9-14-2011By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
On September 13, Syrian activists took to Twitter to protest Russia’s opposition to increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for his brutal crackdown on protesters. The Twitter campaign is also designed to focus attention on Russian arms sales that enable the attacks. The Obama Administration should heed Syrians’ calls to stop the enablers of violence against civilians, and should work with international partners to further increase pressure on the supply chains that allow the crackdown to continue.
The Twitter campaign against the Russian position uses the hashtag #ShameOnRU and is a response to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s stance against imposing further sanctions on Syria. Russia’s stance jeopardizes an effective U.N. response to the violent crackdown. Activists are also using the hashtag #help4syria to attract attention to the cause.
The Twitter campaign against Russia is part of a larger Twitter movement that also assails the Royal Dutch Shell Company for its financial link to the Syrian regime. Earlier this month, protestors began using the hashtag #shellfuelsmurder to pressure Shell to cease its operations in Syria. Shell, the second largest foreign investor in Syrian oil behind France’s Total, is a major income source for President Assad in the midst of violence that has killed over 2600 people since protests began in March, according to U.N. estimates. Shell has responded that it complies with all international laws, and the company remains significantly invested in Syria.
The Twitter movement builds on an E.U. ban, imposed September 2, that prohibits purchasing, importing, and transporting Syrian oil. The embargo is designed to cut off revenue streams that enable the Syrian government to continue its brutality against civilians. The sanction is especially significant because the E.U. is by far Syria’s largest trading partner and provides nearly one-third of Syria’s export income, according to some estimates. The E.U. is also moving toward banning Syrian oil investment to further prevent oil companies from financing the administration.
The economic pressure applied by the Obama Administration and its international partners is useful for both practical and symbolic reasons. The U.S. and other governments should now embark on similar efforts against third-party enablers in other countries experiencing or at risk of mass crimes against civilians.
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