Over 3,500 people have been killed in the past six months by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. Over 100 were killed last week, immediately AFTER Syria agreed to the Arab League’s proposal for a peace deal. The deadly trend is continuing and the world must take action now to stop it.
As violence in Syria escalates, the United States and European Union have taken steps to isolate the regime and to try to bring the violence to a peaceful resolution. The U.S. government imposed sanctions against Syria long ago, and is now seeking to strengthen those sanctions to cover non-U.S. companies doing business in Syria. The European Union finally, this past Tuesday, bowed to international pressure and implemented its own sanctions on the buying and selling of Syrian oil. Europe consumes almost all of Syria’s exported oil – and the oil industry makes up nearly 30 percent of Syria’s national budget. Already Syria’s economy is so affected that the government has recently been unable to pay oil producers. And now, even Assad’s neighbors in the Arab League have finally decided to take steps to deal with him, and are moving toward imposing sanctions as well.
Meanwhile, European multinational oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and Total maintain infrastructure for operations in Syria and continue production, quietly supplying oil for Syria’s domestic market. The combination of EU sanctions that prohibit oil exports to Europe, and the Syrian regime’s inability to continue making payments to the firms, could mean a de facto halt on these operations. However, neither company has strongly condemned the violence or taken any steps to halt the financing of Assad’s brutal regime. Presumably both are prepared to sit on their hands until sanctions are lifted and Assad comes up with the money to pay them again to pump the oil. Shell and Total need to publicly condemn the violence, and agree to suspend all operations in Syria until peace has been restored, and Assad and his cronies have been held accountable for their crimes against humanity.
But another critical sector is not subject to the EU sanctions and is turning a profit enabling this terrible violence and repression. U.S. and European high-tech firms have actively and knowingly profited by providing surveillance technology to Assad’s security forces – technology that has led to the detention and torture of thousands of peaceful protesters.
Italian company Area SpA, which has provided Assad with surveillance technology from U.S. company NetApp Inc., also needs to publicly condemn the violence and end all support for Assad’s regime. Syria’s Internet surveillance of the regime’s political opponents, headed by Area SpA, is designed to intercept and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country, and workers have been installing it under the direction of Syrian intelligence, according to news reports. Our allies at Access Now are targeting these companies with a petition. We encourage our friends to support this petition and send a signal to these companies that concerned citizens around the world condemn their choice of business partner.
This will not be enough to stop the immediate violence, however, and we will be calling on our friends to do more to target Assad’s economic lifelines in the coming days. The collapse of Syria’s economy would bring down the regime, and quickly. While cutting off Assad’s economic lifeblood is beginning to work, more needs to be done to stop the flow of money that supports the regime’s continued purchase of weapons. We must now focus on pressing Russia to get on the right side of history. More on this in coming weeks, but what if people started talking about boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia is hosting?