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Syria: Olympic Truce

Volume 739: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will propose within the United Nations that steps be taken to apply the Olympic Truce in Syria during at least the period of the 2012 Games, and if possible for the traditional 100 days.

My Lords, we are committed to the Olympic Truce’s ideals of conflict prevention and peace. In the case of Syria, the six-point plan of the joint special envoy, Kofi Annan, sets out clearly the steps to a ceasefire. This has not been implemented by the Syrian regime, despite its undertaking to do so. We are therefore pressing for full implementation of the Annan plan to stop the terrible violence in Syria and allow a Syrian-led political transition.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. It seems that the Annan plan has not been accepted in any way by the Syrian Government. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider barring access to this country for the Olympic Games to Syrian athletes, officials and even spectators unless they agree to a truce?

Anyone applying to enter the United Kingdom is treated according to our Immigration Rules. If an individual is currently the subject of a European Union or UN travel ban, they will not be able to come to the Games. However, I emphasise that this is a matter that relates to individuals, not to teams generally, groups or nationalities. I repeat: accreditation to the Olympics will be refused to any individual who may present a safety or security risk, or whose presence at the Games or in the UK would not be conducive to the public good.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the Annan plan. Amnesty International reported today that Syria is in a state of civil war. In his Statement to the House of Commons on 11 June, the Foreign Secretary said that if there was a full civil war the Annan plan would be set aside and the United Kingdom would move to a resolution in the Security Council. Are the Government co-operating with the French to do so next week?

My understanding was that it was the International Red Cross that raised the concept of civil war, although whether it is qualified to establish an accepted viewpoint is debatable. The British Government are looking at the issue in the light of what has been said and the continuing, horrific and totally unacceptable level of violence. I cannot say more than that at the moment. We have not reached a clear view on the point that my noble friend raised.

My Lords, the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is topical for the worst of all possible reasons—we have heard of another appalling atrocity this weekend. I am sure that the Government are very concerned about these terrible reports of slaughter after slaughter, but will the noble Lord tell us whether, the Annan plan notwithstanding, any thought is being given to the creation of safe havens on the borders of Syria, where people can go when they feel that they are in such appalling danger? I am sure we all feel that this is a terrible situation, but we seem utterly stuck in it.

I can understand the noble Baroness’s feelings. On the broad issue, Kofi Annan is now in Moscow pressing the Russians who—with the Chinese—are a key part of this story, so that we can move to a Chapter 7 UN resolution. As for safe havens, of course thought is being given to these matters, but the noble Baroness knows that for them to be policed and operated on Syrian soil means the involvement of personnel and conditions inside Syria which simply do not exist at the moment. They would involve much higher risks and many more dangers than we face even at present. As to safe havens, the authorities in Turkey have created some refugee havens and areas to which many people have crossed the border and entered. However, safe havens and corridors within Syria have been considered but are not a realistic possibility as we see it at the moment.

Although I share my noble friend’s revulsion at the events in Syria, the fact is that Syria is a co-sponsor of the Olympic Truce resolution which this Government have done so much to promote, and which this Government proposed to the UN General Assembly last year. These are desperate times and there is a case for desperate measures. Could not one of those measures be to use the Olympic Truce which comes into force on 27 July as the basis on which a delegation involving the previous proposers of the Olympic Truce, China, and the next proposers of the Olympic Truce, Russia, could go to Damascus under the auspices of the UN and the IOC to plead for Syria to honour this important commitment?

First, I acknowledge and salute my noble friend Lord Bates’ work in promoting the Olympic Truce ideal, which is widely supported. Of course, the British Government took the lead in co-sponsoring UN Resolution 66/5 on, “Building a peaceful … world”. The question that my noble friend rightly poses, through some very creative thinking, is whether we could not somehow involve China and Russia in joint action to mount more pressure on Damascus—indeed, on both sides in Syria—to cease their appalling and violent activity. A short while ago my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary agreed with Mr Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, a joint statement on co-operation on the ideals of the Olympic Truce. There is a basis there for further discussion. I am also sure that Kofi Annan will be raising the matter in Moscow now while we are discussing it here. The basic ingredients are there for something along the lines that my noble friend mentioned. However, I am afraid that it is a long haul ahead and there are many difficulties in the way. But the truce is a potential asset in trying to move forward and get a grip on this horrific situation in Syria.