Study Identifies Strategies for Stopping Weapons Shipments to Syria

Washington, D.C. – Since the Syrian uprising began last March it is estimated that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has killed over 20,000 citizens, including civilians, women, and children.  These mass atrocities mark not only a human rights catastrophe but a threat to U.S. national security. In a new Human Rights First case study issued today, the organization examines the supply chains that have shipped weapons, ammunition, spare parts, and repaired items from Russia to Syria.  It also identifies numerous actors and “choke points” where the United States should apply pressure to cut off the flow of weapons.  The report includes several recommendations for how the United States can implement a systematic, whole-government approach to identify and disrupt the supply chains and third party actors, called enablers, who provide the Syrian regime with the resources they need to commit atrocities. It also demonstrates the value in this approach as a tool for the newly created Atrocity Prevention Board which can begin to identify atrocity enablers at the early warning stage and use this knowledge to implement policies that disrupt these enablers and help prevent future atrocities. “Mass atrocities are not mere spasms of violence, they are organized crimes that require infrastructure, planning, and resources” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed.  “The Assad regime needs ammunition, maintenance and spare parts to continue its assaults on civilians and to make its heavy weapons platforms operational.  If the United States government is serious about preventing atrocities, it needs to systematically track the countries and entities who provide these material resources.  Then the U.S. can put pressure on the countries, companies and individuals within the supply chain that facilitates their transfer.” The case study demonstrates how such policy action can be taken by unpacking the numerous countries and entities involved in three of the most widely publicized shipments of weapons and ammunition from Russia to the Syrian regime in 2012: the Chariot, the Professor Katsman, and the Alaed. While these ships received the bulk of attention in the media, they likely represent only a fraction of the total arms shipments to the Assad regime.  In the first seven months of 2012, over 200 ships arrived at the port of Tartous alone. Human Rights First was already tracking shipments from St. Petersburg to Tartus when reports on Twitter in May indicated that the Professor Katsman may be carrying arms to Syria.  News agencies broke the story of this suspected arms shipment, citing undisclosed western sources, who believed this vessel was in fact carrying weapons intended for the Syrian regime.  Having recorded this ship’s journey, Human Rights First was able to confirm that this ship has in fact docked in Syria and has followed up with the company responsible for the shipment andobtained further disclosures of its cargo. The organization has also called on Secretary Panetta to end the Department of Defense’s contract with Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned weapons manufacturer.  In 2011 alone, Rosoboronexport shipped over $1 billion worth of weapons to the Assad regime, and yet the Department of Defense continues to do business with the company. “Tracking and disrupting the activity of countries, companies and individuals who provide weapons to murderous regimes is not just an important policy tool to prevent further atrocities in Syria,” noted Hameed.  “This kind of policy approach uncovers the networks, both legal and illicit, who either knowingly or inadvertently enable mass atrocities around the world. The identification of these networks coupled with targeted policy action to influence and disrupt them is an important and underutilized tool for atrocity prevention and response.”


Published on August 16, 2012


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