9-1-2011By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
Syrians are doing more than bravely rising up against their brutal and repressive government. They’re taking aim at the countries enabling their government’s violent crackdown. A video from an August 30 protest in Damascus shows demonstrators marching through the streets and holding signs of protest—one of which reads, “Russia is a partner in killing the Syrian people.”
Russian arms exporters have shown no sign that they intend to stop enabling the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on its own people. Despite calls from Secretary of State Clinton and the United Nations to halt arms deliveries to Syria, the top Russian arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, has announced it will go ahead with deliveries of arms to the Syrian regime. Moreover, Russia’s arms industry is profiting mightily from the crackdowns against civilians in Syria and elsewhere. Rosoboronexport’s general director told Reuters that the 20-percent increase in arms sales across the industry in the first six months of this year was due to efforts by governments in the Middle East and North Africa to increase their stores of arms in the wake of regional instability.
In July, Human Rights First issued a statement urging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown against civilians. Thus far, however, U.S. and UN actions have been inadequate in curbing violence in Syria. This past week a draft resolution was circulated by European nations and the United States calling for an arms embargo as well as travel sanctions and asset freezes for President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials said to be responsible for civilian casualties. Russia and China have refused to enter informal talks and have shown no sign of approval for sanctions against the Assad regime, but allude to working on alternative strategies for the Syrian crisis. Russia’s own draft resolution calls for an end to violence and a promise from President Assad to implement promised reforms, but it lacks teeth in that it does not include sanctions or call for accountability of those perpetrating widespread violence against protestors.
The Damascus demonstrator’s sign should be heeded not only in Moscow, but also in Washington. Secretary Clinton’s earlier remarks helpfully focused international attention on the supply chains that facilitate mass crimes against civilians. Now President Obama should ensure that the Atrocities Prevention Board, which will be established in December after an interagency review is completed, systematically seeks to disrupt the supply chains that enable mass atrocities—in Syria and elsewhere.