Committing to Human Rights in Syria

Today LCID has written with the Syrian British Council to Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, calling on her to ensure a future Labour Government protects human rights in Syria.

The Syrian British Council are a a recently established organisation that brings together Syrian civil society groups, British nationals and UK-based Syrian individuals across Britain to work towards achieving a democratic and human rights-abiding Syria, free from extremism and dictatorship.

You can read the letter here.

LCID Hosts Its 10 Year Anniversary Reception with Gordon Brown

Lauren Pizzey is a member of LCID’s executive committee

Despite the prorogation of Parliament, LCID were delighted to host a packed room in the House of Commons to mark its 10 Year Anniversary Reception with The Right Honourable Gordon Brown.

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LCID Chair, Mann Virdee, and LCID Founder, David Taylor, opened the event by welcoming guests and outlining the Labour Party’s proud record on International Development.

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Speeches were kicked off by Chair of the International Development Select Committee Stephen Twigg MP, who powerfully stated that although he will step down as an MP at the next general election, he will not stand down from the cause for International Development.

“We cannot take our position here for granted, it is vitally important that we stand up for International Development, the centrality of the Sustainable Development Goals and alleviating poverty around the world.” – Stephen Twigg MP

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Labour MP Alison McGovern then praised LCID and the work that had been accomplished as a result of their lobbying. However, she warned that the values behind international development were under threat, and said it was important that we continue to demonstrate the case for development.

“I am proud that Britain acts when disaster strikes. It is incredibly important to champion the role humanitarian response plays in protecting children around the world.” – Alison McGovern MP

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Former UK Prime Minister Rt Hon Gordon Brown then provided his keynote speech. Mr Brown spoke proudly of Labour’s record in Government on International Development, arguing that debt relief and advancing equality was at the heart of every international strategy. He stated that the Labour party is defending and advancing a cause which is driving equality, justice and fairness around the world.

Mr Brown then noted that as a consequence of the work of the last Labour Government, more people were taken out of poverty than at any other time in the world. He told colleagues that Britain must continue to lead in this area and must help shape future developing institutions.

“Let us not forget that a world that is sinking into nationalism, we must stand for internationalism and build the global institutions of the future.Rt Hon Gordon Brown

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Shadow DFID minister Dan Carden MP then told guests that the next Labour Government would build on the agenda of the last with regards to international development.

“We will only ever end poverty by tackling its structural causes, and if we want public support, then we need to show that the fight against poverty and inequality is global.” – Dan Carden MP

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Stephen Doughty MP paid tribute to Labour’s record on international development, and in particular to Gordon Brown’s contributions to the cause.

“We need to understand that this [International Development] is in our common interest, it’s in the interest of the countries, partners, the fellow humans we share this planet with. It’s in our common interest and that’s why we have to act.” – Stephen Doughty MP

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Dr Rosena Allin Khan MP then paid tribute to all British aid workers working overseas, and recalled her own experiences working in Bangladesh and the West Bank.

“The UK has a proud tradition of helping the most vulnerable. As a humanitarian doctor, I have seen the worst of humanity and the tragedies people face. We must continue to fight to make the world a healthier, safer and more prosperous place for everyone.” – Dr Rosena Allin Khan MP

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Former First Minister for Scotland Lord Jack McConnell then urged that the cause of international development needs to remain high on the political agenda for the Labour party.

“Delivering the Global Goals by 2030 will help end extreme poverty, build peace and tackle climate change. We need a decade of delivery to secure a sustainable future for all” – Lord Jack McConnell

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Former Secretary of State for DFID, Hilary Benn MP, spoke positively of his time serving under both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair’s governments. He stated that due to globalisation, our neighbours are now not only those who live on our street, but those who live on the other side of the world.

“In the end, development in other countries is not about us turning up as a nice former colonial power to say we’ve come to help you develop, it is about people improving their own lives for the better with our assistance.” – Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP

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The speeches concluded with shadow DFID minister, Preet Gill, pledging that a future Labour Government would have a feminist approach to International Development.

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The event was closed by Mann Virdee, who thanked everyone for coming and invited guests to join the movement to keep International Development high on Labour’s political agenda.

