The Sunday Mail’s Hitchens, a regular critic of British foreign policy, tweeted on Sunday: “Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office admits it gave £194,769.60 to the supposedly ‘independent’ Syrian Human Rights Observatory. How many other ‘independent’ bodies in the Syrian controversy aren’t as ‘independent’ as they look?”
Boris Johnson's Foreign Office admits it gave £194,769.60 to the supposedly 'independent' Syrian Human Rights Observatory. How many other 'independent' bodies in the Syrian controversy are'n't as 'independent' as they look?
— Peter Hitchens (@ClarkeMicah) May 13, 2018
The SOHR declare on its website that it’s “not associated or linked to any political body.” Hitchens in his Sunday Mail blog asks: “Is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office not a political body?” Hitchens appears to question the legitimacy of the relationship, in relation to the Syrian conflict “in which the British government clearly takes sides.”
Fellow Mail journalist and author of ‘Not the Chilcot Report,’ Peter Oborne has added that the “Syrian Observatory has been treated as a gold standard for information on Syria. Quoted by BBC all the time. Always described as independent.”
Syrian Observatory has been treated as a gold standard for information on Syria. Quoted by BBC all the time. Always described as independent. Now we learn from Peter Hitchens it's funded by FCO. https://t.co/NyfFnGT0Jo
— Peter Oborne (@OborneTweets) May 14, 2018
The group has come under criticism, being accused by some of being a tool of Western propaganda due to its location and lack of staff. Its operation is managed by one man in Coventry in the UK, Rami Abdurrahman, who fled Syria in 2000. He relies on a handful of Syrians to assist him in collating information from “more than 230 activists on the ground”, a network of people from his youth, reports New York Times.
Abdurrahman’s neutrality on the Syrian conflict came under fire when he told Reuters in 2011 he would return to Syria only “when Bashar al-Assad goes,” and according to CNN, was part of a delegation of Syrian opposition officials that met with the then-Foreign Secretary William Hague, that same year.
It’s not the only Syrian-focused human rights group to come under the spotlight with accusations of questionable neutrality because of UK government links. The White Helmets, officially known as the ‘Syria Civil Defence’ has also come under fire. Since 2011, the UK has provided the organization with £38.4m of funding, a freedom of information request has revealed, as reported in The Guardian.
The group operates in areas under the control of the Syrian opposition forces, including Islamist rebels such as Jaysh al-Islam, who controlled the city of Douma until recently, and the location of the latest alleged chemical weapons attack.
According to reports, Theresa May is preparing to increase funding to the White Helmets in response to media claims that President Donald Trump is to withdraw US support for the organization. In March, Trump froze a $200m (£148m) package of US aid to Syria, including money for the White Helmets.
The US President has said he would like to see his country relieve itself of military and humanitarian duties in Syria, calling on other countries to help fill the financial void to fund stabilizing and rebuilding projects in the country after the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), claims ABC news.
Addressing parliament on Wednesday, the UK PM said: “We do support them [the White Helmets], we will continue to support them and … the international development secretary will be looking at the level of support in the future.”
Two Syrian groups claim to be impartial, yet are happy to receive funding from the UK government who, as Hitchens says, are clearly taking sides on the Syrian conflict.