond in Syria in 2013 was a failure to protect civilians, a failure to prevent further attacks, and a failure to bring accountability. It has also been argued that this very public failure weakened Western military deterrence.

Central to today’s debate on Afghanistan is whether universal human rights are a security interest for Britain. The narrow view on this question limits UK security interests in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, to fighting terrorism and limiting the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

When this narrow view dominates, when ensuring human rights and protecting civilians is treated not as a primary aim but as a side issue, then the taking of thousands of lives is excused, whether as cities are pulverised to defeat terrorism, or as people are abandoned in a rush to cut deals with tyrants in the hope they will give up their chemical or nuclear weapons programmes.

Today we sent copies of a special issue of Syria Notes to MPs. This issue tells a story of the Syrian war in comic strip form. It’s a story that was told to us by a survivor of the siege of Eastern Ghouta.

It was here that hundreds of children were poisoned with Sarin nerve agent in the early hours of 21 August 2013.

It was also here in the town of Douma that Assad’s helicopters carried out a chlorine attack on 7 April 2018, killing 43 people and spurring the UK’s only armed response to Assad’s killing of civilians: an RAF strike on an empty chemical storage facility.

The 2018 chemical attack was one of the last acts of the siege. The regime’s victory meant exile for thousands of people from Ghouta. They were forcibly displaced to Idlib, far away in northwest Syria, where many now live in tent cities.

Today, Assad is again using siege warfare—this time in the south against communities in Daraa next to the Jordanian border, and against displaced people in Rukban Camp further east along the same border.

Jordan’s border is closed to aid, closed to the wounded, closed to families fleeing bombing. Jordan’s government has a close relationship to the UK, and so the UK has an immediate opportunity to alleviate civilian suffering through its local ally, both in Daraa and in Rukban Camp.

Read more:
In Daraa, the regime returns to war
Notes on Rukban Camp

The story in this issue, A Garden in Ghouta, is available in the comics anthology Slow Death Zero. Republication in this Parliamentary edition of Syria Notes has been by kind agreement with Last Gasp Books of San Fancisco.