Saturday, 14 October 2017

'Raped below a picture of Assad': Women describe abuse at hands of Syrian forces

 'Ayda was first arrested by Syria’s elite Republic Guards at a check-point in Aleppo. She was taken to their local headquarters where, under a picture of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, she was beaten, tied, and then raped.

 She was taken to a hospital to treat the bleeding stemming from the rape, but after seven days and against the better advice of doctors, security forces brought her to a prison where she was locked in a cell with 20 other women.

 Ayda endured three months of repeated rapes and a month of solitary confinement, where she shared a cell with a rotting corpse. She found a razor in the cell and tried to take her own life.

 She was twice put onto the notorious "flying carpet" (a wooden plank to which the detainee is attached and then bent backwards) and was made to watch a group of young male detainees sexually abused with bottles.

 By the time she was released, her husband had left her and married someone else. Authorities then forced her to sign an undertaking to leave Syria and never return.

 Ayda is one of eight women who have spoken about their treatment at the hands of Syrian authorities for the first time.

 Their stories were included in a new report by the NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR) and include horrific details of repeated rapes, extreme sexual violence and torture.

 Their names have been changed to protect their and their family’s identities.

 Commenting on the case, Toby Cadman, head of chambers at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, which is offering legal support to LDHR on the cases, told Middle East Eye: "It is regrettable that there is presently no international accountability mechanism; that will come.

 “Everyone is working together towards justice - and we know from history, justice and accountability comes, even if it takes time. Pushing for accountability and ending impunity is absolutely essential for a future democratic Syria based on the rule of law.”

 The experiences - which have all taken place during the country’s civil war - have left the women with indelible psychological and physical scars and made them outcasts in their own communities.

 “Without exception, these women are still haunted by the terror of detention. They have become withdrawn, fearful and anxious,” the report said.

 Each of the women were medically evaluated by LDHR trained doctors. Medical experts then determined whether the findings were consistent with international standards of sexual violence and torture so that they could serve as evidence in court.

 While in detention, the women “in some cases were treated no differently from men”, the report said but there was “no regards to their differing health and personal needs.”

 “Against a background of forced nudity on arrival and the spectre of sexual harassment and insults in their cells, in bathrooms and in corridors, the women’s bodies were not their own,” it said.

 “There are many cultural, societal barriers to discussing detention and what happens there, particularly for women. Unfortunately, instead of care and support, women who have been detained face stigma and shame in their communities.”
 The report is the latest in a string of revelations about the inner workings of Syria’s depraved prisons to emerge in recent years.

 Earlier this year, Amnesty International said that as many as 13,000 people had died from torture and starvation at Saydanya prison near Damascus which it described as a “human slaughterhouse”.

 The US administration has claimed that the dead bodies at the prison have then been incinerated in a giant crematorium to hide the scale of the mass killing and abuse.

 The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimated that as many as 45,000 opponents of the Assad government have been killed inside prisons alone.

 However, justice for victims and their families remains elusive, human rights activists said.

 Russia - Assad’s key backer - has vetoed proposals at the UN Security Council to set up a court similar to those for the Rwanda and Yugoslavian conflicts.

 And Syria has yet to ratify the Rome Statute which allows for the International Criminal Court to prosecute core international crimes should the state not do so.

 In February, lawyers for Madrid-based Guernica 37, representing the sister of a Syrian man alleged to have been tortured to death in a Damascus prison in 2013, launched a criminal complaint against nine members of the Syrian security forces in Spain’s national court.

 The case was brought to light after a defector known as “Caesar” escaped from Syria in September 2013 with more than 50,000 photos documenting the deaths of more than 6,000 people.

 The case is thought to be the first in a western court brought against Syrian authorities.

 The case was made possible because the man’s sister is a Spanish citizen, and under international law, relatives of victims of crimes against humanity committed elsewhere are also considered victims.

 Last month Spanish courts reversed an earlier decision to hear the case. Guernica 37 have appealed.

