U.S. Defense Subcontractor’s Purchase Could Enable Syrian Atrocities

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today is concerned by reports that U.S. defense firms are planning to complete a U.S. Army tender by sourcing non-standard ammunition from Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport, a company that continues to enable atrocities in Syria. “In recent weeks, the Obama administration has assured the American people that it is ‘disgusted by what we see happening’ in Syria and that it will act to address the atrocities there,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “News that U.S. defense contractors are planning to fulfill a U.S. Army tender issued in April 2012 by subcontracting through Rosoboronexport is out of step with that policy. American contractors should not be spending American tax dollars on the enablers of atrocities. The Department of Defense should clarify this within their tender in order for the administration’s words to match up with its actions.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly expressed concern that Russia’s policy in Syria will fuel a civil war and just last week she strongly condemned the ongoing crackdown in Syria stating that President Bashar Assad must go. Separately, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called on countries that have not yet imposed sanctions on Syria to do so and urged more coordination of national sanctions. Their calls came just days after reports of a new Russian arms shipment carrying weapons for the Assad regime. Human Rights First is urging the Department of Defense to ensure that all tender agreements for defense contractors and subcontractors, are not using U.S. tax dollars to purchase arms from Rosoboronexport. In addition, Secretary Clinton should use international pressure to obtain disclosure of these cargo manifests from the Russian authorities and to impress on them that if Russian weapons continue to be supplied and are being used in the commission of crimes against humanity in Syria, it makes Rosboronexport and the Russian authorities enablers of these crimes. Rosoboronexport is currently participating in Eurosatory, a major international arms show being held in France. U.S. entities are called upon not to enter into any new contracts with Rosoboronexport during this arms show as they risk involving the U.S. in business relationships with a company that is likely aiding and abetting atrocities in Syria. Yesterday U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reiterating his concerns with the U.S. Government’s relationship with Rosoboronexport, who has for years been arming the Assad regime. “I remain deeply troubled that the Department of Defense would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities in Syria,” wrote Senator Cornyn. “Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of U.S. sanctions against it, not a billion-dollar contract.” The Senator has asked for a full audit of the Pentagon’s contract with the Russian arms broker. He has also placed a hold on the pending nomination of Heidi Shyu to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology until there are some satisfactory answers to these fundamental policy questions. Since January, Human Rights First has also called on the U.S. Government to re-designate Rosoboronexport for U.S. sanctions based on their role in providing material support to the Syrian regime for the commission of human rights violations and mass atrocities. These sanctions would bar any U.S. entities from engaging in business with Rosoboronexport, including U.S. defense contractors. Since 2010, The Office of Foreign Asset Control in the Department of Treasury has sanctioned 20 Syrian citizens as well as the Syrian government. Last year, the Treasury Department took action with Liberian authorities to disrupt a shipment of oil from Syria to Iran. The Department traced the Mire –a Greek owned Eurotankers Inc. vessel – to its registration in Liberia and cancelled its American insurance, in an effort to halt the shipment. This action was intended to help maintain the integrity of the U.S. oil embargo imposed on the Assad regime and to ensure U.S. entities were not engaged in business that would contravene these sanctions. “We cannot allow deals with Rosoboronexport to get lost in the shadows of defense contracts and procurement. It’s increasingly frustrating to hear the administration claim one position only to discover that its actions run counter to it,” Hameed concluded. “They need to shine a light on defense purchases to reassure the American people that they are not buying weapons from a company that is enabling the massacre of thousands of Syrian men, women and children.”


Published on June 12, 2012


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