We respectfully request that the members of the Rights Livelihood Award committee review their award of this prestigious award to the organisation known as the White Helmets.

We believe strongly that this award has been given in error, perhaps because not enough evidence was presented to the committee.  We ask the committee to consider the following, documented, and supported evidence:

The White Helmets claim to be a neutral, impartial, humanitarian NGO, with no official affiliation to any political or military actor and a commitment to render services to any in need regardless of sect or political affiliation. We will now determine the legitimacy of this claim.

1: They receive funding from UK ( $65m), US ( via USAID $ 23m), Holland ($ 4.5m), Germany ($ 7.87m) and Japan via the Mayday Rescue “foundation” that was set up by the British ex-military trainer of the White Helmets in order to transfer funding to the White Helmets.  The White Helmets also receive equipment and supplies from various EU member states.

2:  The White Helmets were established in Gazientap, Turkey not inside Syria.  They are largely trained in Turkey and Jordan, not inside Syria.

3: The White Helmets are embedded exclusively in areas of Syria occupied by Nusra Front and ISIS, along with various associated “moderate rebels” such as Ahrar al Sham and Nour Al Din Zinki, both of which are responsible for carrying out ethnic cleansing operations and executions of the Syrian people.  Nour Al Din Zinki was recently videoed beheading 12 year old Palestinian child, Abdullah Issa.

4:  During the situation in Madaya in January 2016, the White Helmets in Idlib were photographed attending demonstrations & carrying banners that were calling for the “burning and destruction” of Kafarya and Foua.  These are two Idlib villages under full siege by Ahrar Al Sham & Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria) since March 2015, partial siege since 2012.  The siege ensures the starvation of villagers and daily shelling and sniping by Ahrar Al Sham and Nusra Front has killed over 1750 civilians during this time.

5: There is video and photographic evidence available that clearly shows the White Helmets participating in Nusra Front operations in the areas occupied or taken over by this organisation. There is one particularly damning video taken during the Nusra Front violent and brutal attack on Idlib City in March 2015. In this video White Helmet operatives are seen clearly beating a Syrian civilian prisoner of Nusra Front and circling the prisoner, mingling with heavily armed and hostile Nusra Front militia.

6:  The White Helmets have been filmed “clearing up” after a Nusra Front execution of a civilian prisoner in Northern Aleppo.  Although the official statement from the White Helmets claims they arrived after the execution, the speed with which they appear (in video) immediately after the prisoner has been shot in the head, demonstrates clearly that they were on the scene and did nothing to prevent it.

7: Various other White Helmet operatives have posted videos of the torture and execution of Syrian Arab Army prisoners to their social media pages with celebratory comments.  One such operative, Muawiya Hassan Agha, is alleged to have been “sacked” for his participation in such executions.  However, despite various demands, an official statement has never been issued by the White Helmets to this effect. Neither have they publicly condemned the torture and execution of prisoners of war, an act that contravenes the Geneva Convention.

8: The leader of the White Helmets, Raed Saleh, was deported from Dulles Airport in the US, April 2016.  No real explanation was ever given for this decision.  Mark Toner of the US State Department fielded questions from media but did (i) Admit to funding the group with $ 23m and (ii) suggest that Raed Saleh might have “extremist connections”.  Raed Saleh has recently been allowed back into the US in September 2016 and spoke at the UN New York with the Dutch Mission.  However, no explanation has been given for this reversal of the previous decision to deport Saleh.

9: The White Helmets are also known as the Syria Civil Defence. However, there is an existing Syria Civil Defence. The REAL Syria Civil Defence was established in Syria in 1953.  Vanessa Beeley met with crews in Aleppo, Lattakia, Tartous and Damascus during four weeks she recently spent in Syria.  The REAL Syria Civil Defence were founder members of the ICDO [International Civil Defence Organisation] which is affiliated with the UN, WHO, OCHA, Red Cross, Red Crescent.  The REAL Syria Civil Defence are still paying annual subscriptions to the ICDO of 20,000 Swiss Francs.  The REAL Syria Civil Defence do operate in both terrorist and government held areas, they operate with equipment that has been decimated by the war & sanctions and they do not receive up to $ 100 m in funding from the US, UK and EU states. They are recruited and trained inside Syria.

10: During interviews with the REAL Syria Civil Defence, they informed Beeley, that the Nusra Front and associated “moderate rebels “ who invaded areas such as East Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Idlib, massacred crew members of the REAL Syria Civil Defence and stole the majority of their equipment in those areas, including fire engines and ambulances. Many of these armed groups then became White Helmet operatives.  Testimony from the REAL Syria Civil Defence suggests that the White Helmets are acting as support for Nusra Front, ISIS and other heavily armed militia described as “moderate rebels”.