Photos from LCID’s 10th Anniversary Reception

LCID was founded in 2009. To mark our 10th anniversary, we hosted a reception in Parliament with former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This event was co-hosted by the Coalition for Global Prosperity.

Our speakers were:

  • Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister
  • Stephen Doughty MP, LCID Vice-President and MP for Cardiff South and Penarth
  • David Taylor, LCID founder and Vice-Chair
  • Alison McGovern MP, LCID Vice-President and MP for Wirral South
  • Hilary Benn MP, LCID Vice-President, former Secretary of State for International Development and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee
  • Dan Carden MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
  • Mann Virdee, LCID Chair
  • Preet Kaur Gill MP, Shadow Minister for International Development
  • Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee
  • Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, LCID Vice-President and MP for Tooting
  • Theo Clarke, Chief Executive of The Coalition for Global Prosperity
  • Lord Jack McConnell, LCID Vice-President, former First Minister of Scotland and Chair of the APPG on the UN SDGs

 

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LCID 10th Anniversary Event

Today was a special day, as we hosted an event in Parliament to celebrate 10 years of LCID. We’re going to have videos of Gordon’s and everyone’s speeches in the coming days, but in the meantime, here is what I shared on behalf of LCID itself: 

When LCID was set up ten years ago our focus then was to promote the fantastic achievements on international development of the then Labour government ahead of the 2010 election. And what a record it was. From establishing DFID, to trebling aid, cancelling debt, to the Climate Change Act and setting in motion the Arms Trade Treaty – millions of people are better off because of the actions of that government. 

It really is an honour to have you here Gordon, I’ve never met someone as dedicated to helping the lives of others. The leadership that Gordon and Tony showed at summit after summit as our Prime Ministers was simply incredible. Let us praise too the achievements of our Secretary of States and Ministers at DFID – from Douglas Alexander to Hilary Benn, Claire Short, Glenys Kinnock and Gareth Thomas, of First Minister Jack McConnell, and advisers such as Stephen Doughty, now an MP leading the charge against Brexit or Kirsty McNeill and Richard Darlington, now leading the charity sector’s defence of aid. And of course everyone else in this room who was part of the Make Poverty History campaign and others like it, whether you held organise it, or like me were an activist taking part in the marches, signing petitions or wearing white bands. Today is as much a celebration of all of your achievements as it is of LCID.

Now you don’t need me to tell you that achieving much in opposition very hard, which is why it is so important we have a Labour government again. But I am proud of two things. First, the private members bill that got the 0.7% aid promise enshrined in law. The bill had support from MPs from across the political spectrum and they deserve a huge amount of credit. But more Labour MPs voted for that bill and all the other parties combined, and it would not have passed without the brilliant get out the vote operation that Ally McGovern ran out of her office and I’m proud that LCID members were in the room hitting the phones to help rally MPs to vote.

Second, I’m proud of the campaign we run on protecting civilians in conflict. It is not a popular position to take in the current Labour Party, but it is an important part of the late great and desperately missed Jo Cox’s legacy, and I’m humbled to have representatives from Syrian civil society here today. I’m sorry that we, as a Labour movement, have let you down over these last 8 years, but this corner of it is proud to work in solidarity with you and will continue to do so.

Finally, you are all here today because you think our country can, when it chooses, help make the world a better place. The internationalism we believe in is under threat like never before in modern times, and defending it will be the fight of our lives. I hope you will come away from today’s event inspired and re-energised for the struggle ahead. 

Letter to Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott re Assad apologist David Miller

Dear Diane,

We are deeply concerned to learn that you are to take part in the launch today, 5th September, of a CAGE publication co-authored by David Miller, a notorious pro-Assad atrocity denier. You previously appeared on a panel with him at a ‘Spinwatch’ panel event back on the 26th March.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol, is part of a group that systematically denies high profile Assad regime crimes against civilians in Syria, particularly the Assad regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons. David Miller has also sought to deny Russia’s responsibility for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Evidence of this is included below.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto, when referring to Syria, committed to work for justice for the victims of war crimes.

