Edward McMillan-Scott  MEP “I’ve been helping Syrian rebels”

Edward McMillan-Scott, is one of our Liberal Democrat MEPs for Yorkshire and the Humber and a Vice President of the European Parliament with special responsibility for Human Rights and Democracy. I caught up with him for a quick chat at Conference in Gateshead.

Elected in 1984 to the European Parliament, he recently celebrated his second anniversary of joining the Liberal Democrats at the weekend. He came to us because of the way the Conservative Party had “abandoned its relationships with mainstream parties in the European Parliament. Rather than follow  Conservative MEPs to a group with parties he describes as “vile”,  he chose to join the Liberal Democrats. He slammed David Cameron for his congratulatory call to Vladimir Putin despite criticism of the legitimacy of the recent election result.

He seems very much at home in the Liberal Democrats and had an admiration for the internal democracy of the party we’d just seen in action during the debate on the Health and Social Care Bill, very different from the “top heavy” Conservative conferences.

Where, I asked, had his interest in human rights come from. He replied that he’d always been interested in human rights for its own sake. In 1971, he was working as a tour guide, taking Americans round Europe. He found himself with a free afternoon in what was then Leningrad. He used it to visit disused synagogues and churches and ended up at the Museum of Atheism. He was then arrested and spent 7 hours being interrogated. Although his fears of being used as revenge for the arrest of a Russian sailor in Glasgow a couple of weeks before proved unfounded, those hours at the mercy of an authoritarian regime left their mark.

He went on to meet Lech Walesa and  worked with key Russian dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Scharansky.  In 1990, McMillan-Scott set up the European Democracy Fund to help the newly emerging states of eastern and central Europe with their transition to democracy. He is now responsible for a 160 million Euro European Democracy and Human Rights Instrument. This is the only European programme that can operate in a country without its Government’s consent.

McMillan Scott last year spoke out in favour of arming the Libyan rebels and he feels the same about Syria. His EIDHR has been providing opponents of the brutal regime there with communication equipment for some time.  It’s hardly surprising he wants to go further in the light of this week’s Amnesty report which outlines, in harrowing detail,  methods of torture from crucifixion to rape to pincers and electric shocks in common use. He wants the EU to consider everything short of military intervention. The ALDE Parliamentary Group recently had a visit from “Danny”, the Voice of Homs, an escaped half British resident of the Syrian town who was interviewed on CNN. The MEP is obviously comfortable in the group he says is the only one within the Parliament which consistently raises human rights and civil liberties issues.

He is not a man who work only from the comfort of an office in Brussels. Last February, he rushed to catch the first flight to Cairo after the fall of Mubarak and recorded his experience in Tahrir Square for You Tube. “Getting out and being there,” he says, “is fundamental to politics.” On previous visits, he’d worked towards the release from prison of El Ghad party leader Ayman Nour in 2005. He is passionate about the role the “benign influence” of the European Parliament can have in putting pressure on new democracies to recognise women’s rights and have a liberal outlook.

He takes pride in being related to T E Lawrence, more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia, who, he says, led the first Arab Spring against the Ottoman Empire. He quotes Lawrence’s poetry:

I loved you, so I drew these tides of
Men into my hands
And wrote my will across the
Sky and stars
To earn you freedom

Recent revolutions have been aided and abetted by social media. McMillan-Scott talks of Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz whose Twitter and Blog were crucial in motivating others on to the streets. She now has over 276,000 followers and was a joint winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. 

McMillan-Scott has to dash for another meeting and we didn’t even get to touch on his work to try to stop the self immolation of Tibetan monks, or his campaign for children’s rights, far less his campaign to get rid of the expensive week  each month when the European Parliament decamps from Brussels to Strasbourg. That, I hope, will keep for another day.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Europe / International, News and Parliament.


  • Richard Dean 15th Mar '12 - 8:43pm

    It’s good that the EU is providing radios and humanitarian aid, and hopefully assisting Amnesty and others in showing the world what is happening. One of the problems in tyrannies like Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria is that the embattled populations also need to know how to communicate credibly, how to organize effectively, and how to govern post-conflict. Tyrannies can remain in power in part through keeping populations in ignorance of these things.

  • paul miller 16th Mar '12 - 1:14am

    strange how theres no mention of supporting pro democracy campaigners in bahrain or saudi arabia. how can we criticize russia for arming syria when we sell arms to saudi and bahrain. Does Mr mCmillan-Scott have anything to say about war crimes in Sri Lanka? There seems to be a pattern forming with western politicians and commentators. Countries we support never seem to be attacked over human rights unlike countries which are anti western,which are attacked non stop. Joseph Kony criticized for human rights violations ,same as the congolese warlord yesterday but strangely western supported Ugandan tyrant Yoweri Museveni whose army has butchered far more men women and children in the Eastern Congo,strangely is never criticized.
    All countries should be judged equally on human rights or people become cynical about the agenda.

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