For Immediate Release: March 7, 2012
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today praised Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) for recognizing that U.S. arms purchases from a Russian company enabling atrocities in Syria “makes no sense.” Cornyn raised the U.S. Defense Department’s purchase of arms from Rosoboronexport – a Syrian arms provider – during today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Syria featuring Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.
“Senator Cornyn hit the nail on the head today,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “It makes absolutely no sense for the U.S. to continue doing business with companies that are so clearly enabling atrocities. It’s hard for the U.S. to have credibility in pushing for a cease fire in Syria when it’s buying arms from the same company supplying those carrying out the ongoing atrocities there.”
Russia remains the top supplier of weapons to Syria and recent reports from human rights monitoring organizations confirm that Russian weapons have been found at the site of atrocities in Homs. According to Thomson Reuters, at least four cargo ships have left a Russian port used by Rosoboronexport for the Syrian port of Tartus since December 2011, and another Russian ship carrying ammunition and sniper rifles, a weapon Syrian forces have used on protestors, docked in Cyprus in January before delivering its cargo to Syria. In January, Rosoboronexport signed a deal with the Syrian government to sell 36 combat jets capable of hitting ground targets, and the company’s chief spokesperson Vyacheslav N. Davidenk recently declared his intention to continue supplying arms to Syria.
Rosoboronexport benefits from a nearly $1 billion contract with the U.S. Department of Defense—signed on May 26, 2011, months after the crackdown began. The U.S. signed a no-bid, fixed price foreign sales contract worth $375 million to purchase the Mi series of rotorcrafts and spare parts with an estimated completion date of March 26, 2016. The contract reportedly comes with an option for $550 million in additional purchases, raising the total to nearly $1 billion. Public contract records show ongoing business between the U.S. Army and Rosoboronexport, with a transaction as recent as November 3, 2011. The United States can withdraw from this contract at any point.
When questioned about the contract, Secretary Panetta confirmed the purchase of the Mi-series helicopters for the Afghan Army, but stated that he was not sure if the company it sourced from was Rosoboronexport. In a follow-up question, Dempsey speculated that the sale may have been the result of a competitive bid, which all public reports indicate it was not.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Carl Levin (D-MI) echoed concerns about continued trade with Rosoboronexport. Human Rights First encourages the Defense Department to immediately provide the Committee with more details and answer why this contract would continue given the ongoing atrocities in Syria and Russia’s enabling role.
“The American people deserve answers about why the U.S. is doing business with those who are so closely aligned with the atrocities in Syria. It’s time for the U.S. to reevaluate this deal,” Hameed concluded.
For more information or to speak with Hameed, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at email@example.com or 202-370-3323