 Cadman said that Guernica 37 was working on a number of investigations related to Syria and described the LDHR report as “highly credible and focuses on an issue of very real concern”.

 “We will continue to work with Syrian civil society and human rights organisations to document these crimes and bring cases before national courts and to work with Syrian civil society to develop the institutional framework for Syria that will one day bear the greatest burden of holding the perpetrators accountable.” '

Friday, 13 October 2017

Relatives admit existence of Russia’s ‘Wagner mercenary army’ in Syria

Image of Russian soldiers [file photo]

 'As Russia counts the cost of victories in Syria two years after the start of its overt military intervention, there is apparent surprise at the news that two fighters from a Russian mercenary unit have been killed by Daesh. The Defence Ministry in Moscow immediately denied the news, stressing that there are no Russian prisoners of war in Syria.

 The Kremlin promised to look into the identity of the men who are said to be Russians. Just as it has done in east Ukraine, Russia has denied the presence of any of its mercenaries fighting in Syria.

 However, a brother of one of the killed fighters from the Moscow suburbs told Al-Hurra radio that his brother did belong to a mercenary unit. “The fighters are lured by money and are sent to be slaughtered, and then the authorities deny this. The state established a private army under the name ‘Wagner’, and my brother was part of it.”

 He added that his brother also fought in east Ukraine in 2014 as part of the Slavonic Corps, which later became the “Wagner mercenary army”. Thousands of young Russians are said to have fought with the unit and been killed.

 “Why doesn’t Russia establish an official Special Forces unit with these fighters rather than use them as bait?” asked the anonymous relative. “Their existence is then denied when they are killed. President Putin himself has granted Wagner officials awards in the Kremlin. Why are official awards granted to the leaders of this private military company, while the fighters are denied when they are injured or killed?”

 He added his belief that an official announcement of the Wagner private army would force the Russian leadership to announce the real number of its losses in Syria, which are “much higher” than has been admitted.

 According to the girlfriend of the other fighter killed by Daesh, “Wagner” trains its fighters at an official military base in Krasnodar and promises to pay them well, about $4,000 a month. However, she said that they are only paid about half of that, while they pay the families of fighters killed between $22,500 and $52,000 depending on their rank and mission. She also said that the contract that the fighters sign with Wagner “would make anyone’s hair stand on end.” It apparently prohibits family members from contacting the fighters and prohibits them from opening the coffin and identifying them when they are killed. She claimed to have been informed of the death of her boyfriend on 26 September by “sources” in Syria, but has not still received his body. Although she knows that Rostov Airport received 12 coffins on the 28 September and that they were met by a Wagner representative, friends and relatives were not informed of anything officially.

 The last letter the fighter’s family received was on 13 September, in which he wrote, “I am still alive, but we cannot leave. Everything around us is mined.”

 Responding to the question of why fighters would join a mercenary unit to fight in Syria, she said, “President Putin has declared that the minimum cost of living for Rostov is 33,000 Rubles; I am a state employee and I make 13,000 Rubles. How can I live on this?” It is, she concluded, only natural for these men to want to make more money.'

For a different Syria

 'After six-and-a-half years of conflict, it appears as though ruler Bashar al-Assad has succeeded in doing something that no despot has so far managed to do: despite hundreds of thousands of deaths and 12 million displaced people, he can continue to rule just as before – with arbitrary acts by the state, the deployment of illegal chemical weapons and the systematic mass elimination of civilians in regime detention centres. But does this mean he has won the war? Will the Syrian conflict soon be over? And can those Syrians who have fled then finally return home?

 Assad is dependent on people who only use Syria for personal enrichment and to increase their power. What appears on the surface to be stability – because no bombs are falling, the rubble is being cleared from the streets and traders have reopened their shops – is in reality a peace of the grave. The people may be safe from air attacks, but not from the influence of the militias and intelligence agencies, not from the arrest and elimination machinery of the regime and not from expropriation.

