Statement on the Syrian White Helmets

The NDP has endorsed the Syrian White Helmets for the Nobel Peace Prize. We have received much support for our position.

The White Helmets have saved over 60,000 people in Syria. The volunteer group’s mission is to save as many people as possible through search-and-rescue operations. They have been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, and their nomination is supported by hundreds of Syrian and international organizations and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

The White Helmets were recently awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the ‘Alternative Nobel’, which counts among its past recipients Denis Mukwege, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Gene Sharp, David Suzuki, Maude Barlow, and Amy Goodman.

The NDP’s Foreign Affairs Critic, Hélène Laverdière, is in regular contact with many experts and humanitarian practitioners on the ground in Syria and the region, including representatives from the United Nations, international humanitarian NGOs, and Syrian NGOs. Last year she was in Gaziantep, where she met with many Syrian refugees and relief organizations operating in the field.

Opponents of the nomination of the White Helmets include Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The Syrian government is responsible for mass human casualties. It is deliberately targeting civilians, including women and children. More than 13 million Syrians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. 6.5 million Syrians are displaced; 4.8 million are refugees. Children cannot attend school. In Aleppo, currently under siege, there is little to no access to food and water. This is the worst humanitarian situation in the world.

Given this context, I would like to take the opportunity to refute some of the claims made by opponents of this nomination.

The Nobel Peace Prize is not about neutrality. In fact, many Nobel Prize recipients have been explicitly political. No organization is perfect; while some members of the White Helmets may identify with different political groups, the organization itself does not. We see no reason why the White Helmets should not be judged by their excellent work on the ground, saving lives in the most dangerous of circumstances.

A criticism has been levelled at the White Helmets that their organization is funded by outside donors. Most humanitarian organizations on the ground in Syria and the area receive money from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, and other donors. Very few organizations are able to work without government donor funding; that is the reality of the humanitarian system.

The White Helmets operate only in opposition-held areas because they do not have permission from the Syrian government to operate in government-held areas. Most Syrian NGOs doing humanitarian work are unable to access areas controlled by the Syrian government, and many of them have been labeled as terrorists for the sole reason that they are not aligned with the Assad regime.

New Democrats are deeply troubled by the ongoing conflict in Syria and the current diplomatic impasse. The past five years have brought nothing but horror and suffering upon the Syrian people. We continue to support the work of the White Helmets in responding to that suffering and horror with bravery and selflessness.