11: The White Helmets have been exposed, recycling images of children and incidents from the conflict in Syria, to support their narrative, using images from a previous incident or even fake images altogether.  There are many documented instances of this.

12: The White Helmets have been filmed describing Syrian Arab Army bodies as “trash” and one particular video shows them standing on top of a pile of SAA soldier’s bodies, whose boots have been removed or stolen.  The White Helmets talk about the bodies in pejorative terms and they flick a victory V sign as the truck drives off.

13: There are many images documented, that reveal the White Helmet operatives carrying arms or posing with arms alongside the various armed militia including Nusra Front.  There is also further footage from Idlib showing White Helmet operatives celebrating alongside Nusra Front militia after the massacre of Syrian Arab Army forces and Syrian civilians during this attack.

14: Adulatory publicity about the White Helmets is the result of commercial marketing and social media promotion via a network that is funded by George Soros and various US, UK and Middle Eastern enterprises. The PR network is: Avaaz – Purpose – Syria Campaign – White Helmets.  The funding and connections back to organisations and US state funded entities that have a vested interest in events in Syria is also extensively documented.

15: The White Helmets achieve on average 4 or 5 videos per day, depicting their rescue efforts. The REAL Syria Civil Defence have evaluated these videos and cast doubt as to the White Helmets being true first responders or USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) experts.  They pinpointed various anomalies (i) the equipment used is too heavyweight for the delicate operation of finding bodies beneath collapsed buildings (ii) the treatment of injured bodies is dangerous, they are flung onto stretchers with no back support or neck brace, for example.  Many of the paramedic procedures shown on film are also deemed questionable. The White Helmets rarely travel without a sizeable camera team or crew of mobile phone cameramen. The REAL Syria Civil Defence do not.

16: Vanessa Beeley conducted a video interview with Dr Bassem Hayak of the Aleppo Medical Association, based in West Aleppo. Dr Hayak still has family trapped in East Aleppo.  Dr Hayak told me that his family and the majority of civilians in East Aleppo (occupied by Nusra Front and an estimated 22 brigades of armed militants) do not know who the White Helmets are which begs the question, where are they conducting their much promoted humanitarian work? Dr Hayak also said that UN agencies in East Aleppo who work with the Aleppo Medical Association are not aware of the White Helmets.

In summary, this evidence points to the White Helmets being a US, UK, EU creation established in 2013, not an independent NGO.  It is an organisation with clear affiliation to governments involved & invested in the Syrian conflict. It is not a grass-roots Syrian organisation.  There is an existing Syria Civil Defence that is being ignored.

The evidence demonstrates that the White Helmets are sectarian not impartial.  They are in many instances, armed not unarmed.  The promotional material produced for the White Helmets such as the recent Netflix Movie, is produced outside Syria, usually in Turkey and with footage received from the White Helmets.  Who has verified the authenticity of this footage?

The White Helmets claim to be neutral and non-aligned yet they actively promote and lobby for US/NATO state intervention.  This is in direct violation of the norms of authentic humanitarian work and certainly not deserving of the Rights Livelihood Award.

This organisation, effectively, campaigns for war in Syria.

The White Helmets are feeding images of “humanitarian disaster” and “war crimes” to the western nations who are funding them, and to politicians and media outlets who are using these visual narratives in order to lobby for a US, UK Foreign Office stated policy of a “Safe Zone” or “No Fly Zone” in Syria.  History teaches us that a No Fly Zone policy carries with it the threat of reducing Syria to a Libya style “failed state”.

Many of their “campaigns” have been discredited as “war fiction” yet are being used as justification for increased sanctions, a collective punishment of the Syrian people, and equipping and arming of the various militia on the ground in Syria, including Nusra Front.

This only serves to ensure no end to the suffering and bloodshed inside Syria.

The presentation of the Right Livelihood Award to the White Helmets will ultimately discredit the Right Livelihood Foundation.  More importantly, the awarding of this prize to a suspect and fraudulent organisation serves to perpetuate the conflict in Syria and to delay the possibility of any peaceful resolution.

We call on the leaders of the Right Livelihood Foundation to investigate the evidence presented in this statement and to retract the RLA award, if this evidence is proven sufficient to disqualify the White Helmets.  

Thank you for your consideration of this very important matter.


Vanessa Beeley

US Peace Council member (part of recent US Peace Council delegation to Syria July 2016

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