Minister of State for the Middle East, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, hosted an event at the FCDO on 27 April with the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Distinguished guests, colleagues, friends.

Thank you for joining us today for this important discussion on the need for accountability in Syria. In particular, a very special thank you to our panellists, all of whom have been resolute in their demands for justice.

While I will let them tell their own stories, what will become clear is that the Syrian regime has, for more than 12 years, shown a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life.

It is impossible not to be moved by the powerful images on display. While these images make for harrowing viewing, bearing witness is a first, critical step in the pursuit of justice.

The Syrian people have endured unimaginable suffering. And while the propaganda merchants of Damascus, Moscow and Tehran seek to rewrite history, the evidence we can see and hear today underlines where responsibility for these abuses principally lies: with the Asad regime, and its allies – Russia and Iran.

The UK has stood with the Syrian people from the outset of this conflict. We continue to work with our partners, and the UN, to advance an inclusive political process and an end to the conflict. We have delivered more than £3.8 billion in humanitarian assistance since 2012, our largest ever commitment to a single humanitarian crisis.

Most recently, the UK acted swiftly to respond to the devastating earthquakes of 6 February, increasing support to our partners on the ground; we were able to provide a package of support worth more than £43 million.

But, UK support goes further than humanitarian funding. I am proud of the relationships the UK Government has built with Syrian civil society. The Syrian people are at the heart of justice and accountability efforts, and your voices will always have a place in guiding UK policy.

The UK also uses our position in the Human Rights Council and at the Security Council to highlight the scale of human rights abuses in Syria – we will not let up.

We support information sharing and evidence collection mechanisms, which have helped with judicial convictions, including the landmark trial of Anwar Raslan.

We support the creation of a new UN mechanism to focus on the missing. And we maintain a robust sanctions regime – our second largest – on those responsible for atrocities against the Syrian people.

We also work to expose the malign way in which the Syrian regime is destabilising the region. The regime enriches itself and its war machine, for example through the narcotics trade, whilst the Syrian people starve. To our friends in the region: you have our full support in addressing the harmful influence that Syrian narcotics and this conflict have on your societies.

Right now, some of our closest partners might be reconsidering their relations with Syria. Dialogue has hastened and we are all aware of ongoing discussions about Syria’s role in the region; we understand our partners’ desire for peace, but I want to emphasise that the UK’s stance on non-engagement with Damascus has not changed.

We will not work with a regime which shows no remorse and which has not shown any willingness to change its behaviour.

Our stance is guided by our values, but also by the evidence from other contexts of how conflicts can be sustainably ended. We believe the best way to achieve a lasting peace in Syria is through collective pressure, with clear demands of the regime including: a nationwide ceasefire; releasing those arbitrarily detained; conditions for safe refugee returns; and opening a safe political space, leading to free and fair elections. We will continue to work with our partners in the region and elsewhere to achieve these goals.

A Syria for all Syrians is possible. A Syria where people are free to live without fear of forced disappearance; without fear of systematic torture and sexual violence; and without fear that chemical weapons will again be used against them.

Let me end by saying that there can be no peace without accountability; that is as true in Syria as it is in Ukraine. The UK remains as committed to the Syrian people as we were when you first took to the streets demanding the most basic of freedoms.

The cause of accountability is not straightforward. But as Martin Luther King put it, though the arc of history is long, it bends towards justice.

Thank you all, once again, for joining us today and I will now hand over to Charles King, our Acting Special Envoy to Syria.

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Published 28 April 2023