As Home Secretary in a future Labour government, you would have responsibility for policy towards Syrian refugees in the UK who are victims of—and witnesses to—the Assad regime’s crimes. You would also have responsibility for the UK’s own investigations into war crimes, currently dealt with by SO15, the Counter Terrorism Command of the Metropolitan Police.

If you associate yourself with a committed war crimes denier such as David Miller, this must undermine confidence in the willingness of Labour to work for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for crimes in Syria, including some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity seen this century.

We hope you will reconsider appearing on this panel and be more careful about who you associate yourself with in future given your responsibilities as an MP and as Shadow Home Secretary.

Yours sincerely,

Batool Abdulkareen and Bronwen Griffiths, Syria Solidarity UK

David Taylor, Vice-Chair, LCID


 

Diane Abbott letter tweets of Miller

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/academics-regurgitate-pro-assad-conspiracy-theories-dc6f39z0n

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/apologists-for-assad-working-in-british-universities-2f72hw29m

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/assad-defender-backs-mp-chris-williamson-over-antisemitism-dispute-pwv2h9lnp

http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/briefing-note-update-on-the-salisbury-poisonings

 

The butterfly effect: My visit to a Rohingya refugee camp

It took me three flights, a two hour car journey in a UN vehicle, a work visa and a government approval before I was able to enter. The day before my visit, UN HQ in New York put a blanket ban on all foreigners entering due to a heightened security risk. So, when I was finally able to visit, I felt incredibly privileged to be there and to gain an insight into what’s going on.  

 

The butterfly effect: My visit to a Rohingya refugee camp  

I would like to share my experience of my field visit to a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. I’d like to show how it is not some distant event on TV but that by looking at the past, present and future of the crisis, we can see parallels to issues we face at home.

I visited the camp as part of a field visit, through my role as an auditor for United Nations.  My background is in international relations and I have a post graduate degree from LSE in this area, and am a Chartered Accountant with ten years audit experience.

I’ve managed our UN work in South Asia for some years, and have south Asian heritage myself, so was keen to go out and see what was happening on the ground.

I’ve audited hundreds of projects in over 60 countries but I wanted to share my experience of my last trip, as it encapsulates many of the issues which we are struggling to come to terms with globally, as well as at home.

 

The camp 

Rohingya refugee camp

There are 1.1 million people living in the camps. For context, that is triple the size of the population of Iceland. There are also 18,000 babies born each month.

During my visit, I could see miles and miles of shacks where the Rohingya people live. I was auditing ‘women friendly centres’ and a women’s hospital. There were services offered including counselling, skills training, midwifery referrals and other essential services for women who have suffered Gender Based Violence.

The Rohingya women were understandably weary of outsiders – many have experienced rape and witnessed the murder of their relatives. The experience left me feeling powerless, like I can and should do more, and that if I stay silent, I am somehow tacitly complicit. At the same time I felt proud, proud of the contribution that the UN is making, which is funded by us, the taxpayer.

I accept that anecdotes of far flung events seem meaningless to us, so I don’t want to talk of the ‘smells’ of the camps or how very basic they were to look at. I’m sure you can all imagine the difficulties refugees face, so I don’t want to focus on the negative. Instead, I would like to outline the past, present and future of the conflict and frame it in a way that links back to everyday issues we all face, in order to try and prevent this type of atrocity from happening again:

 

The Past – Interventionism and colonialism 

The Rohingya people come from the Rakhine state in Myanmar. During British rule, Arakan, as the area was then known, was a battle ground for the fight for independence. After independence was won, identity struggles formed as different groups inhabited the newly formed Rakhine state. This culminated in the riots in Rakhine in 2012 where we see clear evidence of ethnic conflict in the region.

The crisis peaked from 2016 to 2018 when hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were forced to leave their homes amidst claims that their government had committed genocide against its own people.

How is this relevant to us now?

During colonial times arbitrary borders were been drawn by foreign powers and this has been linked to ethnic conflict. We can acknowledge the roots of some of our international conflicts, such as those between Israel and Palestine over the Gaza strip, and India and Pakistan where fighting is ongoing over Kashmir.

