12-1-2011By Taimur Rabbani
Crimes Against Humanity Program
Last week, a U.N. independent commission issued a report documenting the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its own people. The report demonstrates the dire need to continue pressuring President Assad’s regime to stop its brutal crackdown and to bring the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity to justice. The United States and its partners must focus on the third parties who continue to enable the atrocities by providing material and financial support to the Syrian regime, undermining the effectiveness of existing sanctions.
In documenting the ongoing Syrian atrocities, the independent international commission, established by the U.N. Human Rights Council, interviewed 223 victims and witnesses of the brutal crimes. The commission noted “patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights.” There are accounts of a 14 year old boy tortured to death while calling for his parents for help, children being raped by security officers in front of adults, arbitrarily detained prisoners being forced to worship the Syrian President, and snipers shooting at people trying to rescue the wounded. Security forces have shot at hospitals and makeshift clinics insides houses and mosques, and killed soldiers that refuse to fire on residential areas. The armed forces are reportedly shooting at families trying to flee the country into Turkey, and laying out landmines at the Syria-Lebanon border.
These accounts represent only a portion of the atrocities perpetrated by President Assad’s regime, which faces mounting international pressure after its brutal civilian crackdown. Most recently Turkey, one of Syria’s largest trading partners, imposed sanctions on the regime, while Arab League sanctions are to be finalized on Saturday. These moves build on existing U.S. and E.U. sanctions, and a recent U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the atrocities. The Human Rights Council will meet on December 2 to review and discuss the findings.
While these moves are a step in the right direction, the report highlights the need to further increase the international pressure on the Syrian regime. The international community should use these findings to leverage Iraq, Lebanon, Russia, and China to strengthen and amplify international sanctions against the regime. Russian weapons and Asian oil investments have sustained the crimes against humanity, and China and Russia have opposed U.N. Security Council measures to address the ongoing crisis. Meanwhile, Iraq and Lebanon, two of Syria’s six largest trading partners will not participate in the Arab League sanctions. These positions undermine the effectiveness of current sanctions on the regime and allow the regime to sustain its widespread and systematic human rights violations.
The U.N. commission report provides additional moral footing for the United States and international partners to engage those countries doing business with Syria to change their positions and heighten pressure against the brutal regime. By further choking the funds and other third-party support that enable the brutalities, the United States and its partners can more effectively push for an end to the murder, torture, rape, imprisonment, abductions, and other inhumane acts that are prevalent in Syria.