Bipartisan House Letter Urges Panetta to Cut Ties with Syrian Atrocities Enabler
Washington, DC – Human Rights First is praising a bipartisan group of 10 Members of Congress for a letter they sent yesterday to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressing their “deep concern over the Department of Defense’s reported decision to purchase ten additional Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Security Forces from the Russian state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport, a firm that is enabling mass atrocities in Syria.” The letter was led by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Kay Granger (R-TX), and Keith Ellison (D-MN) and signed by Representatives James Moran (D-VA), Jack Kingston (R-GA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Walter Jones (R-NC), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and James McGovern (D-MA). “We fully endorse this letter’s message and urge the Obama Administration to act on it immediately. It is time for the administration to use the full array of U.S. foreign policy tools to pressure Russia and other enablers of the atrocities in Syria,” said Human Rights First’s Winny Chen. “We commend these Representatives for proactively seeking ways to stop the brutal attacks being carried out by the Assad regime.” In the letter to Secretary Panetta, the lawmakers registered their firm belief that “the Department of Defense should not engage in contracts with companies arming the Assad regime in Syria and enabling his mass atrocities against his own people.” The group of lawmakers strongly urged the Pentagon to “ban any future contracts with Rosoboronexport, reconsider any future purchases of Mi-17s for Afghanistan or any country, and hold an open competition for the procurement of helicopters based upon valid requirements whereby U.S. manufacturers can compete.” In March, a bipartisan group of Senators, led by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), released a similar letter urging Secretary Panetta to use all available leverage to pressure Russia and Russian entities to end their support of the Assad regime, including by ending all business dealings with Rosoboroenexport. The Senate letter received a response from Undersecretary for Policy James Miller acknowledging “that Rosoboronexport continues to supply weapons and ammunition to the Assad regime,” and “there is evidence that some of these arms are being used by Syrian forces against Syria’s civilian population.” Yet, since then, the Pentagon has notified Congress that it would exercise an optional clause in its contract with Rosoboronexport to purchase an additional ten Mi-17 helicopters. Over 17,000 Syrians have reportedly been killed in the attacks by Assad’s military, according to opposition activists, and credible accounts of atrocities – mass executions, torture, and indiscriminate shelling and sniper fire – continue to stream out of Syria. Despite these developments, Russia has not backed away from its support of Assad and remains a primary source of weapons to the regime, though it recently signaled it would stop signing new contracts with the Syrian regime.