Of course, this is in our past, and I’m not saying that any of us should be held personally responsible for the actions of the British Empire, but we may be responsible if we do not speak out against the resurgence of a nostalgic and rose tinted view of the past. A view which fails to acknowledge what really happened and the mistakes made.  The rise of the ‘alt-right’ in the UK and USA also fuels islamophobia, and this is the same type of sentiment which led to the Rohingyas being forced from their homes.

If you think this can’t happen here, we just need to remind ourselves of the recent attacks on mosques in the UK and overseas.

 

Present – economic insecurity and under-representation

Myanmar had a communist economy up until 2012, the same year as the Rakhine state riots. This was also the year that US sanctions were lifted and the country started to allow in foreign direct investment.

How is this relevant to us now?

A shift in economic system often has a social and political impact. In the U.K., we’ve seen a shift toward economic globalisation since the 1980s.

This is not a comment on the advantages or disadvantages of an economic system, but how we should acknowledge the social and democratic impact of such changes to ensure that they benefit the whole of a society. The structural changes in our economy, have left behind industrial and mining communities in the Midlands and North of England; and led to increasing regional inequality as well as democratic deficit.

As much as I support internationalism, I acknowledge that it can lead to the erosion of identities and create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. If democracies do not adapt to make sure that all groups are adequately represented, division is inevitable.

 

Future – Internationalism and new global challenges

The Government of Bangladesh has stated that the Rohingyas are not able to stay in the camps permanently. They have articulated plans to move the refugees to an island off the coast of country. There is no agreed long term plan, so long as it is not safe for Rohingyas to return to Myanmar.

How is this relevant to us now?

We only need to look at the now disbanded Calais refugee camps to see that we could be faced with a growing number of refugees in the future.  Moving refugees to an island is not a wise decision when Bangladeshi islands are low lying and face rising sea levels and more extreme weather. Further, as these climate trends continue, countries such as the UK can expect much higher numbers of refugees.

I hope I have shown you that the Rohingya refugee crisis touches upon issues which closer to home than we may have thought; and the actions we take may have a ‘butterfly effect’ and impact on other parts of the world.

 

I urge you to take 3 actions:

1. Let’s be truly  informed

We are flooded with misinformation which distorts issues, dehumanises the ‘other’ and takes issues out of context.  Let’s choose our news sources wisely and also take the time to read up on our history.

2. Let’s be an ‘Open’ society

 We should support international institutions. The major problems we now face are all international and can only be solved internationally. If we work together with other countries, we have the power the help end genocide, as we saw with the positive interventions in Rwanda and Kosovo in the 1990s.

3. Let’s become actively involved in the democratic process

Vote. Whether it’s the local, national or EU elections – make sure your voice is heard. Where we feel excluded from conventional politics, find other ways to get involved. Last week we saw Extinction Rebellion take direct action, showing us that there’s more to democracy than parliamentary politics. Further, we shouldn’t take democracy for granted.

I would like to end by saying thanks for being respectful listeners (readers),  as fundamentally listening to and respecting the views of others will always be the most important part of any democracy.

Louisa Metcalfe is a member of the Labour Campaign for International Development

 

Westminster Hall debate on the future of DFID

On Wednesday, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi secured a Westminster Hall debate on the future of DFID.

He said he had secured the debate because of “deep concerns about the future of the Department for International Development and its funding, and threats to our proud tradition as a distributor of aid to the most impoverished places on the planet.”

Here are some of the key quotes from the debate:

“DFID is respected and admired in all the places where it operates. Wherever the UK aid logo appears, it shows the world how much the British public care. Since the passage of the International Development Act 2002, all overseas aid must be spent with the explicit purpose of reducing global poverty. That is an important piece of legislation, because it makes clear the distinction between aid and trade: one is not a quid pro quo for the other.” – Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi

 

“Over the course of this Parliament, aid spent outside DFID has tripled—something the cross-party International Development Committee has criticised. Most of that money is channelled through organisations such as the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which is constituted of many dubious programmes by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, often based on training and equipping militaries rather than alleviating poverty or creating long-term peace.” – Lloyd Russell-Moyle

