For Immediate Release: January 13, 2012
Washington, DC – A Turkish Foreign Ministry official claimed Thursday that a Russian ship thought to be carrying ammunition has reached Syria by way of Cyprus, violating the European Union arms embargo. The Turkish official noted that the ship, owned and operated by St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd., was able to enter Cyprus, where it docked and refueled and was allowed to continue its passage to Syria without adequate inspection for weapons, ammunition or other supplies that would contravene the embargo and facilitate the perpetration of violence.
“Turkey was right to criticize Russia and Cyprus for compromising the E.U. embargo as this enables the Syrian government to continue its brutal crackdown on civilians,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown against civilians is an organized crime made possible by third-party enablers, including Russia and Cyprus in this case.” Perpetrators of atrocities need resources such as weapons and ammunition among other things to commit their crimes; and crippling the supply lines, such as transportation routes, that allow these materials to reach the hands of perpetrators can help to prevent or mitigate atrocities.
According to Human Rights First, Russian companies and government officials continue to supply the Syrian regime with the necessary means to inflict widespread and systematic violence on its civilians. The shipment this week is just one among a series of enabling activities tracing back to Russia. Russia’s top arms exporter, for example, publicly stated last summer that it would continue selling arms to Syria, despite ongoing calls from international leaders for Moscow to stop its arms trade with Damascus. Meanwhile, the Russian government has banded with China to block U.N. actions to intervene in the Syrian atrocities. The Government of Cyprus should play a key role in disrupting these supply chains by conducting more thorough inspections and ensuring that any shipments of weapons and ammunition or other supplies that can be used to commit atrocities are not allowed through their jurisdiction.
“Turkey and the European Union deserve praise for their commitment to identify and disrupt the supply lines sustaining the Assad regime’s assaults, but more must be done,” Hameed observed. “A good starting place would be leveraging more international pressure on countries whose resources and transportation routes enable atrocities, especially Russia, who has for months defied calls to cease its arms sales to Syria until the violence ends.”
Human Rights First notes that the United States also has a role to play in supporting the E.U.’s efforts. According to Hameed, the Obama Administration should look for additional ways to disrupt the flow of resources to Assad’s regime and throw its weight behind the efforts already underway and led by the United States’ international partners.