tv World Apart with Oxana Boyko RT July 28, 2013 6:29pm-7:01pm EDT
of fighting the war shelling and bombing civilian towns because that's where they believe the rebels are i think what's crucial in the western narrative on the syrian conflict is that the line between combatants and civilians is really really blurred and i think i would argue that it is done for political reasons because when we had quite a mother who is nursing her baby somewhere in homes and her male neighbor with a kalashnikov who is attacking in nearby army checkpoint you know these two people they may have the same political goals and aspirations but one has taken up arms and they were the other one didn't isn't that the core distinction between combatants and civilians well the distinction is between those who have taken up arms and are using them actively they are if you like legitimate targets for the regime trying to defend itself but what is not acceptable is to simply attack
civilian areas because that's where the rebels are hiding and say well it's not my fault if i kill civilians because a still responsibility under international humanitarian law for any force whether it's the rebels all the government to try to make a distinction between combatants and civilians that's a fair point and since you mentioned the international law of war and the geneva conventions apply here. i think the geneva conventions make the distinction between combatants and civilians very clear and i don't want to oversimplify it but in legal terms complet combatants can be purposefully targeted and killed while the government has the responsibility and all the sides actually have responsibility to protect civilians as much as possible so why do we have all these leaders president obama prime minister cameron and others. calling rabble savelli and i think that truly not only misrepresents the conflict but that actually undermines the already fragile security that could be afforded to civilians. i don't think they're
saying that the rebels are civilians of course the rebels are in the they don't always wear uniforms and that's what makes it so difficult i completely accept this is a very difficult context an internal civil war in which to make very clear distinctions between combatants and civilians but that doesn't absolve anybody from the responsibility of trying to do that equally of course it's not legitimate for rebels to use civilians to hide in and to use them as human shields that's also contrary to international humanitarian law but that's here earlier point about who is wearing a military or an informant who is wearing fatigues i think one clear distinction of would be who is carrying arms and when it comes to carrying arms rebels are clearly aren't where there is where civilians are clearly defenseless in this regard so again when we have all those leaders accusing assad of slaughtering his civilians i think it's really missing the point that the. vaculik syrian army is there
trying to deal with the. security challenge that it has you can dispute rather on the means out properly but they are not out there just to kill civilians just to slaughter them for the sake of you know just bloodletting i think i think you're also missing the point i think the no one would suggest that the government trying to to kill rebels who have guns and are trying to attack them that's part of the conflict i mean it's not you can argue about who's right or wrong in the conflict but that's a legitimate thing to do in the conflict what it is not legitimate to do is to attack areas with weapons like shells an aerial bombing where you don't you have no idea where the rebels are relative the civilians so you just bomb the whole city and the point is that the majority of the victims of our own not rebels carrying guns they are civilians let me take up this point according to the united nations latest figures the death toll in syria now stands at ninety three thousand people and the united nations says that it cannot distinguish between combatants and.
villains but what they also know is that eighty percent of those who have been killed in syria so far a male now if you operate on the notion that it is assad slaughtering his own people such as usual chunder distribution of would be highly improbable wouldn't it i'm not saying all all the ninety three thousand one hundred thousand are civilians but a few are saying i'm quite a lot a portion of them are if you look at the reporting of the conflict in the documented events that have been a lot of people are also women and children and of course a lot of men are not fighting you also have the fact that a lot of women and children fled syria you have nearly between one and a half and two million people who have now fled syria and most of those are women and children and the organization you now represent also. released an interesting statistic recently the international rescue committee says that about eighty percent of refugees in turn then and turkish camps are women and children so you're half a percentage of those who are killed in syria. and eighty percent percent of those
who fled the violence in syria are women there has to be some explanation there and i think the explanation there is again that it is man who fight in that war it is man who are primarily being killed in that war but a stance of lee those men are being called civilians and that altimeter i would argue jeopardizes the security of those civilians who are still left behind. i'm not sure there's an argument here i think anybody who is carrying a gun and using it against the government cannot be regarded as a civilian so if they are killed they are not civilians what i'm saying is a lot of the people being killed are civilians a lot of people are being killed by military tactics which are indiscriminate because they are shelling and bombing of of civilian cities and therefore automatically where the civilian population is not fled and they have fled from everywhere all they have fled from a large part of these areas you're going to get a lot of civilian casualties let's take a historic perspective here from the very beginning the rebels rebel the. side was
