U.S. Must Act to Address Russia’s Role in Syria Atrocities
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement yesterday evening calling out Russia for its refusal to end support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a welcome change in rhetoric from an administration pursuing a dual track approach of shame and cajole while atrocities continue in Syria. The organization noted that the administration’s public condemnation – while useful – must be coupled with concrete action. It recommended that the administration immediately freeze assets of those enabling the atrocities in Syria, reevaluate its arms contract with the Russian-based Rosoboronexport, a key supplier for weapons to the Assad regime, and call for the U.N. Security Council to immediately pass a resolution referring crimes against humanity committed in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation. “It was refreshing to hear Secretary Clinton’s criticism of Russia, a noted deviation from the Administration’s dual track approach of shame and cajole, but the administration must put more action behind its words,” noted Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “The flow of arms to Syria from Russia continues and it’s time for the U.S. to do all that it can to halt these shipments.” According to Human Rights First, just this weekend, reports emerged that a ship carrying Russian arms docked at the port of Tartus, a development that prompted condemnation from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who said, “It’s reprehensible that arms would continue to flow to a regime that is using such horrific and disproportionate force against its own people.” Secretary Clinton’s comments during a news conference in Copenhagen added to that sentiment. “I think [the Russians] are, in effect, propping up the regime at a time when we should be working on a political transition,” she stated. “[T]hey are just vociferous in their claim that they are providing a stabilizing influence. I reject that.” Human Rights First notes that the failure of diplomacy to achieve meaningful results should prompt the Obama administration to take actions to leverage greater pressure on Russia and any other country fueling widespread human rights violations in Syria. For one, the U.S. government should show it won’t stand for Russia’s enabling by terminating business contracts with Russian entities found to be arming the Assad regime. The Obama Administration should start with the current contract between the U.S. Department of Defense and Rosoboronexport, one of Syria’s primary sources of weapons, worth nearly $1 billion. The administration should also work to impose financial pressure on all entities enabling Assad’s attacks on civilians. The legislative authority to do so already exists. In Executive Order 13572, President Obama froze the assets of all people found “to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of” human rights abuses in Syria. Hameed notes, “While the Treasury Department has designated for sanctions a number of Syrian entities under this authority, including Syrian military officials and most recently the Syria International Islamic Bank, it has yet to use this authority to go after the enablers, like Russia, who make it possible for the Syrian atrocities to continue indefinitely. There seems no better – or more critical – time to start than now.” Last, the organization reiterates its call for the Obama Administration to seek passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution referring crimes against humanity committed in Syria, including this past weekend’s El-Houleh massacre of over 100 civilians – mostly women and children, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation. “We are pleased to hear Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice intensify their calls for Russia to stop enabling the atrocities in Syria. Now it’s time for the administration to take the steps to make that happen,” Hameed concluded.