 

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“The previous Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, called the establishment of DFID in 1997 a “colossal mistake”. This month, he endorsed a report by the Henry Jackson Society that calls for a dilution of DFID’s role in alleviating poverty, with a diversion towards broader international policies such as peacekeeping. He told the BBC’s “Today” programme: “We could make sure that 0.7 % is spent more in line with Britain’s political commercial and diplomatic interests.” Commercial interests? What could he possibly mean by that? My hon. Friend Dan Carden has made it clear that he believes this is the opening act in a move to downgrade DFID and to slash overseas aid. It is hard to disagree that that is the Secretary of State’s secret agenda.” – Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi

 

“Things were already bad enough, but they have been made considerably worse by the Secretary of State feathering her leadership ambitions and sending signals to Tory Members rather than focusing on poverty alleviation. We need look no further than her recent speeches; even senior civil servants in her own Department cannot identify any of the changes in policy from those speeches. In recent months, her office has said that our commitment to 0.7% is “unsustainable”, and it would like aid spent on building UK battle ships to “take pressure off a stretched fleet”. That is not part of a rules-based system. We have heard that CDC profits should be counted as aid, which in anyone’s book is double counting and is against the rules-based system. We have even heard threats of leaving the Development Assistance Committee if it does not agreed to all our demands. Finally, there was nothing but silence when another leadership contender, Boris Johnson, backed a plan to decimate DFID and the Department for International Trade—a barmy proposal to reduce the aid budget and to spend the remainder on propping up the BBC. In no terms is that aid spending.” – Lloyd Russell-Moyle

 

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“When my hon. Friend Dan Carden asked the Secretary of State why we should trust her to spend the UK aid budget when she makes those sounds off, even though she is not acting on them, she said: “They should trust me as the Secretary of State and as someone who has been an aid worker.” It is astonishing that the Secretary of State’s defence is not one of policy or action but a personal anecdote that she happened to be a gap year worker for one year, 30 years ago, in Romania. That demonstrates clearly how much we need DFID to be governed by people who understand what aid is about. The joint Ministers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID do, but those at the top do not. We need someone at the top who does not wave red rags at the Conservative party.” – Lloyd Russell-Moyle

 

 

“There are three compelling arguments both for Britain sticking to its 0.7% level of funding for international development assistance, and for retaining the Department for International Development.

First, there is a moral argument. We are one of the richest nations in the world. Surely we have a responsibility to help those in other countries who, through no fault of their own, live in terrible circumstances.

Secondly, it is surely in our country’s interests to try to support countries around the world in becoming stable, so their populations do not have to flee either to our country or to neighbouring countries. We should help them become stable so that their economies can grow, and they can have strong public services of the sort we would recognise. Given that conflict is much more likely to break out in a country where there has recently been conflict, if we continue to want to reduce the amount we spend collectively on peacekeeping, it is surely sensible to put in the hard yards by providing development assistance to help those countries get strong, effective Governments who are respected by people of all opinions.

The third argument is about soft power, which others mentioned. As a result of its huge commitment to international development, Britain is highly regarded at the United Nations. It was always highly regarded in the European Union and in a whole series of other international forums because of the work it did on development assistance, and the knowledge that everyone in the Government was committed to maintaining and enhancing the role of the Department for International Development and the aid budget.” – Gareth Thomas

 

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“Since DFID was established 22 years ago, it has become a global leader in international development. Every year it spends UK aid in ways that make tangible differences to people’s lives the world over. DFID has helped some of the world’s poorest people realise their right to health and education. It has provided emergency life-saving aid for people caught up in major humanitarian crises and has led the way in bringing gender equality into the mainstream through its development work. The UK public should be proud of the development work that their money has supported over recent decades, but all too sadly they do not hear the success stories of UK aid and the work of DFID. Instead, they hear a loud and vocal anti-aid lobby, which does its best to discredit the work, as many Members today have mentioned.

