Treasury Secretary Urged to Disrupt Russian Arms Shipments to Syria

Washington, DC – Human Rights First today urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to use his authority to block companies –including a planned arms shipment from the Russian state arms trader Rosoboronexport – from supplying the Syrian government with goods needed to perpetuate its ongoing human rights abuses. The call comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes before the United Nations Security Council to support an Arab League plan that includes Syrian President Assad’s removal from office. “We applaud the Obama Administration’s efforts to stem the escalating violence in Syria and end the atrocities and rampant abuse of human rights by government forces there,” wrote Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino in a letter to Geithner. “While diplomatic efforts by the United States and others to end Syrian abuses move forward this week at the U.N., Syrian government forces continue to perpetrate widespread and systematic attacks on civilians every day. … Under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), President Obama has declared the human rights situation in Syria a threat to the United States, giving OFAC [the Office of Foreign Asset Control] the authority to sanction entities that perpetrate or support human rights abuses in Syria.” In its letter, the group urged Geithner to use this OFAC authority to address and disrupt Rosoboronexport’s plan to fulfill its contract to sell the Syrian government 36 combat jets capable of attacking ground targets. According to Human Rights First’s letter to the Secretary, “This transaction is one of several where the Russian government has ignored existing arms embargoes in the face of continued attacks by the Syrian regime on unarmed civilian populations. With this sale, Rosoboronexport is providing material support to the Government of Syria which may be used to commit further atrocities against the Syrian people.  As such, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which has already levied sanctions against the al-Assad regime, should designate Rosoboronexport for sanctions and disrupt transactions by U.S. persons with the company.” Since 2010, OFAC has sanctioned 20 Syrian citizens as well as the Syrian government.  Last year the Treasury Department successfully intervened to block a shipment of oil from Syria to Iran. The Department traced the Mire – a Greek owned Eurotankers Inc. vessel – to its registration in Liberia, cancelled its American insurance, and halted the shipment. This action helped to maintain the integrity of the U.S. oil embargo imposed on the Assad regime. Human Rights First notes that given the widespread use of American insurance by international shipping companies, it is likely that this same tactic could also be used to disrupt shipments of Russian arms to Syria, where attacks have left more than 5,400 dead, most of whom were peaceful demonstrators. “In the past few days alone, the Syrian military has killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in intensified security operations and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas,” Massimino wrote. “The Rosoboronexport sale will enable further government-sponsored violence. Condemning the sale and sanctioning the company would send a clear message to the Syrian people that the United States will do all it can to disrupt those who enable the killing and persecution of innocent people.”


Published on January 31, 2012


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