1-13-2012By Taimur Rabbani
Crimes Against Humanity Program
Last month, the Arab League sent monitors into Syria in response to the 10-month-long government crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. Unfortunately, the monitors haven’t helped. CNN recently spoke with Anwar Malek, a member of the monitoring team who quit because he felt he was “serving the regime and not part of an independent monitoring body.”
The violent attacks against Arab League monitors demonstrate that foreign presence alone isn’t a solution, and that the ruling authorities are not yet willing to pay heed to external pressure. With civilian deaths mounting, the U.S. government must explore all options to try to halt the violence. It should, for example, pressure third parties that are enabling the violence.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government receives financial and material support from individuals, companies, and governments. While sanctions have been effective in curtailing some of the capital flow— oil exports in particular are down considerably—enablers are still giving the regime support that helps it commit atrocities. Syrian forces have been using Russian weapons to kill protestors, and Russia’s and China’s diplomatic support of Syria continues to undermine an effective U.N. response.
In October, after Russia and China blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening sanctions, Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., suggested that Russia is more interested in selling weapons to the Syrian regime than in ending the atrocities. The Obama administration should continue to work with the international community and the Arab League to try to shift Russia and China from obstructionism to multilateral action.
The volatile situation in Syria is why we need a fully empowered Atrocities Prevention Board. This interagency mechanism would be a key vehicle for identifying the most strategic points of leverage for the U.S. Government as it tries to protect civilians from atrocities, including through the disruption of enablers.