8-16-2011By Winny Chen
Crimes Against Humanity Program
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent call for economic isolation of the Syrian regime should be repeated – for Sudan. Last Friday, Secretary Clinton urged: “those countries still buying Syrian oil and gas, those countries still sending [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad weapons, those countries whose political and economic support give him comfort in his brutality, to get on the right side of history.” Her appeal to other countries to stop buying Syrian oil and gas points to the important role an enablers strategy could play in efforts to prevent and stop widespread attacks on civilians.
As Human Rights First has argued, crimes against humanity, including those being committed in Syria, are organized crimes that rely on many third-party enablers for material, financial, practical, and political support. In Syria specifically, Clinton identified three enabling countries that are sustaining Assad’s brutal crackdown on protestors: China, India, and Russia. Clinton called on these countries to join the United States and other partners in pressuring Assad to halt his brutal campaign. “We want to see China take steps with us,” Clinton said. “We want to see India, because India and China have large energy investments inside of Syria. We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime.”
Two of these countries have also been linked to the perpetration of atrocities in the Darfur and South Kordofan regions of Sudan. China is a major investor in the Sudanese oil industry, the largest supplier of small arms to the Government of Sudan, and it recently hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, in Beijing. Meanwhile, Russian-made attack helicopters, fighter jets, and Antonov planes have carried out bombardments of several southern Sudanese villages and towns, reportedly killing and displacing thousands of civilians, including the elderly, women, and children.
The Secretary’s remarks come a week after the Obama administration issued a groundbreaking Presidential Study Directive establishing the Atrocities Prevention Board, a high-level interagency committee that will be tasked with developing and executing atrocities prevention strategies across the U.S. government. As violence against civilians in Syria and Sudan has shown, building an enablers strategy – one that focuses on disrupting the supply chain behind atrocities and pressures third-party enablers – into the Board’s work could offer an important and much needed tool toward preventing and halting the kinds of crimes that are taking place today.