Penny Mordaunt – 2018 Speech on Syria

Below is the text of the speech made by Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State for International Development, in the House of Commons on 30 April 2018.

Let me take this opportunity to put on record that the aid workers who have been attacked in south Sudan are very much in our thoughts. Aid workers should never be a target, and I am sure that the whole House will want to send our good wishes to them and their families at this difficult time.

I want to update the House on the United Kingdom’s support for the people of Syria. I am keenly aware that Members are deeply concerned about the level of suffering experienced by millions of Syrians. The United Kingdom has shown, and will continue to show, leadership in the international humanitarian response.

In the eighth year of the conflict, the plight of the Syrian people remains grave. The Syrian regime appears to have no intention of ending the suffering of its own people, although the opposition have placed no conditions on peace negotiations. The barbaric attack in Douma on innocent civilians, including young children, was yet another example of the regime’s disregard for its responsibility to protect civilians. Some may seek to cast doubt over the attack and who was responsible for it, but intelligence and first-hand accounts from non-governmental organisations and aid workers are clear. The World Health Organisation received reports that hundreds of patients had arrived at Syrian heath facilities on the night of 7 April with

“signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Regime helicopters were seen over Douma on that evening, and the opposition do not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.

Assad and his backers—Russia and Iran—will attempt to block every diplomatic effort to hold the regime accountable for these reprehensible and illegal tactics. That was why the United Kingdom, together with our United States and French allies, took co-ordinated, limited and targeted action against the regime’s chemical weapons capabilities to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Britain is clear: we will defend the global rules-based system that keeps us all safe. I welcome the support that we have received from Members and from the international community. We will work with the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to create a new independent mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks. We will work with France on the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, and we will work with the EU to establish a new sanctions regime against those responsible for chemical weapons use.

In wielding its UN veto 12 times, Russia has given a green light to Assad to perpetrate human rights atrocities against his own people. This is a regime that has used nearly 70,000 barrel bombs on civilian targets; a regime that tries to starve its people into submission, although the UN Security Council has called for unhindered humanitarian access; a regime that has continued to obstruct aid to eastern Ghouta and removes medical supplies from the rare aid convoys that do get in; a regime that deploys rape as a weapon of war, with nearly eight out of 10 people detained by it reported to have suffered sexual violence; and a regime that deliberately bombs schools and hospitals, and targets aid workers and emergency responders as they race to the scene to help.

We must support the innocent victims of these atrocities. All warring parties must comply with the Geneva conventions on the protected status of civilians and other non-combatants. There must be an immediate ceasefire, and safe access for aid workers and medical staff to do their jobs.

We also want to adapt what we do to the new reality of this war. That is why I have announced the new creating hope in conflict fund with USAID, to work with the private sector to find new technology to save lives in conflict zones. Britain will establish a humanitarian innovation hub to develop new capabilities to hinder regimes that appear determined to slay innocent men, women and children.

Our aid has made a difference. Despite the horrific violence meted out by Assad, we have been able to prevent mass starvation and large-scale outbreaks of disease. When we are able to reach the people who need our help, our aid works. We are the second largest bilateral donor to the humanitarian response in Syria. Since 2012, our support has provided over 22 million monthly food rations, almost 10 million medical consultations, and over 9 million relief packages. But the suffering continues. Some 13.1 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Over half of Syria’s population has been displaced by violence, with nearly 6 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. In north-west Syria, an intensification of hostilities and the arrival of an additional 60,000 people from eastern Ghouta is stretching scarce resources. Today, 65% of the population of Idlib—over 1.2 million people—have been forced from their homes.

At last week’s conference I announced that the UK will provide at least £450 million this year, and £300 million next year, to alleviate extreme suffering in Syria and to provide vital support in neighbouring countries. This will be in addition to our support for the second EU facility for refugees in Turkey. We have now committed £2.71 billion since 2012, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis.

Our pledge will help to keep medical facilities open to save lives. We will deploy protective equipment to keep medics and rescue workers safe. We will deploy antidote stocks to treat any further victims of chemical weapons. We will train doctors and nurses to treat trauma wounds. We will focus on education, making sure that every child in the region has access to quality education even in the most trying circumstances, on steps to protect civilians, and on ensuring that those responsible for attacks face justice.

We will help to support the millions of Syrian refugees sheltering in neighbouring countries. Our friends in the region—Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in particular—continue to demonstrate extraordinary generosity by opening their doors to millions fleeing the conflict in Syria. We must continue to offer them our fullest support. Last week I also announced that the UK will host an international conference with Jordan in London later this year. It will showcase Jordan’s economic reform plans and aspiration to build a thriving private sector, and mobilise international investment.

There are refugees who cannot be supported in the region: people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk of exploitation. We will work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those most at risk and bring them to the UK. We are helping but, with Russia’s support, Assad continues to bomb his own people, and that is why so many continue to die and so many have fled their homes.

There can be no military solution to the Syrian civil war. As UN special representative Staffan de Mistura said in Brussels last week, the Assad regime risks a pyrrhic victory unless it and its backers engage in a genuine political process. Only this can deliver reconciliation and the restoration of Syria as a prosperous, secure and stable state. The UK will continue to support the efforts of the UN, under the Geneva process, to this end.

The obstacles remain serious. The regime has shown no inclination to engage seriously so far, and the Security Council remains divided. But the international community cannot, and should not, resign itself to failure. The costs for Syria, for the region, and for the wider international rules-based system are too great. The Foreign Secretary was in Paris last Thursday to discuss with key partners how we should intensify our efforts to bring this conflict, and its causes, to an end. While we actively work to find a political solution, the UK will continue to stand alongside the people of Syria and the region to do what we can to alleviate human suffering, and to demand immediate access for aid workers to all those who need our help. I commend this statement to the House.