encouraged by some of the international players to go on and fight for their democratic rights because they struggled initially at least was presented as a democratic struggle now when you know that house of the population and that is women and children that and i think we know from social studies that women and children would. usually tend to accept all sorts of atrocities rather than having war i mean they they would subject themselves to humiliation maybe they would suggest subject to the tyranny for the sake of saving lives if the men are far less likely from social studies do you accept something like that so when you are suggesting that the rebels should be. encouraged in that democratic struggle and you know well in advance that at least half of the population wants to have nothing to do with war how democratic altimetry it really is in your view clearly not all the rebels are perfect democrats very far from it and some very extreme factions
amongst them which everybody's extremely worried about what i would say is the protests started as a peaceful democratic democratically inspired protest against the government the government reacted to that with violence which then created a counter-reaction of violence now you know. there's a there's a very complicated argument about whose fault it is and who's who's most to blame this government is not a democratically elected government as it happens but they have a certain digital mysie or they had a certain intimacy before that now the problem is that if the government portrays the rebels all as foreign terrorists that is also ridiculous. characterization of the rebels really very hard or a lot of them will you call them rebels and you can call some of their tactics terrorism if you like if they if they are using violence against civilians that is terrorism is a tactic no i say i'm not here to defend the rebels are not a spokesman for the rebels i'm just trying to look at the situation objectively
they did not start out as foreign inspired terrorists this is a very controversial issue because as somebody who reported from syria from very early in this uprising i think that the the. aren't man for an armed man were present on the ground from the very early on and i think it's pointless to discuss or debate now how it all started but what it's clear is that the reason why it was allowed to progress to such an extent was because of the all all the support that was. lavish to to the rebels by the gulf states and some of that by the democratic countries like your own and my question to you now is. remora philosophical but when you look at that from a humanitarian perspective surely you said the syrian political system wasn't to everybody's liking you you know people had legitimate grievances with the assad regime but you know choosing violence as
a method of advancing your political goals choosing war as a matter of improving democratic system indic in the country how humanitarian is that because if you look at the number of people who are suffering from political prosecutions under assad regime say three four years ago and the sheer extent of human suffering these days it's incomparable well as this are not a spokesman for the rebels i'm not trying to defend everything they do. it started off in line with what happened in other countries in the region and as part of the so-called arab spring as peaceful protests now what happened in other countries where this happened in egypt and tunisia and elsewhere was that democratic protest was recognized as having a certain legitimacy by the government and this led to changes of government in favor of a more democratic system now there's a very imperfect processes in syria one that when that happened the government reacted by trying to suppress those protests by violence and that's led to the
absolutely tragic situation and we have now where no one can win from this and the civilians are the main casualties here now in london and you've been decorated for the service to your country and your country has been a very active player in this conflict because from the very early stage of this conflict back just one of the sides do you think your government your country buries any responsibility for what is happening in syria these days well we did not start this conflict we would not respond that you are assisted this continental of syria the peaceful protesters well we have given actually the british have not supplied any weapons to the rebels so far they've given non-lethal supporters they call it which is have obviously is. a form of support because we judged at that point that they had more democratic legitimacy than the government of president assad that's a matter of political judgment or taking a characterization of the conflict which comes very much from your government's view of it as a legitimate government fighting foreign terrorists i would say that is an absurdly
unrealistic description of what actually happening on that i'm actually trying to look at it from a humanitarian perspective and when you look at that from that perspective what you're trying to assess is the extent of human suffering and you're trying to be impartial to you know political aspirations of those people who are involved and when he'll look at that from that perspective this is obviously not their right to math it off advancing democratic change that's my main main point but the problem you have here in syria you don't not have a responsible democratically elected government you have a government which is what i'm talking about the british government and the american government has supported the rebel forces well because they thought that they represented a more democratic movement if you like ensued now the problem of course we have and we all face this now is that some of the rebels are certainly democratic some of them are or extremist some of the major had just and they are being supported by forces from outside that's absolutely true now we have the situation results from that where the country is being destroyed in front of our eyes the civilian
population is suffering now what we have to do now is a find a way of helping the people who are suffering very difficult to see a political way out of it now given the positions everybody's taken absolutely hell on this point i totally agree with you let's continue right after the break. nobody chooses to be homeless nobody chooses to be in our sorrow. is that rose for the soul to. get in the six pm get out six feet six. they were in. school. to me the class before the. days no word against her.
