For Immediate Release: July 9, 2012
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today welcomed Russia’s announcement that it will not enter into any new arms contracts with the Syrian government. The announcement from Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, came as Joint United Nations/Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Anan works toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria.
“This is the first time since the uprising started that Russia has acted to curb the flow of lethal support to the Syrian regime,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “To demonstrate their commitment to ending the violence in Syria, Russia should follow this measure with support for the imposition of an international arms embargo on Syria.”
Russian manufactured weapons platforms have been present at atrocity sites over the course of the 16 month uprising. Human Rights First notes that the trade of arms between Russia and Syria has continued unabated despite the rising civilian death toll now estimated to be 16,000.
“While the Russian authority’s decision not to enter into any new contracts is positive, it is important to remember that the older Russian manufactured weapons – such as mortars and attack helicopters used by the Syrian regime against civilians – require a steady flow of ammunition, spare parts and maintenance to remain operational,” observed Hameed. “Mr. Dziraln has acknowledged that Russia continues to provide these services to the Syria regime. If Russia is committed to preventing further atrocities in Syria, it will not only halt new arms deals while the crisis continues, but it will also cease providing the regime with ammunition, spare parts and repair or maintenance services that enable the assaults on civilians to continue.”
A few weeks ago, a shipment of Russian repaired attack helicopters was intercepted by U.S and European authorities and made to turn back from its course to Syria after its British insurance company cancelled its policy. Despite the reported use of Russian made attack helicopters against civilians by the Syrian regime, Russian authorities stated publicly that these helicopters would ultimately be returned to Syria on board a Russian cargo vessel with police escort. This seems to run counter to the spirit of the new Syrian arms sale policy Russia announced today.
“Russia is poised to get on the right side of history in Syria,” concluded Hameed. “However halting new arms sales doesn’t mean as much if they continue to repair, maintain and provide ammunition for the old ones . Today’s announcement must be coupled with other concrete steps, such as a comprehensive arms embargo on Syria, in order to demonstrably lessen the prospect of further atrocities against civilians.”