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The Hypocrisy of Britain’s “Humanitarian” Missile Strikes on Syria

Photo by EU2017EE Estonian Presidency | CC BY 2.0

There is growing doubt that the alleged chemical attacks in the Syrian town of Douma were anything of the sort. Two journalists who visited the place, the old hand Robert Fisk, a veteran of countless conflicts, and a new arrival, Pearson Sharp, who bids fair to be a successor to Fisk in intrepidity and objectivity, were pretty convincing in their reports.

Fisk spoke with a local doctor, Assim Rahaibani, and quotes him as saying “I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred meters from [his hospital] on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft are always over Douma at night — but on this night there was wind, and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet’, shouted ‘Gas!’, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.  Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia — not gas poisoning.”

And Pearson Sharp reported that “When I asked [the hospital doctors] what they thought the chemical attack was, they told me — all of them told me — that it was staged by the rebels who are occupying the town at the time. They said it was a fabrication and a hoax and when I asked them why, they told me it was because the rebels were desperate, and they needed a ploy to get the Syrian army off their backs so they could escape.” His video is worth watching.

But these reports mean nothing to those who ordered their rocket strikes on Syria. The explanation given by British Prime Minister Theresa May for firing missiles at a country that poses no threat whatever to the United Kingdom was morally righteous. She declared that Britain had to act quickly and fire eight missiles against Syria “to alleviate further humanitarian suffering and to maintain the vital security of our operations.”

The missiles fired by the US, UK and France have not resulted in the slightest reduction in “humanitarian suffering” in Syria, although the British government declared that it is “permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering. The legal basis for the use of force is humanitarian intervention” which is justified when there is “extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief.”

It is now British policy that “overwhelming humanitarian suffering” in a foreign country justifies military force to relieve it.

While the missile blitzing threesome were attacking Syria because of their moral outrage there came more news about Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, where appalling “humanitarian distress” (in Britain’s description) has been inflicted on large numbers of the population by their repressive government.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson declared in February 2018 that “The UK is grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for their hosting of the Rohingya refugee community during this terrible humanitarian crisis.”

As recorded by Human Rights Watch in its 2018 Report, Burma’s military “launched a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslim population in Rakhine State. More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape mass killings, sexual violence, arson, and other abuses amounting to crimes against humanity by the security forces.”

Surveys conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) “estimate that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Myanmar, in Rakhine state, between 25 August and 24 September [2017]. As 71.7% of the reported deaths were caused by violence, at least 6,700 Rohingya, in the most conservative estimations, are estimated to have been killed, including at least 730 children below the age of five years.”

Humanitarian suffering?  Remember Theresa May’s declaration in Parliament that “up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a despicable and barbaric attack in Douma” —  so what has been done by the caring, virtuous, child-loving Theresa May concerning the slaughter of 730 little children in Burma?  What action has she taken, in her moral righteousness, in order to deter the Burmese government and its barbaric army from butchery and “large scale ethnic cleansing”?

Well, in a speech at the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the City of London she declared that the massacres in Myanmar were “a major humanitarian crisis which looks like ethnic cleansing” and that the UK must now “step up our efforts to respond to the desperate plight of Rohingyas.”

But missiles came there none.

Why?

There was action, of a sort.  In an inspiring display of disapproval of ethnic cleansing and evil barbarity the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced it would suspend its training program for the Burmese military “until there is an acceptable resolution to the current situation”.   My goodness, that will really make Burmese killer soldiers tremble in their blood-soaked boots. How many lives were saved by that censorious pronouncement?

Then it was announced in Britain’s Parliament that “Last November [2017] it was the UK that was instrumental in securing the first UNSC Presidential Statement on Burma for a decade, which delivered a clear message that the Burmese authorities should protect all civilians in Burma; create the conditions for refugees to return; and allow full humanitarian access in Rakhine State.”  Forget the missiles!  When there’s a “major humanitarian crisis that looks like ethnic cleansing” — as Mrs May described the slaughter in Burma — there’s nothing that will solve it more effectively than a “clear message” that the savage criminals responsible should beware of the British government’s displeasure.

There is bizarre inconsistency in the British government’s actions after its prime minister and her minions indulge in moral indignation about human suffering.

The selectivity in the UK’s response to humanitarian crises is further evidenced by the reaction of Prime Minister May to the devastation in Yemen.

Human Rights Watch records that “The Saudi-led coalition involved in the conflict in Yemen repeatedly attacked populated areas and deepened Yemen’s humanitarian crisis through its blockade in 2017.”  And CNN has just reported that “At least 33 people were killed and 41 wounded after airstrikes hit a wedding party in northwest Yemen on Sunday night [April 22]. Two missiles hit the celebration in the town of Hajja, several minutes apart, eyewitnesses and officials told CNN. At least 17 women and children were killed in the strikes.”

Yet another world humanitarian crisis has been generated by Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, where the Saudis have used “cluster munitions and carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians in violation of the laws of war.”  Yet the reaction by Prime Minister May has been decidedly subdued.

In March 2018 Mrs May replied to questions about Yemen by announcing that “we have encouraged the Saudi Arabia Government to ensure that when there are allegations of activity taking place that is not in line with ​international humanitarian law, they investigate them and learn the lessons.”

It is doubtful if her “encouragement” will ensure that the Saudis will stop using cluster bombs and refrain from killing celebrants at wedding parties. (After all, they’ve had many examples in other wars.)

It’s not just inconsistency and absent-minded selectivity on the part of the British government that makes it rocket Syria when it declares it “is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering” yet takes no action whatever concerning horrendous humanitarian crises in Burma and Yemen.

Theresa May and her government are pathetic hypocrites.

 

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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