11-17-2011By Winny Chen and Taimur Rabbani
Crimes Against Humanity Program
The Syrian government is facing heightened international pressure as President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown against civilians continues, with over 3,500 people killed since March. The Arab League, the European Union, and most recently Turkey, have joined a growing chorus that includes the United States, in condemning the regime’s response to peaceful protests. While international efforts have been effective in isolating Assad and stemming some of the capital flow that enriches the brutal regime, other channels enable the brutalities to continue.
November marks the eighth and potentially bloodiest month of Assad’s brutal crackdown on civilians, prompting international leaders to take action against the widespread human rights abuses in Syria. In addition to facing long-standing U.S. sanctions that were strengthened in August, and EU sanctions imposed earlier this year, the Syrian government has now been suspended from the Arab League and faces possible political and economic sanctions from its former Middle Eastern partners. Turkey just announced it may cut off electricity to Syria in protest of the crackdown. The Royal Dutch Shell Company, previously assailed for its business in Syria during the crackdowns, and France’s Total S.A. have both curtailed their oil production because U.S. and EU sanctions have dissuaded normal buyers of Syrian crude. The two companies represented a significant source of wealth for Assad.
However, the United States and its partners can do more to stop the widespread attack on civilians in Syria by urging China and Russia to stop obstructing efforts to end the violence in Syria and by continuing to pressure the third-party enablers that have helped strengthen and enrich the government in the midst of its crackdown.
Just last month Russia and China double-vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime and threatening sanctions; given this obstruction, widespread international sanctions on Syria are presently unlikely. Syria can freely shift its oil exports to countries in Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere, undermining the effectiveness of current U.S. and EU sanctions barring imports of Syrian oil.
After the double-veto, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice questioned Russia and China’s motives, accusing the countries of wanting only to sell arms to the regime at the cost of Syrian lives. Although Russia and China offered alternative explanations, Russian weapons continue to flow into Syria, enriching Russian exporters and arming Assad’s brutal campaign. Alarmingly, U.S.-based companies NetApp and Blue Coat Systems may have provided surveillance equipment to the Syrian government to monitor its citizens’ emails and censor its citizens’ internet access.
President Obama should continue to engage world leaders and work with international partners to increase pressure on the Syrian government and the enablers of its crackdown. The administration should promote robust Arab League and Turkish sanctions against Syria and increase pressure on Russia and China in bilateral and multilateral forums to work with other countries toward an appropriate Security Council response. Here at home, U.S. officials need to look immediately into reports about potential enablers in the United States and ask NetApp and Blue Coat about these reports and their policies to address misuse and resale.
The administration should take every reasonable measure to ensure that individuals, companies, and governments do no provide the brutal Syrian regime with the finances, weapons, or other material necessary to sustain its illegal crackdown.
For more information, see our Briefing Paper: Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities
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