UCL Union Reverses Ban on Ex-Student Talking About His Experiences Fighting ISIS

Jack Irwin, BA Chinese and History

UCLU has decided to allow Macer Gifford, a former UCL student, a platform to talk about his experiences fighting ISIS as part of Kurdish group Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG).

Gifford, 28, who was previously a city currency trader, joined YPG after telling his parents that he was going on holiday in Turkey. He spoke no Arabic and received small arms training on the ground.

UCL Union recently aroused criticism for not allowing the former student to give a talk on his experiences at an event organized by UCL Kurdish society. Activities and Events Officer, Asad Khan, said the decision was “because there were concerns an event with a person speaking about their experiences fighting in Syria could lead to others going and fighting in the conflict”.

In an email Asad said “In every conflict there are two sides, and at UCLU we want to avoid taking sides in conflicts” and went on to point out that allegations of human rights abuses had been made against YPG. A UN report in June 2015 claimed that YPG had recruited children under the age of eighteen.

However, in the same month, Kurdish Security Forces had begun to receive human-rights training from Geneva Call among other international organizations and in October 2015 YPG demobilized a number of fighters under the age of eighteen from its ranks.

UCL Union’s decision not to allow Gifford a platform sparked a public outcry and received coverage in both UK and foreign press. A petition on change.org to let Gifford speak received 1,400 signatures. On 16th November UCL Union released a statement reversing its decision, stating that “Although UCLU continues to be concerned about the alleged human rights abuses associated with YPG, we do realise that freedom of speech is of paramount importance on any university campus and in particular on the UCL campus”.

Macer Gifford will speak at SOAS on 26th November and at UCL on 2nd December.

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