 A Syria under Assad will continue to be centralist, totalitarian and characterised by despotism, whereby the problems of clientelism and nepotism have been further exacerbated by the war economy and foreign influence. The circumstances that spawned the rebellion are therefore still present and have to some extent worsened. What Syrian society really needs – stability without fear, reconciliation, codetermination, justice and equal opportunities – is inconceivable with Assad and the guarantors of his power.

 The conflict in Syria is therefore not reaching its end, but entering a new phase. Any Syrian refugee leading a bearable existence in a safe place is not going to return for the time being. If the return of Syrian refugees is to be a declared interest of Germany, the government must stand up for a different Syria. Five things would be helpful in this endeavour.

 Firstly, end the German military intervention. Even if this is part of the fight against IS terror – German Tornados help with the bombardment of civilians and not with their protection. Any nation not placing itself in the service of the civilian population has no business in the air space of a foreign country. It would be better for Germany to spend the half-a-million Euros that its Tornado mission is costing every day on aid for Syrians displaced to neighbouring countries.

 Secondly, no normalisation of relations with the Assad regime, no opening of diplomatic representations, no intelligence agency cooperation. Assad's secret services have been using jihadist networks for many years to consolidate their own power and are therefore not trustworthy.

 Thirdly, no reconstruction with Damascus. Assad's reconstruction serves neither the economic restoration of Syria nor its social reparation, but is rather an opportunity for self-enrichment, to reward supporters, punish opponents and cement demographic changes.

 With the help of a new decree (No. 66), major housing projects are being agreed, former owners are being de facto expropriated and Syrians who have fled abroad are being passed over so that supporters of the regime can be housed in particular regions. This is why Assad has publicly welcomed a "healthier and more homogenous" society. Without the prospect of a political transition, only small, local and direct reconstruction measures should be financed in cooperation with civilian structures in appropriate opposition areas.

 Fourthly, Berlin should adopt a leading role in the legal prosecution of the crimes of the Assad regime and equip the Federal Public Prosecutor for the task with more personnel in the international criminal law division. Owing to the universal jurisdiction principle, Germany can try war crimes committed in Syria in German courts. The evidence is overwhelming. The first charges, investigations and witness interviews should result in international arrest warrants against high-ranking representatives of the regime as soon as possible. Because there can be no peace without justice. And without justice, no return for refugees.

 Fifthly, more aid for Syrian civil society, even if this has barely any room for manoeuver within the country itself. Many activists have fled abroad, where they can be supported, educated and prepared for a future role in a democratic Syria.

 What Syria needs right now is a clear stance. Because the nation will find no peace with this regime, we should at least move to make it illegal. This is not about Assad the person, but the system behind him. Only when the security apparatus has been disempowered and those primarily responsible for the crimes have been charged, will Syrians draw hope and return. Until then, we should promote their integration in Germany by enabling them to bring their families over to join them. After all, much of what they experience here could be useful in a post-Assad Syria.'

Destroyed by war: the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in December 2016 (photo: Reuters)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Jeremy Corbyn's silence on Syria is hypocritical

Jeremy Corbyn's silence on Syria is hypocritical

 Sam Charles Hamad:

 'When Jeremy Corbyn delivered his keynote speech at the recent Labour Party conference, it was with zero irony that he discussed the core of his 'ethical' foreign policy:- how democracy and human rights were 'not an optional extra to be deployed selectively'.

 Corbyn listed as examples 'the cruel Saudi war in Yemen' and the 'crushing of democracy in Egypt or Bahrain', before saying his government-in-waiting would give 'real support' to end the oppression of the Palestinians.

 These points are welcome and do represent a significant break from previously established UK foreign policy, but a bitter ethical sticking point arose when Corbyn himself indulged in a bit of 'selectivity' during his speech.

 Nowhere in Corbyn's speech will you find the word 'Syria'. Nowhere in Corbyn's speech will you find condemnations of the genocidal violence or ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Assad regime, Iran and Russia against free Syrians.

