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September 10, 2013

Obama Return to Diplomatic Channels Praised

Washington, D.C. – This evening, following President Obama’s address to the nation making his case to the American people for action on Syria, Human Rights First issued the following statement:

“America is not the world’s policeman, but it has often served as the world’s moral compass. For this reason, we are encouraged to hear President Obama shed light on a strategy that extends beyond military strikes. His preference for peaceful solutions before military action is in line with America’s commitment to the rule of law, both domestic and international. We praise the administration for returning to the U.N. Security Council in support of a new resolution that could bring Syria into compliance with international norms banning the use and possession of chemical weapons.

“We are still waiting to hear, however, how the ‘targeted strike’ to punish the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons fits into a broader strategy to end the conflict in Syria.  President Obama has still not done enough to make this case, and this weakens his argument for Congress and the international community to authorize the use of force.

“The escalating conflict in Syria is the root cause of massive violations of human rights and of a humanitarian crisis that has already victimized millions of civilians.  The continuation of the conflict threatens U.S. national interests, destabilizes a region that is vital to U.S. and global security, and is exacerbating a terrible human rights crisis.

“The recent possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough involving Russia in persuading the Assad regime to hand over its arsenal of chemical weapons to international control came about because of the credible threat of U.S. military force; that must be maintained if progress is to be made in finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria.”

Human Rights First encourages the administration to pursue the following policies as it considers its developing Syria policy:

Pursue United Nations Security Council Action

Human Rights First welcomes the president’s engagement with Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council to prepare a new resolution on the Syria crisis. The administration should support a resolution in the Security Council that would:

  • Condemn the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons.
  • Refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the war crimes, mass atrocities, and crimes against humanity, including the August 21 gas attacks, can be investigated and those responsible held accountable.
  • Require that the Syrian government turns over its stockpiles of chemical weapons to international control for their eventual destruction within a short period of time, and submit to rigorous international inspection to ensure compliance.
  • Authorize the use of all necessary measures, including the use of force, should the Syrian government fail to comply.

Tighten U.S. Financial Sanctions

The United States and the European Union already have in place stiff financial sanctions against Syria. However, these restrictions on lending to or conducting financial transfers on behalf of the Syrian Central Bank and other Syrian entities are being circumvented by banks based in Russia and other countries, banks that in turn have corresponding bank accounts in the United States and European countries and borrow in Western capital markets. To close these loopholes and increase pressure on the Assad regime, the U.S. Treasury Department should announce that any international banks that are still doing business with the regime will no longer be eligible for corresponding bank privileges in the United States.

President Obama should also designate such offenders based on Executive Order 13608 “Prohibiting Certain Transactions with and Suspending Entry into the United States of Foreign Sanctions Evaders with Respect to Iran and Syria.”

Enhanced financial sanctions are a tool both for encouraging the Assad regime to comply with international demands that it surrender its chemical weapons, and also for persuading the Assad regime that it must end its widespread involvement in crimes against humanity and mass atrocities and participate in negotiations with the opposition and all parties to the conflict to find an end to it.

Address the Growing Refugee Crisis

One Syrian becomes a refugee every 15 seconds, and reports continue to emerge of thousands of Syrians are being denied access to neighboring countries as some governments increasingly seek to restrict they entry of refugees. While these states should be commended for their generosity in already hosting large numbers of refugees, they should not deny access to others seeking safety.

The United States should investigate reports of refugees being prevented from crossing to safety and consistently raise these concerns with Syria’s neighbors. Recognizing the cost of hosting large refugee populations, the United States should also continue to provide humanitarian and development aid, and step up its efforts to encourage other donors to do the same in order to support countries in the region.

As the United States begins to increase the number of Syrians being considered for resettlement as a means of sharing the burden of countries in the region, it should ensure that it does not deny its protection to refugees who have stood up to, or been persecuted by, Syria’s repressive regime yet face potential bars to protection under U.S. immigration law even though they do not support terrorist activity and present no risk.

End Dealings with Atrocity Enablers

The United States should cancel the Pentagon’s $1.1 billion no-bid contract to buy Russian helicopters for Afghanistan. The Pentagon is buying the choppers from Rosoboronexport, the Russian official weapons exporter that is supplying Assad. Worse, the 2011 contract stipulates that payment – American tax dollars – be sent to Rosoboronexport’s account at VTB Bank in Moscow – the very bank where Assad is reputed to have stashed his own funds.

For more information about Human Rights First’s recommendations or to speak with Hicks, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder atbowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.