it's tough to think about all of them to do. and to know that many may not have only been lost to choose one's should never be but there are also do different closures that never should have. more news today violence is once again flared up. these are the images go forward and seeing from the streets of canada. giant corporations are the day. we speak your language does not imply they will not advance. your music programs
and documentaries and spanish more matters to you breaking news a little tonnage of angola's kidneys stories. you hear. that choice all teach spanish find out more visit eye eye to . welcome back to worlds apart we are discussing the humanitarian aspect of wars for third john holmes former u.n. emergency relief coordinator and currently the u.k. chair for the international rescue committee sir john i've been covering the conflict in syria for more than two years and obviously you're come across a lot of horrible stories of human suffering but. i got an impression that human suffering in itself has not only big become a rallying cry for many parties both almost
a goal in itself because the more trust it is you've got the easier it is to justify certain policy actions well i hope not because because no one should use humanitarian suffering and the need for humanitarian aid as an argument for a particular political or security action we have to deal with the suffering as it is whoever is responsible for it as i said the suffering is extremely great now and getting greater almost whatever happens in this terrible civil war is going to get worse i fear and therefore there is a big responsibility on all the international community to try and do something about that humanitarian situation whatever your political views may be and i think that's a major challenge because in a conflict that is so politicized as they want in syria i guess it would be extremely difficult to persuade both sides but especially the government that you know this international relief organizations many of which are sponsored by western donors would be somehow impartial to the plight of the people on the
ground and that would not try to influence certain political outcomes well i think you just have to look at the track record of these organizations the organization which i chair in london isn't an unknown governmental organization what that means is that it doesn't have any relationship with the government it may take money from governments from time to time because it needs that money but it doesn't do with the governments bidding politically it doesn't. many political objectives now you're right that it's very hard to do that in a very politicized situation but we've seen this before in sri lanka or even in sudan in gaza who are trying to help people who need help when you're being accused often by both sides of helping the others now you mentioned some of the conflicts that you had a direct experience breath and i think what makes the syrian war are outstanding here is unlike in many of the. examples syrian war is not only on the ground it
also created a major rift within the united nations itself the former u.n. official do you think the united nations is still capable in practical terms to leave up to its ultimate goal that is preventing another major war because it looks like we have one on our hands now the united nations cannot do anything if the major powers within it are divided as they are over syria but as they are over many things as they are have been for many years over the middle east peace process as they were it's not new that the major powers are divided the second point is the u.n. has humanitarian organizations who are operating purely again on humanitarian principles they are simply trying to work with both sides talking to both sides you have to separate vote out that humanitarian part just as you have to separate out the west than even the three enjoys a western base they don't they're not projecting a western political agenda although some people in moscow might think so they simply try are some people in damascus mind might as well well of course the
government always thinks or the government always think that if if you're trying to help people in rebel held areas somehow secretly you're sympathizing with the rebels or you're a channel for smuggling arms or you're helping the rebels in some other way let me just assure you from my personal experience that is not the case well i guess i will have to take your word for it let me take another example of afghanistan you know where where the western powers if you like of the u.n. so on are trying to help the government in that case these are the organize. nations we're talking about u.n. organizations and n.g.o.s like the one i chair are all trying to operate in taliban held areas or areas where the taliban are very active to help the people there you know this idea that there's an automatic bias is simply false you can't really accuse them of being too conspiratorial because ultimately some of these wars in afghanistan in syria in iraq are seen as artificially engineer it worse and worse that didn't have to take place now my question to you as a representative of humanitarian organizations you are asking donors western donors
probably donors in many other countries as well for donations to how people in need but when it be more appropriate to ask western governments to think twice before they go into such military actions or make such consequential political decisions because obviously you are now dealing with the at least to some extent with the consequences of the policies that were promoted by your own country as well as by many authors well i don't think you'll find that n.g.o.s like mine had any support for the western intervention in iraq or indeed the western intervention in afghanistan they're not political organizations but they would have had many criticisms of those interventions serious different situation this is not a western created situation this is this is a. something that came from. has been trying to be done by the series i was a hopeful there as well and others fire was not permitted it's not well later on it
was in non-lethal ways the main aid is coming from other arab countries not from the west who are you know is there any other way you think it doesn't matter what the it doesn't let's not go back to where we were before it doesn't matter what the origin of the conflict was for the humanitarian organizations whether they be u.n. organizations the red cross or n.g.o.s whether they be western based or arab based or russian based or turkish base or whoever they are it doesn't matter who is whose fault it is what the security objectives are the only objective is to help the people who are suffering now are your own country britain and some of its closest allies are now considering arming rebels including providing them with having a weapon what kind of impact do you think that may have on the humanitarian situation in the region well if the fighting intensifies clearly there will be more humanitarian suffering and more war people will be killed more civilians will be killed the war fighters will suffer i think the issue is how do we get from where
