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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons

Friday, August 30, 2013

During the debate in the House of Commons Meg made the following contribution to the debate.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The situation in Syria and the surrounding area is catastrophic - at least 100,000 people have been killed and 2 million have been forced to flee the country, with the refugee camp at Zaatari alone containing an estimated 130,000 people, half of whom are under 18. It is difficult to ensure that aid reaches those still inside Syria - in some areas, it is impossible - or even to know their situation.

Over the past two years, the international community has stood on the sidelines. Some countries, including the United Kingdom, have provided funds and resources for the refugees in the surrounding countries, but the numbers leaving Syria get larger by the day, as we have seen recently with the thousands crossing into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Many countries say that the situation in Syria is difficult and that intervention from outside would make it worse, and we have heard that argument time and time again today. However, the situation has got progressively worse without intervention. Are there any signs that it will get better?

It is beyond question that everyone here would prefer a negotiated diplomatic solution to the crisis, but despite the considerable efforts of many, including the Foreign Secretary, all attempts at obtaining a United Nations Security Council resolution to try to secure that have proved impossible. It is clear that any moves at the UN would be vetoed by Moscow and Beijing. Russian and Chinese support for Assad means that there is little incentive for him to make meaningful concessions or even to discuss a ceasefire.

But now the use of chemical weapons has escalated the crisis. The Joint Intelligence Committee has confirmed today that the Syrian regime has used lethal chemical weapons on 14 occasions since 2012, and the world has done nothing. However, last week’s large attack has led to international condemnation and, I believe, a determination to do something.

Some argue that last week there was not a chemical attack and a few say that such an attack was carried out by someone other than the Assad regime, but I believe Assad to be responsible. I accept the judgment of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It has concluded that there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.” We have known for years - this is by Assad’s own admission - that Syria has chemical weapons. Intelligence leads us to believe that they can be delivered on a variety of platforms.

To those who are not persuaded by the need to relieve the humanitarian crisis and who say, “Intervention has nothing to do with us; it will play into the hands of al-Qaeda”, I say that the reverse is true. We can and must intervene.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a powerful point eloquently. Does she agree that although we have heard a lot this evening and earlier today about the risks of taking action, there are also risks in not taking action?

Meg Munn: There are clearly risks in not taking action; for more than two years we have not taken action. We should have been having this debate two years ago. We should have been doing something two years ago. Our delay has led to there being no good options.

We have heard time and again today about why we should not do something, but I say that we have a responsibility here. The UN’s doctrine of a Responsibility to Protect, which was born out of those humanitarian disasters of the 1990s, is widely accepted and must be invoked.

If a diplomatic initiative at this stage could succeed, we would, of course, all prefer it to military action, but at the moment it seems to me that diplomatic and peace efforts have completely failed.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated that the amendment will enable action to be taken even without a Security Council resolution and, on that basis, I will support it.

Kofi Annan said when he resigned last year that as an envoy, I can’t want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community”.

The Assad regime, bolstered with units of the Iranian Republican Guard and Hezbollah, wants to win, whatever it takes in lives and misery. Are we really going to continue to sit on the sidelines wringing our hands?


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