12-19-2011By Taimur Rabbani
Crimes Against Humanity Program
Here’s something many Americans might not know: the Syrian government has been using technology produced by U.S. companies to fuel its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. This surveillance technology was created in the United States, sold to the United Arab Emirates, and eventually wound up in Syria, where – despite U.S. trade restrictions – it was used by the government to target its own citizens. Finally, however, the U.S. government has acted and in a recent Department of Commerce ruling made a small step towards stopping the supply chain and third-party atrocity enablers.
While this is only one example of an atrocity-enabling supply chain, it reflects the global problem. In December 2010, according to a Department of Commerce investigation, Waseem Jawad used his company, Info Tech, to order multiple internet filtering devices from a Blue Coat Sytems Inc. distributor in the United Arab Emirates. Blue Coat, a California company, received email documentation that the technology was for the Iraqi Ministry of Communication, and sent the technology to Mr. Jawad in February 2011. From there, three days later, the technology was on its way to Syria, despite U.S. embargoes on the country. This technology has enabled the Syrian government to crack down by restricting civilian access to information and communication.
In Syria, the military and security forces have killed over 5,000 people since March, including civilians, army defectors, and officers who have been executed for refusing to kill civilians. Beyond the murders, President Assad’s regime has committed other crimes against humanity, and international pressure is mounting against the brutal regime. The government has limited foreign journalists’ access to the country, and is attempting to monitor and filter internet access for activists inside the country. Violence continues escalating in Homs, Hama, and elsewhere in Syria.
A number of third-party enablers have sustained President Assad’s regime by investing in Syrian oil and supplying weapons and internet monitoring technology to the government. Targeting the links in the supply chain is an important tool in efforts to prevent and stop atrocities. The forthcoming Atrocities Prevention Board should harness the lessons learned from the Blue Coat technology transfer. The Board should make identifying and disrupting the supply chains that enable atrocities a central feature of its agenda.