In an astonishing development, Human Rights First (HRF), a New York and Washington-based NGO, has issued a report and launched a new web site called Atrocity Supply Chain aiming to cut Syria off from any supplies that could possibly be used by the government for military purposes, regardless as to whether these supplies are vital to the economy, for the functioning of sewage and water systems, for hospitals or needed for civilian power or heating in the bitter winter.
HRF, whose motto is “American ideals. Universal values” launched their new project on Friday. According to their report, atrocities in Syria are being enabled by a number of countries. Those highlighted as enablers are Iran, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, Angola and South Africa. Also mentioned as ‘other actors’ are Algeria, Italy, USA, France, Germany, UK, Cyprus, Belarus, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Greece, Georgia and Lebanon. The report focuses on diesel fuel, vital for a functioning economy, but which can also be used by the Syrian army.
According to the report, “The supply chain fueling the atrocities in Syria operates across a number of jurisdictions, offering unique opportunities to stop the flow of diesel fuel, arms, troops, and other resources to the Syrian regime.”
Human Rights First recommend that “The president should direct the secretary of Treasury to prohibit U.S. banks from transacting with foreign financial institutions that provide financing to the Syrian regime to purchase weapons, diesel fuel, and other lethal resources.”
Furthermore, “Prominent multinational entities such as ROE, PdVSA, Sonangol, Finmeccanica, and others that have provided Syria with arms, diesel, or equipment with military applications, should be prevented from access to the U.S. marketplace if they continue to enable Syrian atrocities. Smaller actors, including foreign shipping companies and shell companies that facilitate these transactions, should also be sanctioned and prevented from such access.”
Indeed, “The Treasury Department should impose sanctions that prevent U.S. entities from doing business with the Assad’s enablers.”
Humanitarian agencies in Syria are already struggling with shortages of diesel fuel which is essential for power, water and sewage systems, for hospitals and for heating in private homes and flats.
Mark Choonoo, a UNICEF Emergency Specialist reported from Homs in January, “Many families are living in extremely basic conditions, using plastic sheeting to cover broken windows and doors, sleeping on bare concrete floors or thin mattresses. There is very little heating and a lack of diesel fuel, which is urgently needed.”
Al-Akhbar has reported, “In the harsh winter season, Syrians rely heavily on diesel fuel for heating and have no other viable alternatives. But diesel scarcity has become a real crisis, as political loyalties, sanctions, and violence dry up diesel sources for Syria’s poor.”
Global Times has reported: “Because of the economic sanctions and the raging violence nationwide, Syria is going through a very serious shortage in some basic items; mainly diesel; a staple for Syrians in heating and in operating factories and bakeries.”
Caritas Syria President Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo told Vatican Radio : “It is very cold in Aleppo. We don’t have any fuel… it’s very expensive. Especially for the hospitals, the schools, of course in the houses. It’s really a real problem, this problem of fuel.
“All the people have become poor generally in Syria… before, all the people were living without hunger. But now even the middle class is living like the poor in Aleppo.”
It is clear there is a humanitarian need for fuel in Syria. It is also clear that there is an armed conflict underway in that country. Humanitarian assistance, as defined by international law certainly encompasses fuel for heating as well as water supplies. The denial of humanitarian assistance to civilians can of course be regarded as a war crime, particularly if death is the foreseeable consequence of such an omission, as may be the case in denying hospitals fuel or civilians fuel in extreme cold. HRF make no attempt in their report to assess the humanitarian consequences of the ban they advocate.
AFP reported recently seven tankers of diesel fuel being attacked by pro-rebel residents of the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood in Lebanon’s Tripoli, with one driver still missing after three of the vehicles were torched. One of the tankers exploded with black smoke engulfing the city.
HRF argue that “Western sanctions imposed on the Assad regime are designed to choke off Syria’s access to the financial marketplace, deplete Syria’s foreign currency reserves, and pressure the regime’s supporters to peel away from the regime.”
The deliberate denial of fuel in order to encourage civilians to “peel away from the regime” can be regarded as a form of terrorism.
Asked about whether HRF had considered the implications for the civilian population of cutting off what is essential for heating and industry in the country, the report’s author Taimur Rabbani replied,
“Human Rights First chose to include diesel fuel for its clear link to tanks and other infantry vehicles, but to leave LPG and other fuel items off the report where there were exclusively civilian functions to the fuel.”(Our emphasis)
Rabbani has failed to reply as to what consideration had been given to the effects on civilians. Amazingly, Rabbani does not even consider the effects on children in his report. Asked about the violence against the truck drivers delivering the much-needed fuel to Syria, Rabbani told Human Rights Investigations,
“I am deeply concerned about violence against the private operators that transport this fuel. Human Rights First in no way advocates this violence. I deeply condemn such actions.”
HRI research indicates Syrian army vehicles are largely multi-fuel. The civilian population, especially the poor, old, frail and minors are likely to be especially hard hit by a ban on diesel, which will undoubtedly further destroy Syria’s civilian infrastructure and significantly exacerbate the humanitarian situation.
The HRF report makes no mention at all of the atrocities committed by the rebels, the massacres of 100s of prisoners, their use of child soldiers or threats to commit genocide. Nor does it make any mention of the role played by Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the CIA in the illegal training and funneling of jihadi fighters, arms and money into Syria.
The urgent need in Syria is an end to the violence and for dialogue and reconciliation. Foreign countries should stop using Syria as a geopolitical pawn, the people there have suffered enough.
The foreign fighters should go home.
The only alternative to this is that Syria will sink deeper into sectarian conflict with the whole region being increasingly destabilised.
HRF should consider the words of French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, talking about the sanctions in neighbouring Iraq, which he said were “cruel, ineffective and dangerous: cruel because they punish exclusively the Iraqi people and the weakest among them, ineffective because they don’t touch the regime, which is not encouraged to co-operate, and dangerous because they accentuate the disintegration of Iraqi society.” (Reuters, 2 August 2000)
HRF, which is funded by numerous trusts, foundations and high net worth individuals including the Open Society and Rausing Foundations, needs to focus its efforts on ensuring the US and its allies obey international human rights norms and international law and perhaps come to appreciate it is not part of their job to advocate for economic warfare against civilian populations.