Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Rukban camp and the legal responsibilities of the UK

The Right Honourable Theresa May MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SWIA 2AA

The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Defence
The Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development
The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East

8 November 2018

Dear Prime Minister,

Re. Rukban camp and the legal responsibilities of the UK

We write as representatives of Syrian community organisations and concerned human rights organisations, to draw your attention to a recent briefing to MPs on the potentially catastrophic situation in Rukban camp on the border of Syria and Jordan. Since that briefing, a UN aid convoy from Damascus has managed to reach the camp with supplies. This was the first aid delivery since cross-border aid was delivered by crane across the Jordanian border in January.

UN reliance on permissions from Damascus has been catastrophic for besieged civilians in so many Syrian towns and cities, and is agonising now for the inhabitants of Rukban, some of whom have died of medical neglect while awaiting UN aid.

As you will know, Rukban camp is situated within the US-UK Coalition’s Tanf Deconfliction Zone around the Coalition base at Tanf, southern Syria. The base has been used by UK forces training anti-ISIS fighters, and the zone is militarily defended by the Royal Air Force.

As the US-UK Coalition have taken military control of the zone, so they have legal duties to civilians in the zone under the Geneva Conventions. In particular Article 55 of Convention IV states:

“To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

Relying on UN aid via Damascus is not a secure solution. UN convoys are only permitted to depart Damascus with facilitation letters signed by Assad regime officials. All such letters must be signed by Jamil Hassan, head of Air Force Intelligence, a man sanctioned by the UK and EU and subject to international arrest warrants issued by Germany and France for his part in the mass torture and killing of prisoners in Syria.

We call on the UK Government and the UK’s American allies to recognise their duty to bring in aid into the area under their military control whenever other options for cross-line or cross-border aid delivery fail.

We further call on the UK Government and the UK’s American allies to fulfil all their other duties to the civilian population, be they in the areas of education under Article 50 of Convention IV, health under Article 56, or any other duties of an occupying power.

Yours respectfully,

Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help4Syria UK
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Clara Connolly, Syria Solidarity UK
Catherine Anderson, The Jo Cox Foundation
Samuel Rushworth, Labour Campaign for International Development