Human Rights First Responds to President Obama’s Remarks on Syria

Washington, DC — Today, in response to President Obama’s Rose Garden statement detailing U.S. concerns about the ongoing crisis in Syria and noting that he plans to seek authorization from Congress to use force in response to the chemical weapons attacks, Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks offered the following statement:

“The use of chemical weapons is an international crime and deserves a strong U.S. response. President Obama and senior administration officials have spent days making the case for a possible military strike; any such action should be taken in compliance with domestic and international law. While the Assad regime has crossed a ‘red line’ set out by President Obama many months ago, military strikes alone will not bring about a durable solution the Syrian people deserve. Any military action should be embedded in a broader strategy that includes diplomatic outreach, cutting off U.S. financial markets to those committing these international crimes, as well as cutting Pentagon ties with those committing these atrocities.”

Human Rights First notes that, beyond the possible use of force, the administration should consider the following steps:

DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS & ACCOUNTABILITY: Human Rights First believes that any end to the Syrian conflict will ultimately require a negotiated agreement between the parties to the conflict, involving the states that are currently providing military and other assistance to the warring parties, nations that include the United States and Russia.

The U.S. government should also work at the U.N. Security Council for the adoption of a resolution that would ensure protection for the civilian population, protect access for humanitarian agencies to all parts of Syria, and would refer the many mass atrocities and crimes against humanity already committed in the course of the conflict – including the recent gas attacks – for investigation by the International Criminal Court.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES: The ongoing violence in Syria continues to increase the flow of refugees out of the country, increasing the burden on Syria’s neighbors, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The United States must continue and enhance its efforts to ensure that these governments are receiving the support they need to continue to provide a refuge for the vulnerable displaced civilian population. The United States must also ensure that any planned intervention does not prevent civilians from being able to cross borders in search of safety.

CUTTING OFF FINANCIAL MARKETS: The Obama Administration should cut off access to the U.S. financial system to those doing business with the Assad regime. By executive order, the administration should require U.S. banks and other U.S.-domiciled financial institutions to require their customers to report on any dealings with Syrian entities. Financial institutions that do not disclose their account holdings or are financing the Syrian government or corporations would not have access to U.S. markets – access that’s considered vital to almost every financial institution in the world.  To strengthen this approach, the E.U. should adopt nearly identical restrictions that would prevent rogue financiers in any country from evading  the sanctions.

END DEALINGS WITH ATROCITY ENABLERS:  The United States should cancel the Pentagon’s $1.1 billion no-bid contract to buy Russian helicopters for Afghanistan. The Pentagon is buying the choppers from Rosoboronexport, the Russian official weapons exporter that is supplying Assad. Worse, the 2011 contract stipulates that payment – American tax dollars – be sent to Rosoboronexport’s account at VTB Bank in Moscow – the very bank where Assad is reputed to have stashed his own funds.


Published on August 31, 2013


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