With Western leaders ramping up the rhetoric in support of proposed military action against the Syrian government following an apparent chemical attack on the city of Douma, Jeremy Corbyn has once again been the voice of reason – calling for calm heads, rationality, and evidence of culpability before any decisions are made on whether or not to send troops into battle. But, is Jeremy Corbyn simply a pacifist who argues against military action under all circumstances? Or has the Labour leader ever supported sending British troops into combat?
Despite the claims of many in the media that Jeremy Corbyn always argues against war no matter what, the Labour leader has indeed supported British troops being deployed in military combat on a number of occasions – but only ever when force was authorised with the expressed consent of the United Nations, and when military action was genuinely a last resort.
East Timor 1999
In 1999 Jeremy Corbyn – who was then a Labour backbencher – gave his unequivocal backing to British troops being deployed to quell atrocious violence and atrocities against civilians in East Timor.
The East Timor crisis followed a brutal civil war which had waged for more than 20 years after Indonesia – supported by weapons sales from the United States and Britain – had invaded the former Portuguese colony and carried out numerous atrocities and mass killings against the natives of East Timor.
After occupying the territory for more than 20 years, the people of East Timor held a UN-backed referendum in which more than 80% of the electorate voted to declare independence from Indonesia.
However, almost immediately after the referendum results were announced, numerous atrocities began to reoccur against East Timorese civilians by militias backed by the Indonesian army.
Jeremy Corbyn was in East Timor during the time of the referendum as part of the UN team overseeing the vote for independence, and saw first-hand the despicable violence and intimidation carried out by Indonesian-backed militias against East Timorese civilians.
Following the overwhelmingly pro-independence referendum results, Corbyn recounted what he witnessed in an interview with Socialist Review Magazine, stating:
“We heard gunfire all night and three people died. The militia were organising roadblocks, selectively stopping vehicles, pulling people out of them, taking them away and generally intimidating people all around the city. It was probably worse in the villages. One or two militia would live there and intimidate people. If there was any retaliation against the militia then they would come in much larger numbers and simply burn the village down.”
Following widespread outrage at the violence, a UN-backed force – led by Australia and which included British military personnel – was set up and deployed to the area. Jeremy Corbyn lent his unequivocal support to the deployment of British troops in East Timor.
Following the deployment of UN-backed troops, many Indonesian-backed militias fled and the Indonesian parliament was forced to accept the result of the referendum in East Timor.
With a broad coalition of UN-backed support, East Timor was then able to hold truly democratic elections n 2002, and in 2012 UN-backed peacekeeping forces were finally able to leave with the region now relatively stable.
Jeremy Corbyn argued that British troops should have been deployed in Rwanda – a move which could have stopped the genocide of more than 800,000 Rwandans, but was considered too expensive by both the British and Americans.
Despite documents released in 2014 showing that explicit warnings of an impending bloodbath in the region were given, the British government led by John Major and the US government led by President Clinton instead decided to decrease their support for a UN-backed peacekeeping mission on the grounds that it was too expensive.
At the time, the Belgian Foreign Ministry (Rwanda was a former Belgian colony) said:
“Not only are the United States and the United Kingdom against it, they may even, according to their delegations, withdraw Unamir altogether in case of difficulties… There is a financial logic behind this: the United States never wanted more than 500 men for Unamir.”
And in 1994, the then Prime Minister John Major told Parliament that deploying British troops was “simply not practicable“.
In light of British reluctance to enter into the conflict, Jeremy Corbyn submitted a written question to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in 1994 asking what the total value of aid given for humanitarian relief by Britain to Rwanda, and to each of the neighbouring countries since the refugee crisis began.
In 2014 the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said the UN was “ashamed over its failure to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda”, before going on to say that “we could have done much more. We should have done much more.”
Had the British and American governments been genuinely concerned about human lives, and not their own interests, then they would surely have bolstered the UN-backed mission and could have helped prevent the genocide.
As it is, the failure to properly act cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and goes a long way to proving that Western governments are not driven to intervene in such situations because of human suffering – but by their own selfish interests.
