Kerry Rightly Targets Iran, Russian Support for Assad’s Atrocities

Washington D.C. – This weekend, during his first foreign trip as Secretary of State, Secretary John Kerry publicly criticized the ongoing flow of weapons from Russian and Iranian authorities to Syria’s Assad regime. Human Rights First notes that by putting public focus on those who supply weapons, Kerry is taking an important step toward leading the United Sates and like-minded governments in a more global response to disrupting the supply chains that enable Assad’s crimes. Nearly two years into Syria’s violent conflict, Russia, Iran, and other countries continue to provide the murderous Assad regime with the firepower and weapons needed to commit and sustain mass atrocities that have resulted in more than 70,000 deaths.

“Highlighting the actions of countries supporting President Assad is one useful strategy, but it has not had any effect on changing the calculus of Russia or Iran’s support for Bashar al Assad,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “The crisis in Syria now calls for much more serious and coordinated action by the U.S. government and its foreign allies to prevent weapons, fuel and other resources from reaching the regime.  Failure to do so will simply buy the Assad regime more time and lead to further civilian deaths.”

Human Rights First has identified a number of key actors currently providing Syria with access to essential resources including Russia and Iran, as Secretary Kerry noted, but also other countries such as Angola, Venezuela and North Korea.  While some of these countries may not be susceptible to direct pressure from U.S authorities, all of these countries rely on networks of brokers and transporters to ensure the goods reach their final destination. These brokers and transporters operate in and through jurisdictions where U.S allies, such as European Union countries and Iraq, have the authority to intervene and block shipments.

Human Rights First urges Secretary Kerry and other U.S. agencies to coordinate with foreign allies and take immediate action to:

  • Identify and track atrocity enabling networks. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has deep expertise in tracking, disrupting and holding accountable networks and actors involved in drug trafficking and other forms of organized crimes. This expertise should be applied to track and disrupt atrocity enablers as well.
  • Pressure countries providing material support to the Assad regime and coordinate action with foreign allies to interdict these resources.  Countries that provide resources to the Syrian regime or allow those transfers to pass through their jurisdiction actively undermine the effectiveness of U.S. and other sanctions on the Syrian regime. U.S. diplomatic staff should use every relevant opportunity – including bilateral meetings, multilateral forums and summits – to pressure these countries to cease such activity immediately. For example, it should raise questions about Angola’s contract with Syria to provide diesel fuel that enables the Assad regime to keep its heavy weapons and tanks operational. Similarly, it should press Iraq to be more vigilant in their inspection and blocking of Iranian weapons and supplies transfers that cross through their borders and into Syria.
  • Exercise existing sanctions authority against the Assad regime and entities providing material resources that enable atrocities. Russian arms dealer RosobornExport, Venezuelan state-run oil company PdVSA, Angolan oil and gas company Sonangol, Italian defense and aerospace company Finmeccanica and other entities have provided Syria with arms, diesel or equipment with military applications. These companies should be prevented from access to the U.S. marketplace if they continue to enable Syrian atrocities.

Published on March 4, 2013


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