16 December 2012

This House Believes That: the EU should intervene in the Syrian conflict

Lola ROY (FOR):

Syria has not had a democratic election since the advent of the Ba'athist dictatorship in 1963. Hafez Al Assad, Bashar's father, obtained power after a coup in 1970. He was President until his death in 2000. Then Bashar al-Assad was elected. The regime liberalized timidly, it was the "Damascus Spring", and then this new president definitively put an end to the liberal movement. As a result, from March 2011, a wave of unprecedented popular social and political protest started taking place against the Ba’athist regime.
Since Friday 18th March 2011, demonstrations of thousands of people have taken place in Damascus, Homs, Banias and especially in Deraa, several buildings (the headquarters of the Ba’ath Party, the courts, etc.) having been burned down. Bashar al-Assad and his collaborators ordered the repression of the demonstrations, leaving hundreds dead and thousands wounded, both military and civilian (rebels or not). The protest movement has evolved into an armed revolution…


Indeed, the syrian conflict has already killed more than 40,000 people in only 20 months. The organization Human Rights Watch reports many cases of torture; it has the testimonies of more than two hundred people…
Hossam is 13. He has been captured by the Syrian forces and emprisoned. He has said to HRW : ''They put electric pliers on my belly. I fainted. When they questioned me a second time, they beat me and electrocuted me again. The third time, they had pliers with which they snatched off my toenails. They told me ''remember, we arrest adults and children and we kill them all.'' This is the situation that many children have already endured. It's our role to do everything  to stop  these genocides and atrocities. The UN denounces the torture of children and points in particular to the Syrian army which uses children as human shields. The torture is becoming a usual thing in this war, even the rebels use it. Many governments, including the Qatari government, denounce the genocide by the Syrian government. Bachar al-Assad doesn't even respect his own ceasefire commitments. We can't let these men, women and children be murdered by Bachar al-Assad who doesn't care about his people. It's our duty to stop these slaughters . It's true that it's very risky, but we can help the rebels through technical and logistical support, maritime blockades and air attacks... We can also bring humanitarian support creating safe zones, no-fly zones or humanitarian corridors.

Alexia DE RECHAPT (against):

The main problem of an intervention in Syria would be consequences... It could bring a regional and international escalation. Russia and China do not agree and have put their veto on any intervention at the United Nations Security Council.
Also, Europe cannot afford a military intervention: France's military budget, for example, has decreased from 3% to 1,5% of GDP. There is also a lack of strategy and of training! To win a battle against Assad, we would need the help of America
Also, it is up to the people get rid of their tyrant, not us!
The instability of the country is due to the religious situation of Syria, not just the political situation, in other words, this civil war is due to ethnic and religious divisions that cannot be “solved” by a military intervention.
The differences between all the religions and minorities but also the different armed forces involved make the situation hard to understand. The population is divided into two principal religions:  Islam and Christianity. Muslims are subdivided in two principal branches: the Sunnites (73%) and the Alawites Shiites (14%) who are running the country (Assad is Alawite). The Christians represent 12% of the population. All these communities have an important role in the conflict. Moreover the different armed forces are the Government army, the Free Syrian Army and the radical Islamists who are divided into two groups: the first one allied with the Muslim Brothers and the other one with the Jihadists. It is easy to imagine that such a diversity is a factor of instability in Syria…

Benédicte DE LA GRAVIERE (for):

The government is violent but there are also radical Islamists who make the situation complex. If we don’t intervene, these pitiless groups will take power, they may get the chemical weapons and the conflict will spread over the neighbouring countries. Due to powerful weapons and the Sharia they can change the lives of millions. We need to avoid what happened in Mali in March this year: Jihadist groups representing less than one percent of the population very rapidly succeeded in taking over control of the whole country. Our role is to oppose the bloodshed in Syria ! We, the EU, have to avoid the situation getting worse. Since the beginning of the conflict we have said that “it is up to the people of Syria to work it out for themselves”, but after one year and eight months of this conflict, we have to admit that the situation has not improved. Moreover, with the rise of the Jihadists, minorities like the Christians or the Kurds are threatened. 90% of Christians who live in Homs have been expelled. Feeling sorry for these people is not enough. We have to intervene militarily to bring back peace. May I remind you that if the Islamists came from Lybia or Tunisia it was, at the beginning, to help the opposition who had not received any help from the EU, or the USA or the UN. Now, they are taking advantage of the chaotic situation our non-intervention has caused. Last year, they were about 2000 Islamist soldiers, today there are at least 10,000 ! All of them have refused to recognize the Syrian National Coalition (which is made up of the different opposition groups) and want Syria to become an Islamist country. We must react before they take control of all the territory! Our role is to encourage the SNC which is, in case of an intervention, ready to take the power with a provisional government, in order to avoid an even more unstable situation or things will become like in Lybia.

