The “Arab Spring” that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa has captured the attention of the world. The seven-months of pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria have been no exception. President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime has violently attacked demonstrations killing 3,500 civilians since they began in March, according to UN sources.
Despite reaching a deal with the League of Arab States that provided conditions meant to protect civilians, Assad’s violence against his own people continues unabated. The Arab League deal required that the Syrian government remove all military installations from city streets, which the government blatantly violated on Monday when it launched a military offensive to retake the city of Homs. According to the Syrian opposition government security forces have killed 111 in Homs in the past five days alone. The violent crackdowns by the Assad regime have elicited a multitude of responses by the international community, some helpful, some counterproductive.
International efforts to end the crisis have achieved mixed results and are ongoing. Sanctions passed by the European Union and the United States banning Syrian oil have been particularly effective, causing a backlog of crude oil in storage facilities as Syria struggles to find buyers outside of Europe. Before the sanctions Europe purchased about 95 percent of Syria’s crude oil, and the embargo has had far-reaching effects on Syria’s economy including prompting international banks to refuse to open letters of credit with Syrian businesses.
An effort by the US, Britain, and France to pass a UN Security Council resolution, however, was blocked by the vetoes of Russia and China even after the language of the resolution had been watered down. China and Russia said the resolution failed to ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria and so vetoed the measure. Russia and China are close allies of Assad’s regime and it is well known that Russia conducts a lucrative trade in weapons to Syria. The US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice walked out of the UN Security Council chamber in protest, and called the vetoes, “a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.”
NATO, which recently ended Operation Unified Protector in Libya following the successful toppling of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, has clearly indicated that a similar no-fly zone mission in Syria is not being considered, at least for now. In a forum at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said that a NATO intervention in Syria was not being discussed and emphasized that a formula had been adopted by which interventions are considered that requires demonstrable need, regional support, and a “sound” legal basis. The recent veto of the watered-down sanctions resolution by China and Russia suggests that NATO is not likely to receive legal authorization for action as they did in Libya when the UN Security Council passed a resolution establishing a no-fly zone.
Further actions against Assad’s regime are being undertaken on the American domestic stage in the US Senate, where Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has sponsored S. 1472, the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011. The bill seeks to impose sanctions on the development, production, exportation, importation, and financing of Syria’s oil industry. The bill contains a set of penalties that could be leveraged against foreign companies investing in Syria’s oil sector including the freezing of their property and other assets in the United States. The bill currently has 12 cosponsors. You can help protect Syrian civilians by demanding tougher sanctions on Syria. Call 1-800-GENOCIDE to voice your support for the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011. The call is toll-free. When prompted, enter your zip code and choose option number two to be connected with the office of one of your two United States Senators. Once connected to the office, urge your Senator to co-sponsor and support the Syria Sanctions Act (S.1472).
Want to do learn more about what the US is doing for Syria? Watch the Senate Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia discuss US policy in Syria live on C-SPAN on Wednesday, November 09, 2011 at 2:30PM or attend in person at 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Constitution Avenue and 1st Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.