Report of London Peace Pilgrimage for Syria

International Pilgrims Deliver Message of Peace for Syria on Human Rights Day

  – by members of Syria Peace & Justice,  14th December 2013

Last Tuesday (10th December) was International Human Rights Day. Syria Peace and Justice, a grassroots London-based group that was formed only two months previously, had decided to mark the day with a ‘Peace Pilgrimage’ for the people of Syria.

Outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

The aims of the activity were to raise public awareness of the desperate situation in Syria, and to call for:

  • An immediate ceasefire, especially in besieged areas with urgent humanitarian needs;
  • All Syrian and foreign parties, including the UK, to address the desperate humanitarian situation and end all human rights abuses without the use of further violence;
  • All foreign actors to stop fuelling the conflict through supplies of arms and ammunition, troops and military financing;
  • An inclusive, Syrian-led peace process;
  • Political prisoners and arbitrarily-detained persons on all sides to be released immediately;
  • The UK and other countries to accept their fair share of refugees;
  • Full accountability for war crimes and other human rights violations committed by all sides.

 We also wanted to express solidarity with Syrian activists working non-violently for peace, freedom, human rights and social justice in Syria.

There were to be two feeder groups, each of which would visit different embassies and offices in central London with a significant connection to the Syrian crisis to deliver a letter from the group containing a list of eight requests. The plan was for the two groups to converge at the US embassy. The group would then visit a few more embassies together en route to the Syrian embassy in Belgravia, where a candlelit vigil would be held.

Westminster group

Our group of eight peace pilgrims assembled outside the headquarters of the UK section of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on the Strand at noon, where a letter addressed to the agency’s UK representative was delivered to the reception.

We then walked down the Strand, past Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall, as far as Downing Street, where a member of the group delivered a petition to the office of the Prime Minister calling for an end to the fuelling of the Syrian conflict. Afterwards, we called in at the nearby Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We continued our pilgrimage through the busy streets of London, filled with seasonal shoppers, headed for the Chinese embassy in Portland Place. Upon arrival, we encountered a Chinese Falun Gong practitioner who was maintaining a peaceful presence across the road from the embassy. Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) is a popular spiritual movement in China, based on meditative practice. It is banned in the country and its adherents are brutally persecuted. The man confirmed to us that our placard in Chinese read: ”Message to All Governments: Stop Fuelling the Syrian Conflict.” We handed our letter to a member of staff at the embassy, and continued on our way.

Along the way, we stopped to talk to members of the public who took an interest in our pilgrimage: these included a number of Syrians. We continued as far as the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, where we were soon joined by our peace brothers and sisters from the other group.

Outside US embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside US embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Kensington group

Our truly global assemblage of concerned citizens assembled outside High Street Kensington underground station at noon. Our small but perfectly formed peace delegation consisted of women from Canada, Colombia, Montenegro and the USA, a couple of Englishmen, and one woman who had travelled all the way over from Ireland for our peace mission. Once all the placards and other paraphernalia had been distributed, we marched down the road, headed for the Israeli embassy.

Kensington group on the march. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Kensington group on the march. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Approaching the gates leading to Kensington Palace Gardens, a privately-owned road upon which the Israeli and various other embassies are situated, we were stopped by a guard, who would not permit us to pass in order to deliver our peace message. Further negotiations ensued with a policeman brandishing a semi-automatic rifle. He explained that it would neither be possible for us to deliver the letter by hand, nor for a member of staff from the embassy to come out and receive it, nor for him to accept it on the embassy’s behalf. He informed us that we would need to send it in the post.

We then proceeded to the Russian embassy, which it turned out was closed for a three-hour lunch break. We began to lay out our signs in different languages on the pavement beside the embassy wall, but after taking a

Peace pilgrims opposite Russian embassy. Credit: D. Viesnik / Syria Peace & Justice

Peace pilgrims opposite Russian embassy. Credit: D. Viesnik / Syria Peace & Justice

few photos, the solitary armed constable on duty insisted that we move to the other side of the road. We followed his instructions and got out our big “Peace for Syria – No More War” banner. Two members of the group read out our list of requests and the names of political prisoners in Syria.

We then doubled back down a busy Kensington Church Street, where we were highly visible to pedestrians and traffic alike. There were quite a few toots of support and thumbs up along the way, as there were throughout the day.

Delivering letter to Iraqi embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Delivering letter to Iraqi embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

We carried on past Kensington Gardens and down to what we thought was the Iraqi embassy. It in fact turned out to be the consulate, but the receptionist on the intercom helpfully directed us towards the nearby embassy. Upon arrival, a member of staff politely received our letter. I found it somewhat surprising to observe a complete lack of a security presence outside the building, in stark contrast to the Israeli and Russian embassies, and the American and Saudi ones that we would visit later.

We continued to Prince’s Gate, near the Royal Albert Hall, where we had an encounter with a Middle Eastern man standing on the corner facing the traffic, who was holding up a placard that accused the United Arab Emirates authorities of persecuting his family.

Man protesting near United Arab Emirates embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Man protesting near United Arab Emirates embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

We chatted with him for a while, and he told us that he had been protesting there and at other locations in central London for several months. We wished him well, took the details of his Facebook page, and explained to him a little about our peace pilgrimage. We then proceeded to what was supposed to be the Iranian embassy.

It seems, however, that the Iranian diplomatic mission has been ejected and replaced by the ‘Iran interests section’ of the Omani embassy. After standing outside the entrance for a short while, we were joined by a freelance photographer who had just caught up with us after following the Westminster group around.