Loic GEELHAND (against):

But the problem is, if we want to intervene in the Syrian conflict, are we talking about the Government or Jihadist forces? Because if the UE intervenes against the Government, it’s going to favour the Islamists and if, on the contrary, the UE intervenes against the Jihadist forces, it’s going to benefit the Syrian government… So finally it’s the same result. You also said that they are powerful, so logically that means that they are powerful enough to fight against European forces, we could lose soldiers… It isn’t the responsibility of the European Union! The problem is if we help the rebels with weapons, there is also a risk of arming members of the Jihadist movement, and therefore it’s just going to give them more power.
Moreover, the danger to minorities is also a very important point. One of the keys to solving Syria’s conflict is to understand its ethnic and religious complexity. In fact, the conflict is based on ethnic and religious considerations, which will continue with or without Assad…
Syria is made up of many ethnic and religious groups. The vast majority of the Alawites are now convinced that if they lose power there will be reprisals, and they will suffer as a community, after decades of abuse and despotic power. This feeling is also shared by other communities; there is already hostility between some communities. Even if Bashar al-Assad were to leave, will the Syrian National Coalition be strong enough to keep the communities from fighting each other? If we intervene, the situation is not going to change.
Some Armed Islamist groups came to Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad, but it’s also for religious reasons. They are also there to impose the Sharia on the country just like in Mali. In fact, these groups announced their rejection of the Syrian National Coalition and voted for an Islamic state. The armed groups are going to be a real problem. I agree that the UE should intervene, but only for two reasons: if al-Assad leaves power, and if the coalition stays strong and the different communities and religions stay united (and I don’t think it’s possible because there are too many differences between the communities, and a thirst for revenge…). Moreover, Assad is still in power, and so by the time he leaves power, the Jihadist forces are going to be too powerful because more and more are going every day to Syria to fight. It seems too late…

Lola ROY (for):

But how can we really say that it is too late when a dictator introduce fear and an intolerable regime in his country and sparked off a civil war ? Furthermore, the European Union has its own foreign policy and security, which enables it to speak and act with one voice on the world stage. It has already sent peacekeeping missions to several regions of the world affected by conflict.  In the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), it uses military forces provided by the Member States to take the following actions: joint disarmament operations, humanitarian missions and evacuation, consultancy and assistance in military matters, missions for prevention of conflicts and peacekeeping, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including missions to restore peace and stability, and operations at the end of the conflict. Over the last decade, the EU has launched 23 civilian missions and military operations on three continents.
In addition, the EU and Syria are both part of the Euromed partnership. The objectives of this partnership are to build together a space of peace, security and shared prosperity in the Mediterranean basin.
Finally, the vetoes are not legitimate since Russia and China obviously have put their own interests above those of the Syrian people. Russia and China are virtual dictatorships and do not want the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring to spread to their territories. Besides, Europe could put pressure on these two powers so they think more about the situation. In fact, the EU could try to negotiate with these countries in an efficient way so that the UN could be united and stop the war in Syria. Legally, the EU could also try to have an impact on Syrian politics by sending, for example, diplomats for negotiations to reach an agreement on peacekeeping. The EU could also collect donations from the European populations to financially help the wounded civilians and families without homes. Also, it should find a way to protect at least the children from being hurt by creating more refugee camps. To conclude, despite all the difficulties that the European Union may face, it is now a real duty to act.

Amandine GOTER (against):

Syria is situated next to Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. An intensification of the fights because of a European intervention and the fact that Syria is a central player in the Arab world would provoke a regional escalation of the conflict, particularly in Lebanon or even Turkey because of the long common border.
China and Russia have veto rights, like it or not. Russia refuses an intervention because it provides Assad’s army with weapons and it brings a lot of money to the Russian government, and the only Russian military base in the Mediterranean is in Syria. China wants to preserve its relationship with Russia and refuses any intervention.
Finally, the European Union has been affected by the crisis of the sovereign debts since 2008. So, it must help its countries and reduce its debt. That’s why it can invest a lot of money in this conflict. Besides, Europeans are not the world’s policeman!

Conclusion by Loic and Lola :

Due to the complexity of this conflict, it is really difficult to know what to do because there are implications both positive than negative, and opinion is very divided. For the moment, no one has decided to intervene militarily, but there are ways for you to express your opinion at the European level with petitions and support for various organizations.

Vote: the motion that the EU should intervene was carried by a small majority.

15 December 2012

UN International Human Solidarity Day is on 18th December

“In a world of common challenges, no nation can succeed on its own; but by working together in common cause, we can build a safer, more prosperous future for all. Solidarity must be the foundation for global solutions.”

8 December 2012

Shoot your town!

Genetically Modified Organisms, useful or dangerous?

A few questions you need to ask yourselves about GMOs:

In September 2012, Professor Séralini presented his study on GMOs. He tested in secret during two years the effects of GMOs on rats. The result was unbelievable; many of these rats contracted diseases as a result of feeding on GMO maze… What do you think of this study ? Should we worry about GMOs ?