 The 'cruel war' being waged by Assad, Iran and Russia against the Syrians, leading to the death and injury of more than a million people, not to mention the ethnic cleansing of millions more, was entirely omitted. The destruction of an entire country was not even mentioned once.

 It ought to be astonishing that someone pitching to be the next prime minister of the UK would completely disregard a conflict that has been so central to world events in recent years, never mind the fact that the speech coincided with the brutal bombardment of Idlib by Assad's forces and Russia.

 It really was not so surprising however, considering Corbyn's personal ideology on intervention and how far Syria has slipped down the hierarchy of political interest.

 One must understand that while Corbyn's unique selling point is to do things differently to previous Labour and Tory governments, his policies are more rearrangements than fundamental overhauls.

 For Corbyn is entirely correct – one cannot be selective when it comes to championing or concretely supporting democracy and human rights. One cannot selectively apply principles of opposition to oppression in one area, while supporting or ignoring it in another area.

 And this is precisely what previous British governments and Mr Corbyn have in common. While he wants a British government, presumably his government, to concretely end the oppression of Palestinians and end Saudi Arabia's vicious war in Yemen, he has been one of the most consistent voices in advocating that nothing be done to aid Syrians fighting for liberty against Assad.

 Take, for example, his intervention in a debate on the EU arms embargo on Syria in May 2013. Here, the then-backbench MP warns against 'supplying arms to people [the Syrian rebels] we do not know', associating the rebellion to 'the way the USA raced to supply … arms to [the] opposition in Afghanistan in 1979, which gave birth to the Taliban and, ultimately, al-Qaeda'.

 This has been a consistent line of Corbyn's since the revolution in Syria began, both in his capacity as an MP and in his former role as the chairman of the notoriously Assad and Russia-friendlyStop the War Coalition (StWC). It was during his time at the organisation that they invited Mother Agnes Mariam, a notorious paid propagandist for Assad and a supporter of his genocidal war effort, to their annual 'peace conference'.

 Corbyn has persisted with the will to conflate the Syrian rebels with al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism since becoming leader of the opposition. During the 2015 debate on UK airstrikes on IS targets in Syria, former PM David Cameron made the accurate if not conservative estimate that there were at least 70,000 anti-IS and anti-Assad Syrian rebels on the ground. Corbyn, as a self-proclaimed internationalist and progressive, ought to have asked why Cameron and the British government had not done more to support these fighters previously, but instead denied they existed and, once again, made the claim that they were 'jihadists' and 'Salafis'.

 As Russia and Assad pounded the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their allies, murdering civilians and destroying hospitals, Corbyn stood up as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and peddled the same line as Assad, namely that the FSA contains groups that 'few if any would regard as moderate'.

 For a man who has supported, rightfully, and within the context of Palestinian resistance, Hamas, this is a monstrous double standard that is entirely conditioned by the way Corbyn views the world – a view that sees Russia, Iran and even Assad as, at best, lesser evils to any force that is conceived to be pro-Western - never mind the Western countries themselves.

 This is precisely why, far from offering anything truly different to the UK's realpolitik of supporting tyrants with zero regard for human rights, Corbyn simply offers a realpolitik conditioned by his own politics, rooted in post-war Stalinism of the Labour variety.

 It's why he can obsessively, and rightfully, admonish the Tory government for arm sales to Saudi Arabia, while advocating for and lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime.

 The logic behind the Tories' advocating arms sales to the Saudis is not disrupted at all – it's simply transferred onto a camp that Corbyn finds to be more ideologically acceptable.

 And this gets to the heart of why Corbyn's stance or, if we go by his most recent speech, silence, on Syria is important. While he references US and UK-supported tyrannies like in Egypt, he himself endorses a worldview that supports such tyrannies and their consequences.

 In his most recent speech he attributes 'terrorism thriving in a world our government helped to shape, with its failed states, military interventions and occupations … where millions are forced to flee'.