The charge against the country’s aid programme is spearheaded by a small number of major media outlets, who revel in spinning and stirring the few occasions when UK aid programmes might not have worked as we had hoped. They are hell bent on driving a hysterical hatred of the UK’s work to end global poverty. The anti-aid media narrative is a serious problem, but even more worrying are attacks from a number of Tory Members, which have many guises. I will mention three of them.

First, there is the straightforward misspending and diverting of aid away from poverty reduction. Last weekend the Guardian reported a letter sent to the Chancellor from 23 international development agencies, raising their concerns about the way Ministers are spending aid. They warned him that aid is being diverted away from the poorest countries in order to promote commercial and political interests. From using aid to help UK companies expand their businesses overseas, to suggestions that aid be spent on UK naval ships, we are seeing more aid than ever being spent on projects that no one sincerely believes are about reducing global poverty. Those attempts do nothing but feed into the idea that the UK aid programme is a waste of UK taxpayers’ money.

Secondly, there are blatant attempts to dissolve the Department altogether. It is no secret that the former Foreign Secretary wants to see the Department dismantled. Earlier this month, he threw his weight behind a report that said DFID should be folded back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and that the UK’s aid budget should be slashed. Such a move would be a disaster for the country’s aid programme. It is only DFID that has the specific and sole purpose of poverty alleviation and a dedicated staff working to achieve this goal. Merging the Department with the FCO—or any other Department for that matter—would dilute the agenda and see more money diverted away from poverty towards other foreign policy interests.

We can learn from Australia, where the international development department was merged with the foreign office, with a number of negative knock-on effects. The country’s strategic vision for aid was lost, the Government witnessed a brain-drain of development expertise and an estimated 2,000 years of collective experience left the department.

We already know from our own experience, where almost one third of our aid is spent outside DFID, that only DFID meets the highest spending standards. The Aid Transparency Index, the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major development agencies, rated DFID “very good”, while the FCO’s aid spending was rated “poor”, according to the same measure. Likewise, the ONE Campaign recently launched an aid index that rates aid spending by different Departments. It found the FCO to be “weak” on its ability to keep aid focused on poverty, and that no other Department spends aid as well as DFID.

The third threat, which is related, is the worrying challenge to our aid and development work presented by the persistent undermining of the very concept of aid. The Secretary of State has made clear her desire to change the definition of aid. She recently launched a consultation on her plans to reduce the amount of public money that needs to be spent on aid by counting profits from private investments towards the aid budget. There are no two ways about it—aid is either spent to alleviate poverty and the causes of poverty, or it is invested to make a profit. The Labour party rejects any attempts to commercialise the UK aid budget.” – Dan Carden

 

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The full debate can be read here: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2019-02-27a.152.0

Civilians must be protected in Sudan protests

You might have seen it on the news.

After years living under a dictatorship responsible for gross human rights violations, protests erupt in cities around the country about poor living standards and demanding “Freedom, peace and justice.”

The regime responds brutally, intimidating protesters and imprisoning, beating, and tear gassing them.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the security services start using live bullets, and deliberately targetting doctors for treating the injured. Doctors, yes doctors, being shot and killed or maimed.

Syria, right? But no, this depressing chain of events is, in fact, now being played out in Sudan.

It’s almost as if Omar al-Bashir – wanted by the international criminal court for charges of war crimes for the genocide that took place in Darfur 15 years ago – has picked up the phone to Bashar al-Assad to ask for the instruction manual for how to crush protestors – and get away with it.

We must learn the lessons of Syria, where Assad has used chemical weapons, killed half a million civilians, tortured thousands, and caused 6 million to flee the country, with almost complete impunity from the international community.

Security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators as they marched (AFP/GETTY)

Protectiving civilians in conflict is one of LCID’s campaigns. We acknowledge it is a controversial subject, including amongst Labour members. Rightly, we worry about whether intervening in another country’s affairs will do more harm than good. Every situation is different, but we must always be guided by our internationalist principles and by our international obligations such as the Responsibility To Protect Civilians, which we signed up to with each and every government in the U.N. in 2005.

This principle acknowledges that when a government either wilfully fails to protect the security of its citizens, or is unable to do so, the international community has a clear obligation to intervene, choosing timely and decisive action from a wide range of approaches, including diplomatic means, sanctions and (only) in the most extreme cases, military operations.