What are the risks for the environment of GMOs ? Is there any possibility of cross-pollination with non-GMO crops ?

What are the effects for the health of humans and animals ?

Monsanto has the monopoly on GMOs. Every year farmers have to buy new seeds from this TNC. What are the consequences on farmers' lives ?

Arguments for the use of GMOs:

Better resistance to stress
If crops can be made more resistant to pest outbreaks, it would reduce the danger of crop failure. Similar benefits could result from better resistance to severe weather, such as frost, extreme heat or drought.

More nutritious staple foods
By inserting genes into crops such as rice and wheat, we can increase their food value. For example, genes responsible for producing the precursor of vitamin A have been inserted into rice plants, which have higher levels of vitamin A in their grain.

More productive farm animals
Genes can be inserted into cattle to raise their milk yield.

More food from less land
Improved productivity using GMOs might mean that farmers in the next century won't have to bring so much marginal land into cultivation.

GMOs might reduce the environmental impact of food production and industrial processes
Genetically engineered resistance to pests and diseases could greatly reduce the chemicals needed for crop protection, and it is already happening. Scientists are developing trees that have a lower content of lignin, a structuring constituent of woody plant cells. This could reduce the need for noxious chemicals in pulp and paper production.

Rehabilitation of damaged or less fertile land
Large areas of cropland in the developing world have become saline by unsustainable irrigation practices. Genetic modification could produce salt-tolerant varieties. While there is some advanced research in this area, salt and drought tolerance are the result of quite complex gene combinations, and positive results will take longer than those providing insecticide and herbicide resistance.

Rehabilitation of damaged land may also become possible through organisms bred to restore nutrients and soil structure.

Longer shelf lives
The genetic modification of fruit and vegetables can make them less likely to spoil in storage or on the way to market.

Plant material fuel, or biomass, has enormous energy potential. It may be possible to breed plants specifically for this purpose.

Investigation of diseases with genetic fingerprinting
"Fingerprinting" of animal and plant diseases is already possible. This technique allows researchers to know exactly what an organism is by looking at its genetic blueprint.

Identification of allergenic genes
Although some are worried about the transfer of allergenic genes molecular biology could also be used to characterize allergens and remove them.

Arguments against the use of GMOs:

The taste of GMOs is not as good or as "natural" as real food

Harm to other organisms
Genes included in a crop may turn out to be poisonous to insects (for example, the monarch butterfly poisoned by GMO maze).

Cross-pollination with ordinary (crop) plants
Cross pollination can occur at quite large distances. New genes may also be included in the offspring of the traditional, organic crops miles away. This makes it difficult to distinguish which crop field is organic, and which is not, creating a problem to the proper labelling of non-GMO food products. Super weeds which are more resistant can be spread everywhere. It can be the same for super pests.

Health problems
Cancers may be caused by GMOs but also allergies.

Only major trading countries obtain most of the benefit from the production and trade of genetically modified crops
This might cause more geopolitical conflicts.

Monopolies by TNCs
Fewer competitors might increase food prices. Large companies can influence health and safety standards.

Here is a summary of the personal views in favour of GMOs expressed by Mr Villemont, an agro engineer:

  • The world population is increasing; it will soon reach nine billion. So if everyone is to have enough to eat, it is necessary to produce more meat and crops.
  • You cannot deny people in developing countries wanting to eat more meat!
  • We have to increase yield to keep the peace in the world and transgenic plants are the solution.
  • Farmers and the GMO industry have to comply with regulations to increase biodiversity!
  • So-called alternative agricultural techniques will not solve the problem of possible wide-scale famine.
  • GMOs help reduce the use of chemicals.
  • The Séralini research on rats is simply not reliable.

Here is a summary of the views against the use of GMOs expressed by Mr Birson, a member of an environmental protection association:

  • Transgenic plants are not the solution to feeding the world. There are alternatives. Terra Preta
  • (http://www.terrapretaprogram.org/our_program.aspx) is one solution. With this method, yield is very high and it does not pollute the environment.
  • The film by Coline Serrault (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsbXnTlCwHc) shows the disastrous effects of GMOs very well, and it also shows initiatives by farmers in India to find alternatives that increase biodiversity.
  • Eating so much meat is not necessary (it is bad for health and the environment as more land is needed to produce meat than to produce cereals).
  • Monsanto has the monopoly on genetically modified seed and this is not good. The urgency of feeding a growing population means that GMO products are being used though proper long-term research has not been carried out.
  • Globalisation is a big mistake. There is competition between countries which leads to absurdities like Spanish tomatoes being sold in Holland and Dutch tomatoes being sold in Spain.
  • If a farmer has less than 10 hectares of land, he can’t get any subsidies in Europe, so States are encouraging large-scale producers (who choose to use GMOs).

Article by Anastasie Paradis, Zélie Pironin, Alexandre Tabone & Lauriane Chadrin

10th December: UN Human Rights Day