1-26-2012By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
This week Russian state arms trader Rosoboronexport signed a contract to sell the Syrian government 36 combat jets capable of attacking ground targets. The sale will help the al-Assad regime escalate the violence, which has already killed more than 5,400. It’s just the latest move by Russia to back Syria and flout international efforts to end its crackdown on democratic protestors.
However it plays out, the crisis in Syria will be remembered for Russia’s enabling of atrocities. Russia has led the way in obstructing intervention and helping al-Assad resist international calls to step down.
- Last September, Rosoboronexport said it would not cease arms sales to Syria, despite the growing number of civilian casualties.
- Russia, along with China, blocked a UN Security Council resolution in October condemning the crackdown and threatening an arms embargo. It has since warned it would block any UN resolution to impose sanctions or authorize use of force.
- Earlier this month, a large Russian naval flotilla docked in Syria’s Tartus port. Syrian state media hailed this as a show of solidarity with Moscow.
- Turkish officials reported in January that a Russian-owned and operated ship suspected of carrying 60 tons of munitions made its way to Syria by way of Cyprus, in violation of an EU arms embargo. Russia’s response was defiant: “We don’t consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any (U.N.) Security Council resolutions,” said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Efforts to diminish Russia’s political support of Syria haven’t had any measurable effect. But the United States and its partners can diminish the impact of Russia’s material support.
Under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), President Obama has declared the human rights situation in Syria a threat to U.S. national security and given the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) at Treasury standing authority to designate for sanctions not only those who perpetrate atrocities but also those who enable them. Since 2010, OFAC has sanctioned 20 Syrian citizens as well as the Syrian government.
Now it’s time to leverage that pressure on the enablers. The Obama administration should start with Rosoboronexport, which had been sanctioned for its ties to Iran. By cracking down on Rosoboronexport, the U.S. government would bolster struggling international efforts to stop atrocities in Syria and make clear where it stands on Russia’s ignominious role.