Before any of us had even approached the front door, a somewhat perturbed-sounding voice rang out of the intercom, telling us that we couldn’t protest there, and that we had to go onto the main street. I calmly explained that it was quite all right, we just wanted to deliver our letter, and we would then leave them in peace. He said that someone would come down for it, but after waiting about ten minutes and ringing the intercom bell a couple of times, there was no sign of anyone appearing, so I slipped the letter under the door and we marched on.

Attempting to deliver letter to French embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Attempting to deliver letter to French embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

The next ports of call were the Kuwaiti and French embassies, located opposite each other on Albert Gate, just off Knightsbridge. The former opened the door to us and took our letter, although the receptionist wasn’t too happy about people filming and taking photos. I then tried the bell of the French embassy just opposite, and after offering them a friendly ‘Bonjour’ and an explanation of our visit, the receptionist told us to wait a moment. She eventually came back to the intercom and explained that for security reasons, she couldn’t open the door to us, and instructed us to slip the letter under the door, which I duly did and we continued on our way.

Walking through Hyde Park. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Walking through Hyde Park. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

We cut through Hyde Park, where he had to bid farewell to our friend from Ireland, who had another engagement to attend. We finally arrived at the US embassy shortly after 4pm, where we joined the rest of our peace brothers and sisters, albeit half an hour or so later than planned.

Outside the US embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside the US embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

US embassy to Syrian embassy

By the time everyone had assembled at the US embassy, it was beginning to get dark. We eventually all formed a circle so that we could check in with one another. It was decided that a small delegation would head straight to Belgrave Square, where they would seek to honour an appointment with a representative of the Turkish embassy, while the two German nationals in the group would call in at their embassy, also located in Belgrave Square.

Peace pilgrims attempt to deliver letter to US embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Peace pilgrims attempt to deliver letter to US embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

While still at the US embassy, there was a reading of the group statement. This was followed by an attempt by a peace sister from the US and others to deliver the letter. However, the security checkpoint outside the embassy insisted that for security reasons, it would need to be sent in the post.

The meeting at the Turkish embassy didn’t happen in the end, as the individual who was to receive our delegation had already left.However, an Anglo-Syrian member of our group did manage to hand in the letter, and it was agreed that the meeting would be re-arranged for a future date.

The German embassy was open, but although there had been an agreement that a representative of the embassy would receive the letter, no such person was available; and the receptionist declared that he was not allowed to accept any petition letters.(A further attempt to deliver the letter two days later failed for the same reasons.)

Member of Qatari embassy staff patiently waits to receive the letter. Credit: Syria Peace & Justice

Member of Qatari embassy staff patiently waits to receive the letter. Credit: Syria Peace & Justice

Meanwhile, the rest of the group had continued on from the US embassy towards its Qatari counterpart, where a staff member came out to politely receive our letter.

Peace pilgrims standing opposite the Qatari embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & justice

Peace pilgrims standing opposite the Qatari embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & justice

Some of us then became engaged in an animated discussion with a Syrian man who had been passing by. He was strongly against the Assad government and seemed to support foreign military intervention in order to overthrow him. We tried to reassure him that we shared his concerns about the humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, but explained that we didn’t think that further militarisation of the conflict was a solution. I handed the man one of our flyers and we invited him to keep in touch with us, before continuing on our way.

Armed police approach peace pilgrims outside Saudi embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Armed police approach peace pilgrims outside Saudi embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

The next stop was the Saudi embassy. We inadvertently walked straight past the building the first time, as there was no flag or flagpole outside. We finally located it, but it was closed by the time we arrived. No sooner did we approach the door than a pair of policemen armed with rifles approached and informed us that embassy security had alerted them to our presence. We explained the peaceful purpose of our visit and, after showing one of the constables the letter and envelope to reassure him that it did not present a security risk, I slipped it under the door. We bade the officers farewell and continued on our journey towards Belgrave Square.

Peace vigil

Japanese Buddhist peace monk outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Japanese Buddhist peace monk outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Soon after 6pm, everybody was assembled outside the Syrian embassy and we were able to begin our candlelit vigil. There were two dozen vigilers present by this time, and a couple of freelance photographers.The atmosphere was calm and peaceful.We were joined by a Japanese Buddhist monk who lives in a small temple close to the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park. He gently chanted and beat his hand drum, which helped to draw our attention inwards.

In addition to the nationalities mentioned previously, by this time there were individuals present from Kurdistan (Iranian part) and Sweden.

Vigil outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Vigil outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

After spending a while chatting, sharing food and drink, posing with signs in different languages, and setting up candles, banners, etc, we all stood in a line facing the now empty embassy, its entrance guarded by a solitary policeman.

We each held a candle in our hands and together shared a few moments of silent reflection.

Vigil outside Syrian embassy. Credit: D. Viesnik / Syria Peace & Justice

Vigil outside Syrian embassy. Credit: D. Viesnik / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

Outside Syrian embassy. Credit: Rada Daniell / Syria Peace & Justice

A Syrian-American woman then read out the group’s list of requests to the Syrian and world governments, after which an Anglo-Syrian man called out the names of individuals who have been incarcerated since the beginning of the 1000-day-old Syrian uprising. The vigil was concluded with a second period of silent reflection.

Placards on display outside Syrian embassy. Credit: D. Viesnik / Syria Peace & Justice

Placards on display outside Syrian embassy. Credit: D. Viesnik / Syria Peace & Justice

Having maintained our peaceful presence outside the embassy for a couple of hours, we packed everything away, bid one another farewell, and the tired peace pilgrims dispersed into the night.

Related links:
– Open letter to world embassies
– Photos and videos from Peace Pilgrimage and vigil
– Peace pilgrim Earthian’s blog

3 thoughts on “Report of London Peace Pilgrimage for Syria

  1. Pingback: Peace vigil & walk this Saturday + Check out our new media page! | Syria Peace & Justice

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