Following that principle, it crucial that the UK Government and the international community responds urgently to what is happening in Sudan and makes clear to President Bashir that human rights abuses against protestors will not be tolerated. The situation in Sudan is still developing and any response must be based on expert analysis of the circumstances on the ground. But we must not just sit back and watch Assad’s playbook be copied and pasted before our eyes by Bashir, with all the shocking loss of life and physical and physcological abuse that would entail.

Given what happened in Syria, given a UN Security Council that includes Trump, Putin, and China (with all it’s economic interests in the country and support for Bashir), and given we are distracted by Brexit, I’m not particularly hopeful that anything will be done. It shames us all that the international community is not supporting those who stand up for freedom, peace and justice. I hope I’m proven wrong.

David Taylor is the founder and current Vice-Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.

The war in Yemen – 3 ways the UK must act

The war in Yemen is the largest humanitarian disaster on the planet today – and it’s one that’s almost entirely man-made. Some estimate that almost 60,000 people have been killed since March 2015, and thousands more injured. Over 17 million Yemeni people cannot be sure of having enough to eat each day, leaving the country on the brink of famine. More than half a million people have had to flee their homes.

All sides have shown disregard for Yemeni civilians, including Saudi Arabia, who are backed by the UK Government and are using British-made bombs. The Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the democratically elected government, authorised by a UN resolution, but the Saudi’s conduct has been appalling, with indiscriminate airstrikes hitting hospitals, schools, weddings, and grain silos. At one point 60% of civilian deaths were the responsibility of the Saudi-led coalition.

More disgraceful still is that this Government knows this and yet has continued to license UK weapons sales – almost £5 billion of them – to the Saudis. The Tories have shown fragrant disregard to the Arms Trade Treaty, a treaty that Labour helped support through the UN when we were last in government. That treaty requires arms sales to be suspended if there is even a risk – yet alone an occurrence – that arms risk being used in a violation of humanitarian law. We’ve long passed that point in Yemen.

By and large Labour has been at the forefront of holding the Tories to account on Yemen, from the frontbench to dogged campaigning by Labour MPs on key select committees and on the backbenches (including our very own Vice-President Stephen Doughty). A few Labour MPs legitimately worry about threats from the arms industry that jobs will be lost if arm sales are suspended. Given that the UK arms industry is the second biggest in the world, they are surely bluffing. I don’t want to see anyone lose their job – but we have a clear moral obligation here to prevent more civilians from dying in Yemen, and to uphold international law.

We are a long way from an end to this horrid conflict. There is at least a precarious ceasefire in the key port city of Hudaydah, and reports at the weekend suggest that talks could soon take place in Jordan between both sides to discuss the state of the economy. It’s vital both occur if people are to have any hope of getting the supplies of food and medicine they so desperately need.

The Tories will defend themselves by pointing to the efforts they’ve put into the recent ceasefire and the amount of UK humanitarian aid they’ve given to the crisis. It is absolutely essential that such aid continue, but doesn’t make up for their failure to stop licensing arms sales. They must:

  1. Use our influence at on the UN Security Council to push for a ceasefire across Yemen, not just Hudaydah.
  2. Suspend UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
  3. Commit to ensuring that all perpetrators of violations of international law must be held to account, through independent investigations.

As Labour members we can help by asking our MPs to call on the government to do the above, and by joining charity campaigns on Yemen – you can sign petitions by Oxfam and Save the Children, and if you can, donate to charities operating in the country.

It is time Britain begun to un-do some of the damage, and help push instead for a lasting peace in Yemen.

David Taylor is the founder and current Vice-Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.

Kate Green: We should use foreign aid to create work opportunities for refugees

Kate Green MP blogs oh how foreign aid can create opportunities for refugees

“I brought everything from my house, everything I could fit in the car and carry. I even brought my tea mug with me.” These are the words of Maher Mahmoud Al Haresh, a Syrian refugee I met in Jordan last week. Small details like Maher’s mug make us realise how much we have in common with one another. But Maher is one of almost 80,000 refugees living in Za’atari refugee camp, and one of 760,000 living in Jordan, and he and his family live a life that in most ways could not be more different from my own.

