U.S. Targets Enablers in Effort to Halt Russian Arms Shipment to Syria
Washington, D.C. – This week, the United States is working with foreign allies to track and disrupt a shipment of repaired attack helicopters reportedly en route back to Syria from the Russia-based JSC 150 repair maintenance factory in Kaliningrad. Human Rights First praised the development as a demonstration that the administration can systematically disrupt third party enablers as one concrete action backing its strong rhetoric against the Assad crackdown and nations that are enabling the violence in Syria. According to news reports, the ship – said to be the MV Alaed – is headed to Syria from a factory that is known to provide a full range of repairs for helicopters such as the Mi17, Mi 24 and Mi25 – the models that have been reportedly used for attacks by the Assad regime. At the urging of U.S. officials, the ship was reported to have had its insurance pulled by the British-based Standard P&I Club. In addition, the Danish Government is investigating any ties of this ship to United Nordic Shipping. Without insurance, the ship is less likely to sail. “This is exactly how collective intergovernmental action spearheaded by the United States to disrupt the flow of arms to Syria should work,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “Atrocities like those committed in Syria are not spontaneous acts. They are pre-meditated crimes that are sustained by access to material resources such as weapons, spare parts and maintenance. This U.S-led action to intercept and halt the MV Alaed is a clear example of how intelligence gathered by foreign governments can help disrupt the supply chains that enable atrocities.” Today, Human Rights First also wrote a letter to UCL Holding, another possible enabler in the Syria arms supply chain. The letter urged the company to better implement human rights due diligence measures in order to prevent human rights abuses in Syria. It came in response to UCL Holding’s June 16 statement about the reported delivery of weapons from Russia to Syria on May 26, 2012, using its bulk cargo carrier Professor Katsman. Human Rights First tracked this vessel and was able to confirm that it did dock at Tartus, though the organization is still investigating the precise contents of the cargo unloaded. “UCL Holding’s statement of the internal investigation and the information provided by cargo company Lira LLC is our first real glimpse into the actual contents on board the Professor Katsman,” noted Hameed. “While the limited information about the cargo does not appear to indicate that there were weapons on board, the ship did carry spare parts. Among the most worrying are rotor blades that could be used to maintain the kinds of attack helicopters Syrian regime forces are using against civilians.” The heavy weapons systems reportedly used by the Syrian regime to fire on civilian neighborhoods are likely to have been imported years ago, but many of them – such as the Mi8/Mi17 and Mil Mi 24 helicopters – are of Russian origin and require spare parts, maintenance and fuel to remain operational in their ongoing assaults. “The provision of spare parts on the Professor Katsman can sustain the military might of the Syrian regime and enable them to commit crimes against humanity,” observed Hameed. “UCL Holding should exercise better human rights due diligence and make sure they are not transporting any items that can facilitate the commission of further human rights abuses in Syria, including spare parts.” Human Rights First is also following up with the European Governments through whose territorial waters the Professor Katsman sailed to inquire whether the reports from UCL Holding that their cargo was not questioned despite their destination to Syria is true. “As the U.S., British and Danish Governments demonstrated with their investigation into the MV Alaed shipment, the disruption of atrocity enabling supply chains is possible. We will continue to call on U.S. and EU authorities to be vigilant in their implementation of sanctions on Syria,” concluded Hameed.