we are to a situation where a political a real political negotiation can be undertaken at the moment i think it's true to say that neither side neither the government nor the rebels are really ready for a proper negotiation the government doesn't see any need for it they don't see a need to make concessions to the rebels the rebels are too disorganized to do that and they insist probably on realistically the president has assad has to step down before they'll negotiate now one of the air reasons why some western governments are contemplating. this matter of providing syrian rebels with more arms is of course to turn the tide because assad's army has been making strategic advances and the idea here is really tried here are. turning the tables around now correct me if i'm wrong but i'm working on a presumption that most civilians from rebel held areas would already have to either drawdown or turkey if western governments succeed in the objective of
turning the tide that i would suppose would create an enormous challenge and enormous rafiki challenge because you would have millions of people from government held areas fleeing to neighboring countries what i would say is the there are no good there are no good options now in syria if the fighting intensifies there will be more people fleeing will be more humanitarian need the rebels take over some more cities there will be people who will flee but of course the opposite is also true the government just took back the city of elko syria there were no civilians left or virtue no civilians left the dock in syria they have already fled but again my point was that if civilians have already fled those rebel held areas that means that you know what we have now is this refugee challenge is pretty much what we will have if the situation is allowed to take its natural course but if western governments were to intervene and change the course of events in syria that would create millions potentially tens of millions of refugees who would be fleeing the
country do you do you think there is a realisation of what may actually happen if the west succeeds in and its objective your question is based on the assumption that if the government simply if the government won a military victory now that the population be very happy and would stay where they were i'm afraid that's really not the case the go the population of the country majority of whom are not from the alawite group which is the rulers of the country are not at all happy with the government and if the government came by one of complete military victory and reoccupied all those towns our people about the rebels i'm afraid they would also be a humanitarian catastrophe the other way it's no good pretending the syrian government is a is a nice legitimate democratic government my hand then this is not a lot of what i'm trying to prove but let's compare if we just compare the. figures for the refugees and internally displaced you have one point five million people fleeing the country and four point five million changing that location within the country if you take that for a crude proxy of their political preferences that shows you the political
disposition within the country so i think they have a humanitarian aspect of it is there is very crucial because obviously this war has been portrayed in humanitarian terms as the human suffering that is side as the reason for providing arms or you know other forms of intervention but when you when we are really concerned with human suffering it looks to me that such a step as a provision of arms would take it to an enormous proportions for your analysis is completely floored one of the population of aleppo and homes in other places why are they mostly fled they fled because those areas are being contested between the government and the rebel held rebels if the rebels are in control of an area what happens is that area is being shelled and bombed controlled by the government so naturally the civilian population flees he doesn't flee just because the rebels are in control because it's being contested and there is no way for civilians to survive this but if your government for it to provide more weapons to the rebels that would mean that that ability to launch those attacks against the government forces would increase and as a result the massacres and the killing of civilians would increase as well so i
mean you know you also your government supplying weapons to the government which they use in going to the rebels and therefore against also the civilian population so you know no one is innocent here the way this conflict was portrayed in russia from the very beginning hasn't changed that dramatically i mean the extent of violence obviously has increased but the general depictions of the size of the rebels and the government side has pretty much they have the same in the west the general understanding of that conflict changed dramatically and as you pointed out earlier the rebels are not seen as these you know idealistic young people are fighting for democracy very far from that but they western policies haven't changed as the as a result of that change in the west and now. found the western understanding of the conflict your government is still persisting in arming beside that most people around a wild would have absolutely no confidence and clearly there are huge reservations about the rebels as they now all. one argument often heard here is that the reason
the rebels have become jihadists and accepted money from jihad is cause is a bit with that is precisely because the west is not be prepared to provide them with weapons if you were to accept that argument that means that the you know rebels are so easy to manipulate that why would they would you put them at their house of the country in the first place if these people are ready to you know kill civilians and the crowd liver is hard so just because some saudi money were accessible to them well i mean why would you want them to be a legitimate representatives of the syrian people in the first place the assumption of your question is that we started to the west somehow started this revolution all this democratic move we didn't is syria in a worse situation now than it was when this movement started undoubtedly did we make mistakes was it a mistake maybe to call for president assad to step down before negotiations started possibly but you know to portray you know your assumptions about the
conflict also are so flawed that you can't look at the objective truth either that's what you're accusing me of doing because your your portraying it as if this was a foreign inspired rebellion against syria deliberately to suit the west interest which is no and this is not what our army said it was a west assisted the rebellion and i think the reasons why the west backed one of the sides to end this conflict has nothing to do with democratic aspirations it has everything to do with geopolitics that if. a ran out of time please join us again same place same time here on the wall the part.
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