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September 04, 2013

Senate Syria Resolution Passes as Questions of Broader Strategy Persist

Washington, D.C. –Human Rights First today urged that the U.S. response to the crisis in Syria should be shaped by three priorities: protecting Syrian civilians, reinforcing the international ban on the use of chemical weapons by both state and non-state actors, and advancing a comprehensive strategy to achieve a ceasefire and a negotiated peace settlement. The call comes as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bipartisan resolution authorizing limited use of force in Syria and as the House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on the same.

“Syria’s civilian population has been subjected to widespread targeting and indiscriminate attacks for over two years, and more than 100,000 lives have been lost,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “A durable solution to the crisis requires a multi-dimensional strategy; military force alone will not be enough.”

Human Rights First notes that the resolution passed today by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee  acknowledges these concerns.

  • The Assad regime’s acts and omissions trigger the responsibility of the international community to take steps to protect Syria’s civilian population through non-military and, if necessary, military means. Human Rights First notes  that the resolution sets some limits on the authorization of the use of military force. It requires the president to stipulate that the United States has exhausted “all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means.” The new language specifies the goal of a negotiated settlement to the conflict, requires the administration to submit to Congress its strategy to that end, and expires in 60 days with a possible one-time extension of 30 days.  Human Rights First welcomes the refined scope and specificity of this approach.
  • Human Rights First welcomes the requirement for the administration “to use all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria,” before exercising any authority to use military force.In that regard, Human Rights First urges the United States to press the United Nations Security Council to approve any planned use of military force in Syria.  This is the job of the Security Council, and it should be called on to do it.  The Security Council should:
    • Condemn the failure of the Syrian government to meet its responsibility to protect its civilian population.
    • Condemn the targeting of, and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including the use of chemical weapons.
    • Call for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that war crimes, crimes against humanity and other mass atrocities carried out in the course of the conflict, including the August 21 gas attacks, can be investigated and those responsible brought to justice.
    • Present the Assad regime with an ultimatum that it must turn over its stockpiles of chemical and other prohibited weapons to U.N. inspectors within a short period of time for their destruction, or else face punitive action.
    • Require the Assad regime to declare an immediate ceasefire, stand down its forces, and agree to take part in multilateral negotiations, led by the UN and Arab League Envoy, to end the conflict.

Even if Security Council action is blocked by Russia or other permanent members, seeking such action would likely help to build international support for U.S. actions and its strategy to bring about a negotiated solution and will therefore serve U.S. national interests.

  • Human Rights First welcomes the inclusion in the resolution of a requirement for the administration to present to Congress “an integrated… strategy for achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict in Syria.”
  • In that regard, Human Rights First calls on the administration to lay out and implement a robust set of non-military policies and actions designed to achieve the stated goals.  These should include:
    • Enhanced financial sanctions against governments, financial institutions, corporations and non-state entities that continue to supply weapons, fuel, banking services, telecommunications equipment and other materiel that enables the ongoing atrocities against Syrian civilians;
    • Impounding the bank accounts and imposing visa bans against individuals believed to have ordered or executed orders for the release, transfer or use of chemical weapons;
    • Referral of such individuals to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.

Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration to continue its efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis.  The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced this week that it has registered more than two million Syrian refugees, 97% of them hosted by Syria’s neighbors. This means that in the last year 1.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Today, government ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey met with UNHCR representatives in Geneva and stated that the region was “facing the dramatic escalation of the Syrian conflict, namely with the use of chemical weapons.” They agreed jointly to seek an urgent and major expansion of international help for the region and UNHCR will convene a ministerial meeting later this month that will include international financial institutions to encourage “large-scale commitments incorporating humanitarian and emergency development support.”

Human Rights First urges the United States to use the opportunity of the G-20 Summit to encourage increased donor support in response to the crisis, including for Syria’s neighbors to assist with the costs of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees as well as support through the humanitarian community to meet refugees’ needs. The United States should also urge Russia to press the Syrian government to allow access for humanitarian agencies inside Syria to the areas it controls in order to provide critical humanitarian support to civilians in dire need.

For more information or to speak with Hicks, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.