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Some of you may have heard or read about UCLU’s recent decision to not approve a speaker request from the UCLU Kurdish Society to invite Macer Gifford to speak at an event they were organising. In the interest of transparency, we have released this statement, which clarifies the decisions that were taken and responds to some of the issues that have been raised.

First and foremost, it is important to say that UCLU has a formal process for taking decisions relating to inviting potentially controversial speakers onto campus and that decisions are taken after consultation with UCLU sabbatical officers and the Chief Executive Officer and, if necessary UCL senior management.

On this occasion UCL indicated that they wished to contact the police for advice. Unfortunately they did not respond and this resulted in a delay in us reaching a decision. In the absence of advice from the Police, UCL indicated that their preference would be to not invite Mr Gifford to speak on this occasion, although the final decision rested with us.

Prior to any final decision being taken all seven of UCLU’s Sabbatical Officers along with UCLU’s Chief Executive Officer were consulted. Our final decision to reject the application was based on concerns that an event with a person speaking about their experiences fighting in Syria could lead to others going and fighting in the conflict. For the record, here is the full text of the email we wrote to the president of the society explaining our decision:

“Unfortunately on this occasion your speaker has not been approved by UCLU. After consultation with UCL, the UCLU Activities and Events Officer and UCLU Chief Executive Officer, UCLU has decided not to approve your speaker because there are concerns that an event with a person speaking about their experiences fighting in Syria could lead to others going and fighting in the conflict,  UCLU feels this is not an appropriate message to be given on a University Campus at this time. In the absence of advice from the Police (who were contacted to advise us on any issues with the speaker request, but have not responded to date) it is difficult for UCLU to approve this speaker being given a platform on the campus.”

There has been a media focus on the Activities and Events Officer, Asad Khan, as the main point of contact for Clubs and Societies, which has led to a misleading impression of how the decision was taken. Nevertheless the conversation between Asad and the President of the UCLU Kurdish Society has been widely reported, and so we would like to address that here as well; Asad has given the following statement:

“When the president of the Kurdish Society came to discuss the denial of speaker approval and appeal that decision with me, I went into further detail about some of the reasons that UCLU had made the decision. I drew a similarity between Hamas, Hezbollah and YPG to illustrate that they are all militias rather than internationally recognised armies. This was a concern to UCLU and the university in case people hearing this speaker would themselves be encouraged to go and fight in Syria.”

During the meeting, Asad was urged to reconsider as it was claimed YPG was unlike other militia’s with records of human rights abuses. In the interest of fairness, UCLU did more research regarding YPG and found an Amnesty International report as well as one from the UN Independent International Commission. According to these reports YPG have been involved in forced displacement, seizures and destruction of property, in some cases demolishing whole villages. According to Amnesty International some of the cases may constitute as war crimes. Furthermore, despite signing a commitment in 2014 to demobilise all under-18 fighters, the Human Rights Watch have reported that YPG have recruited child soldiers, some of them below the age of 15. In this context, despite the fact that YPG aren’t deemed a terrorist organisation, UCLU felt that there was enough of a concern to deny the speaker request.

Although we consider freedom of speech on university campuses to be of vital importance, it was not deemed appropriate for UCLU to provide a platform for speakers from militia groups that have been accused of human rights abuses.