 Corbyn has in past speeches as opposition leader claimed, for example, that the NATO no-fly zone in Libya was connected to the Manchester bombing carried out by the Libyan migrant Salman Abedi.

 According to Corbyn's worldview, what happened in Libya wasn't a popular revolution aided by NATO in averting civilian casualties from Gaddafi's air force and overthrowing the Gaddafi's brutal Jamahiriya (which Corbyn praised during the intervention against it), but a mere 'military intervention' that can be compared to the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

 Corbyn, with his criticism of 'ungoverned spaces' - actually code for the vacuum left by the vanquishing of a decades-old tyranny - endorses the same kind of fetishization of order that sees the UK support Sisi or Saudi Arabia or Israel. It's the same logic that Sisi sells – that either brutal authoritarianism or 'jihadism' will allegedly cultivate these 'ungoverned spaces'.

 This is what 'internationalism' has been reduced to - solidarity with states and not people. Abstract and idealised notions of 'anti-imperialism' versus the reality of multipolarity and living struggles against oppressors,

 This is precisely why you'll never hear from Corbyn about the fact that Libya is split by two nominally democratic bodies vying for state hegemony (ones that united and vanquished IS).

 Or about the great strides the civil revolution in Syria made. Instead, the spectre of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and 'Salafism' is conjured, all the better so that these realities remain obscured.

 One might say that singling out Jeremy Corbyn is quite odd when those in power have allowed fascism and counter-revolution to triumph in Syria, but it's precisely because Corbyn claims to represent an alternative to the status quo that necessitates this criticism.

 It's why when the Tory government so supinely dismissed the policy of dropping food not bombs into besieged areas of Syria, saving Syrians from starvation, Corbyn didn't say a word. It's why when the UK government sat and watched as Free Aleppo was destroyed by Assad and Russia, Corbyn was busy defending the Morning Star, which had deemed it a 'liberation'.

 Or while issuing statements, written by his spin doctor and open Putinista Seumas Milne, that focussing on Russian atrocities in Syria was a 'deflection' - despite the 4000 people killed by that point.

 It's why when Assad gassed to death perhaps more than 100 Syrians at Khan Sheikhoun, Corbyn said nothing, only breaking his silence to condemn the US for its paltry airstrike on the base from which the death gas was fired and to cast doubt on whether Assad was responsible.

 Corbyn has clearly struck a chord on certain issues that blight the UK, but the bitter and tragic reality is that he doesn't function as a progressive opponent of UK foreign policy.'

View image on Twitter

Monday, 9 October 2017

Collaboration between Assad and ISIS goes on

 'IS has captured a few points in the Idlib badiyah after Assad regime made way for IS to attack from E. Hama. Stab in the back comes after HTS saves women & children from Aqrabat pocket, launches assaults on Assadists in Hama. A move very beneficial to Assad regime which allows it to throw pressure & losses off from itself, and unleash the useful idiots into Idlib.'

 'ISIS marched over 30 km through Assad controlled territory.'

 Update 20th October, 2017.

 "Russian airstrikes on HTS positions in Rahjan where HTS fights ISIS. Putin bailing ISIS out. After Assad inserted them to kill off rebels."

 "Russian airstrikes destroyed a HTS position near Rahjan, rear base for the battle against Daesh. 9 fighters were killed."

Image may contain: outdoor

  Update 25th October, 2017.

"NE. Hama: pro-Regime forces launched an offensive & advancing NW of Ithriya with RuAF aircover, taking advantage of HTS-ISIS battle."

 "Overnight IS and Regime simultaneously continued their attack on HTS in reef east Hama. IS took a hill and Regime a small village."

 Update 5th November, 2017.

 "The Assad regime continues facilitating movement of ISIS fighters between Hasnawi and Saeen E Hama.,"

🔵Mujahedeen Regained control 🏴Remaining ISIS as well areas ISIS handed to SAA.