For Immediate Release: March 15, 2012
Washington, DC – Human Rights First applauds U.S. Senators Jon Cornyn (R-TX) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) for their passionate discussion on the floor of the Senate today, explaining why Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta should stop purchasing arms from the Russian state arms dealer, Rosobornexport, a company that is enabling President Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities.
Today marks one year since Syrian protestors took to the streets to demand the release of prisoners who had been unfairly jailed by Assad’s regime. The reaction of the Syrian government to the March 15, 2011 protests initiated a campaign of violence against civilians that has amounted to crimes against humanity. Since then, an estimated 8000 people have been killed. With evidence that shows Russian weapons at the sight of ongoing atrocities and given Russia’s role in blocking an international arms embargo, Human Rights First partnered with Senators Cornyn, Durbin, and 15 others to urge the Department of Defense to withdraw from contract with Rosoboronexport.
“The United States is supporting the company that continues to enable the Syrian government to murder thousands of its own citizens,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “Over the years, Rosoboronexport has been under U.S. sanctions, and if there was a time to reinstate those sanctions, now would be it. If the U.S. wants a role in establishing a ceasefire in Syria, it must immediately break ties with Rosoboronexport and take necessary steps to ensure that new weapons are not finding their way into the hands of the Syrian regime.”
Russia remains the top supplier of weapons to Syria having provided them with close to $1 billion worth of weapons in 2011 alone. 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 also benefits from a nearly $1 billion contract with the U.S. Department of Defense—signed on May 26, 2011, months after the crackdown began. 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.
Last week, a bipartisan group of 17 U.S. Senators, led by Senators Cornyn and Durbin, wrote a letter addressed to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, questioning why the United States continues to do business with a company that so blatantly continues to arm the Assad regime.
Human Rights First has also issued a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging him to use his authority under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act to sanction Rosoboronexport for materially supporting the commission of human rights violations in Syria. Human Rights First’s letter called on the United States to cease all business with Rosoboronexport and designate the Russian company for sanctions.
“The United States is undermining its own leadership on Syria by denouncing the violence and Russia’s role on the one hand and buying arms from Russia on the other” concluded Hameed. “It should discontinue all contracts with companies like Rosoboronexport who currently benefit from millions of dollars of U.S. business despite their role in enabling the atrocities in Syria.”