Despite the admirable generosity of the Jordanians, who have welcomed Syrian refugees to their country, in my visit to the camp last week, I felt again and again the sadness and emptiness that the refugees in Jordan (and other countries in the region) experience. Having fled unimaginable danger at home, they are safe, but cannot imagine the future with optimism, and their day-to-day life remains unbearably hard. Like many of the others in Za’atari, Maher is unable to work, his wife and eldest child are seriously unwell, his children’s education suffers, and there is little hope of the family returning to Syria soon.

Aid agencies like Oxfam, UN officials and representatives from DfID on the ground are doing all they can to address this situation, doing their best to create employment opportunities for women and men in the camp. But while Syrian women’s participation in the labour market was relatively high before the conflict, cultural barriers and a very low female employment rate in Jordan, combined with more traditional views of gender roles that war has provoked, plus poor public transport and infrastructure, mean it’s been necessary to create gender-specific projects for women and men to work inside the Za’atari camp.

Nesma AlNsour/Oxfam

The projects we saw were uplifting. With my fellow parliamentarians Lord Alf Dubs and Tim Loughton MP, I visited a social enterprise where women are making trendy tote bags out of old tents – the very canvas that provided shelter in the early days of the camp’s existence, before tents were replaced with the cabin-like structures the refugees now call home. Oxfam helped the women to set up the workshop, and the bags are now being sold all over Europe, with proceeds being used to support the refugees. Meanwhile, Oxfam has worked with a refugee who previously ran his own successful recycling business in Syria to establish two recycling plants in the camp staffed by male refugees. Women peer educators have conducted community outreach work to encourage families in the camp to sort and recycle their waste. This project also generates income for the camp inhabitants, while improving its environmental impact.

Inspiring though they are, these projects are small scale, employing dozens of refugees in a camp of tens of thousands. Some of the younger refugees have never worked. I met a 20-year-old man who had come to the camp at age 14. He can’t go home for fear of being conscripted into the Syrian army. He’s not allowed to leave the camp to find work in Jordan, and there’s no work for him to do in the camp. Meanwhile, his 50-year-old mother, a qualified teacher in Syria, acts as an informal childminder for her neighbours’ children, but she too cannot get formal work in or outside the camp.

It’s easy for us to be critical of Jordan for restricting refugees’ right to work. After all, we too in the UK apply unreasonable restrictions that offer only the most limited employment prospects to asylum seekers, despite our high employment rate. In Jordan, the picture is different: unemployment is high, so protective employment policies may appear to make more sense. But the answer to Jordan’s economic challenges lies not in shutting refugees out of the workforce, but in recognising their potential to help to grow its economy, while rebuilding their self-esteem and dignity that come from having a job to do.

And the refugees have much to offer. The main avenue that runs through the camp, known as the Champs-Élysées, is lined with food stalls, mobile phone shops, hair salons and bridal gown boutiques – a sign of their entrepreneurial drive and desire to build something out of nothing. Others are highly qualified professionals – like the teacher I met – but whose expertise and knowledge is going to waste.

That’s why one of the messages I’m bringing back to the UK government from my visit is that we need to think much more creatively about how we use the power of our aid and influence to encourage economic and employment opportunities for Syrian refugees in Jordan. In particular, we should think about how we can boost employment opportunities for women, as we know that when women thrive their children do well, and for young people, which could avoid the loss of a generation that may otherwise never have the chance to work. These themes are of course very familiar to me from UK domestic policy, where I’ve seen again and again that maximising employment among women and young people benefits not just the individual employees, but their families, communities, the economy and society as a whole.

As with Maher’s tea mug, there’s a common thread between the lives of the refugees desperate to work in Za’atari and the lives of those I’ve met who are shut out of the labour market here at home. That’s why I’ll be pressing our government to promote solutions – like access to education, tailor-made back to work employment programmes, real living wages and a right to work for all who want to – for Syrian refugees in Jordan; the very solutions that I’ve long campaigned for in the UK too.

Kate Green is MP for Stretford and Urmston.