There are strong correlations between the failure of Western forces to support intervention in Rwanda during the 90s, and the current failure of the same governments to address huge concerns of a modern-day genocide against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Theresa May in December to urge her government to “act now to help end the suffering of the Rohingya people and bring about a political solution”.
However, with little financial or strategic benefits of intervening in the area, the Tory government have unsurprisingly been silent on helping bring an end to the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Myanmar.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Jeremy Corbyn has long insisted that the international community could do far more to help in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – which, like Rwanda, is a former Belgian colony.
In March 2015 – and to an audience which consisted of just one “Conservative junior minister, a Democratic Unionist party MP, and four other people, two of whom chatted while he was speaking” – Jeremy Corbyn began his half hour debate on the crisis in the DRC, stating:
“I want now to raise four related issues: the conflict in the east of the country; political violence and instability; governance; and what the international community, the UN and particularly the UK can do to improve the situation.”
Corbyn then went on to quote an Amnesty International report on the dire crisis in the region, which read:
“The security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo…remained dire and an upsurge in violence by armed groups claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and forced more than a million people to leave their homes. Human rights abuses, including killings and mass rapes, were committed by both government security forces and armed groups.
Violence against women and girls was prevalent throughout the country. Plans to amend the Constitution to allow President Kabila to stay in office beyond 2016 prompted protests. Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition were threatened, harassed and arbitrarily arrested by armed groups and by government security forces…More than 170,000 DRC nationals were expelled from the Republic of Congo”
“The situation and the way people are having to survive are terrible by any stretch of the imagination.
The violence is awful, and we have to look at what the international community is doing.”
And whilst the United Nations set up MONUSCO – a peacekeeping force assigned the task of ensuring the safety of human life in the DRC – no Western country is even in the top ten in terms of troop contributors to the force.
There is almost no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn would support the deployment of British troops to aid the UN-backed force and protect human lives in the DRC – a conflict which Corbyn himself said had “probably claimed more lives than any other conflict since the Second World War”.
Where there is both clear evidence of crimes, and widespread International agreement about the need for action, Jeremy Corbyn is clearly not afraid to insist that British troops be deployed in order to promote human rights and protect human life.
However, Corbyn has also opposed wars that did have the backing of the United Nations – such as the 2011 war in Libya – where he cited “the nature of the military operation, the intensity of the air strikes, the implications for the whole region, and the real motive behind the Arab League in calling for this in the first place” for his opposition.
Corbyn went on to write in his 2011 Guardian article that:
“I welcome the popular demands all across the region, including Libya, for accountable government and an economic strategy that provides full employment for the burgeoning young populations. But abuses of human rights by Gaddafi’s government didn’t start three weeks ago, as any one of the Libyan opposition will attest, and a blind eye was turned to this when Libya said it was no longer developing weapons of mass destruction and British oil companies were encouraged by Tony Blair to strike long-term agreements.”
And with Western intervention leaving a political vacuum that the death cult of ISIL quickly filled, Corbyn’s opposition to intervention in the region was spot on.
What the evidence in this article clearly shows is that Jeremy Corbyn is certainly not a pacifist who is simply opposed to every British military intervention, as his enemies are trying to portray him.
Furthermore, the failure of British governments to properly and decisively intervene in both the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the modern-day Rohingya crisis, show categorically that protecting human lives are clearly not top of the agenda when it comes to making decisions.
So when Theresa May, the Conservative Party, right-wing Labour MPs, and their lackeys in the mainstream media inevitably begin banging the drum of war again for Syria, remember that, unlike Jeremy Corbyn’s unanimously human rights-orientated approach – the right-wing simply base theirs on what they think they can get out of it.
As the former British Ambassador Craig Murray famously said about his experiences during his time inside the British Establishment:
“I’ve seen it on the inside. It’s almost always about control of resources… The system stinks. Westminster stinks. The British government is deeply, deeply immoral. They don’t care how many people they kill abroad, as long as it advances them… A state prepared to go to war to make a few people wealthy.”: