Six years ago today an American journalist called Marie Colvin was killed when the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad shelled a media centre she was reporting from. Marie was braver than most, venturing into the heart of the brutal battle of Homs to report from the front lines. The last line of her final dispatch was an interview with a woman who told her: “We feel so abandoned. They’ve given Bashar al-Assad the green light to kill us.”
Six years later the residents of Ghouta, another area that dared to dream of life free from the rule of Bashar Al-Assad are making the same plea to the world. Many of the over 400,000 killed in the intervening six years would have uttered the same thought.
In Eastern Ghouta we are seeing how the worst of humanity take control: nearly 400,000 civilians are trapped in an area of 40 miles sq, the siege has cut off food and medicine, dozens of missiles and bombs are dropping every hour. If you want updates from the ground follow this page. And if you’re interested in the geopolitics and analysis I recommend this piece. This is about what we can do to stop this.
One of the many casualties of the Syrian conflict has been the hope in the global institutions we fund and leaders we elect to prevent these massacres. Syrians and those that stand in solidarity with their struggle are too often pushed into the space of begging for the politically probable, so it’s worth restating the absolutely and utterly possible. Here are some things that could happen pretty much instantly if the political will among the ‘Friends of Syria’ countries existed:
- All attacks from the skies could be stopped tomorrow with the creation of a no-fly zone over Ghouta. Doing so would not only instantly save untold number of lives it would force the Syrian regime to negotiate an end to the siege and engage in real peace talks.
- Friends of Syria could strike the helicopters, planes and runways used in these brutal aerial attacks. This could mean that nothing could be dropped from the sky, the biggest killer in Syria. It could be done in a matter of days (and no it wouldn’t cause World War 3), rather it is a proportional use of force on military targets in line with the principles of responsibility to protect.
- Russia could face real consequences for its actions supporting the Syrian regime. Russian Embassies could be kicked out overnight, further sanctions placed on Russian and Putin’s cronies, sponsors could boycott the World Cup, the list is endless.
- The Syrian regime could be completely isolated from world affairs: it could lose its status at the UN, have it embassies closed around the world, further sanctions introduced.
All of this is possible. All of this would save lives and help create conditions for peace. But none of this will happen without people like you and I doing everything in our power to force those that purport to represent us to stand up and act. There is no big red button we can press, no petition to end this but if we can create different pockets of pressure we can see progress.
So if you share a belief in human rights, if your heart and head are sore thinking about the children trapped there, if you want to help, read this list of actions, share it.
PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND I
Call, email and visit your elected official. For years we’ve been told they don’t think anyone cares about Syria. In fact that for them to do anything is a ‘net loss’. Tell them you care. Ask them: Have they used every ounce of power putting pressure on Russia? Have they kicked Russian Embassy’s out of the country? Have they put in place sanctions on Russia? Why are they not using the same jets that they’re dropping bombs on ISIS to protect civilians?
Get on the streets. Here’s a list of protests. Don’t see one near you? Start one.
Convert your friends. Share content on Syria from Syrians. Send everyone you know this piece.
Open your wallet. It won’t stop the bombs but the Syrians left struggling to save the lives the world refuses to need every penny you can give. Here’s some heroes : the White Helmets that pull babies from under the rubble and medics that risk their lives to save others. Whether it’s $5 or $5000 give whatever is possible. It all goes to saving lives.
Direct action. What’s happening is an outrage and there is nothing that would be ‘too much’ to match it. Climb a building. Block the entrance to the Russian Embassy. Stop traffic. Drop banners.
I’ve met many hand wringing politicians. I watched them avoid the eyes of Syria’s heroes who ask them, plead with them to stop the bombs. This list isn’t about the policy intricacies, they’re covered elsewhere. It’s about things they can to match the scale of the crisis.
Walk out. The lack of action from European and US Governments leads to complicity in this horror. Walk out. Protest. Use your profile to get this onto a front page.
Call out your leader. If the leader of your party is not doing everything they can or should call them out. Write an op-ed. Make a speech. You are part of the party, use your influence.
Join a protest. Why are you not on the streets? Find your nearest protest. Join them. Chant. Dance. Be a person.
Draw attention. Focus every parliamentary debate or writing you can onto Ghouta.
Pray. No matter your faith come together and pray for the souls.
Ring your bells. In Norway churches started ringing their bells once a day for Syria. Do the same. Tell people why you’re doing it.
Talk about it in your service. Whatever the format of your worship discuss East Ghouta. Share stories.
Make statements. Tell the world about what is happening in Ghouta. Ask for it to stop.
We know you joined the UN to make the world a better place. Despite the heroic efforts of many staff the UN in Syria is in serious breach of the humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence and neutrality. Furthermore, the UN Security Council’s inability to make progress is undermining the power of the very institution we need most.
Walk out. Show your leadership that you can not and will not continue with business as usual.If you can organise a group and do it together even better. Press release it to the media.
Raise your concerns. Not ready to walk out? Email your concerns. Talk about it.
Quit. You might feel much better .
STAFF AT INTERNATIONAL CHARITIES
You carry the most moral authority in the countries you’re headquartered. You can get the attention of the media and politicians. Sadly far too many of you are doing far too little to stop the killing in Syria.
Get on TV. Why are the heads of the orgs not on the TV calling out this catastrophe.
Support Syrians. You don’t have staff in Douma, support your local partners, the same partners know being bombed, shelled and starved to death. Shout about their work. Demand the same safety you would for your Western staff and make the same outcry when they’re killed.
Travel to the border. Go and meet the Syrian organisations you fund. Listen to them. Take their stories back to your country and repeat them to every Government minister you can find.
Protest. Take to the streets. Add your name. Add your voice.
At the most recent count nine medical centres have been struck in the last 72 hours.
Donate your time. Syrian medical organisations are creaking, donate your time to them by travelling to volunteer with them in the region.
Speak out. You’re a respected member of your community, write to your elected representative, your local media or medical journals. A Syrian doctor would do the same for you.
Send messages of support. Ghouta’s remaining doctors are sending messages on Twitter and Facebook. Let them know you’re there.
Donate. Syria’s heroic medics are doing all they can to keep people alive. Consider donating to support their efforts.
Hope is the hardest thing to keep alive. But if you’ve made it this far you probably believe that tomorrow can be better. And that’s why we get up and do this all no matter how hopeless it all seems on any given day. Waking up and thinking that things can not be better and not acting, that’s the world I can’t imagine.
So I leave you with another quote, one from my homeland written by WB Yeats, who as a supporter of Irish freedom “there is another world, but it is in this one”.
Lets make that other world possible.
This blog first appeared here.