Letter from MAPW President, Dr Margaret Beavis to Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop - expressing concern about the bombing of Syria

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The Hon Julie Bishop MP

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Parliament House

Canberra, ACT 2600

4th October 2015


Dear Minister Bishop,

Members of MAPW (Australia) share the deep concern of most other Australians that the appalling plight of the people of Iraq and Syria must be alleviated as a matter of urgency.  I am writing to urge you to re-focus Australia’s efforts in the Middle East, from military to humanitarian actions that are much more likely to have positive outcomes for the millions of innocent people whose lives are at risk.

The situation in Syria is increasingly complex and continues to escalate.  Australia’s bombings in Syria, which have been justified as acting to help Iraq defend itself, have been  criticised as legally tenuous, and the likely effectiveness of our current  involvement there has been a matter for debate.  MAPW shares the concern of very many Australians, including senior strategic thinkers, that aerial bombing simply adds to the violence that is forcing a mass exodus from Syria, as it did from Iraq.

A just published report in the British Medical Journal highlighted the number of children dying as a direct result of violence, including bombing.[1]  An excerpt states:

“ High proportion of children are dying

Over 16% of the civilians who died violently in non-state armed groups  (NSAG) controlled areas and over 23% of those who died in government controlled areas were children. Children in NSAG controlled areas were largely victims of shelling and air bombardments (75% of total, n=9368)—mainly by the government. By contrast, no child deaths from air bombardments (potentially from NSAG) were reported in government controlled areas, where nearly two thirds of children died from shells alone (n=175). The proportion of deaths of children caused by ground level explosives in NSAG controlled areas was small—3.2% (n=395) compared with 25.7% (n=69) in government controlled areas.

The government and rebel factions in Syria typically claim that the targets of their bombs and shells are enemy combatant strongholds, but our findings indicate that for Syrian children these are the weapons most likely to cause death.”

Last month the World Health Organisation, which is facing a multi-million dollar shortfall, closed 184 health clinics across 10 of Iraq’s 18 districts. This will leave three million people without access to healthcare, and a generation of children without vaccinations. This has occurred in the areas that have seen severe fighting and massive internal displacement.  It came as a matter of deep shock and incredulity to many Australians that our official government aid to Iraq, a country we had helped invade in 2003, was totally abolished in early 2014 (although we believe a very small amount has since been reinstated).

MAPW (Australia) is proposing a dramatic increase in both diplomatic efforts and foreign aid levels to these areas to provide increased access to health and other essential services. The withdrawal of our defence forces from Iraq would be estimated to reduce expenditures by over A$400 million, which could be directed to reputable aid agencies. 

This humanitarian approach with a focus on the health and wellbeing of civilians would be in keeping with our stated commitment to help the people of Iraq and Syria. It could also help stabilise and eventually reduce levels of internal displacement and reduce the ability of terrorist forces to gain support in these regions.  

With no long-term political solutions currently in sight, the medical dictum ‘First, do no harm” seems paramount.  Australia must take every opportunity to provide aid for the people of a region that has suffered greatly as a result of the catastrophic 2003 invasion, and we must avoid at all costs adding to further devastating military actions.  We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this critical issue further. The painstaking work of diplomacy must be given all the support and resources that it demands.

Yours sincerely



Margaret Beavis


President, Medical Association for Prevention of War.


Copied to:

Prime Minister The Hon.Malcolm Turnbull MP, Defence Minister The Hon Marise Payne MP,

Leader Australian Labor Party The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Shadow Foreign Minister The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Shadow Defence Minister The Hon Chris Bowen MP,

Leader Australian Greens The Hon Richard Di Natale MP.



[1]Civilian deaths from weapons used in the Syrian conflict D Guha-Sapir J M Rodriguez-Llanes et al. September 29 2015  http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4736