We reject the Syrian government’s justification of its tactics as necessary to maintain “stability.” The Asad regime remains the source of instability as it foments violence by meeting peaceful protests with deadly force and mass arrests. Despite the Syrian government’s violent repression and blatant disregard for the human rights of its citizens, the Syrian people continue to call for their legitimate demands to be met. The Syrian people have made clear that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Syrian government must meet their legitimate aspirations and end the killing, torture, and arbitrary detentions of protestors and activists.
Executive Orders and Sanctions
Syria has been designated a State Sponsor of Terror since December 1979. An additional layer of sanctions were added in December of 2003 with the passage of the Syria Accountability Act, implemented by Executive Order 13338 on May 11, 2004. Additional sanctions have recently been added to target the human rights abuses being committed by the Syrian Government against peaceful demonstrators and their own citizens.
President Obama signed a new Executive Order targeting the Syrian government’s continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria on May 18. President Asad was designated pursuant to this authority, among other Syrian regime officials.
President Obama also signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on individuals and entities committing human rights violations in Syria on April 29, including President Asad’s brother and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).
We have closely coordinated with our allies in the European Union, who imposed an arms embargo and their own targeted sanctions on May 9.
We are actively considering a range of additional bilateral options for increasing pressure on the Syrian regime as the situation may require.
The United States will use the Executive Order to designate additional senior regime officials for targeted sanctions and will be imposing travel bans on all those who commit or contribute to human rights violations. We will hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses; no one is immune.
Actions at the United Nations
The United States led the call for a Special Session on Syria at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on April 29, which passed a strong resolution condemning the Syrian government and calling for an investigation by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As of May 18, Syria has not allowed access to the High Commissioner’s investigative team.
We actively lobbied at the United Nations to prevent Syria from being elected to the UN Human Rights Council later this month. Our lobbying efforts against the wholly inappropriate Syrian candidacy successfully resulted in Syria withdrawing its candidacy on May 11. Kuwait will stand for the seat instead.
The U.S. will call for further action in the Human Rights Council condemning the on-going violence, torture and arrests of prisoners of conscience, calling for accountability and lifts of the restrictions on the press.
“Civil Society,” as we know it in many countries in the region, is almost non-existent in Syria. The Syrian government has traditionally viewed intellectuals, political activists, NGOs and civic groups with suspicion – and through arrests and other forms of intimidation has deterred much of Syrian society from participating in “Civil Society.” Those who have chosen to participate in defiance of the security services have often paid a terrible price.
We support the universal human rights of citizens across the region, and have noted quite regularly our concerns when governments, including the Syrian government, fail to respect those rights. We stand up for the work of human rights defenders in all countries around the world.
The President and the Secretary have both emphasized promoting partnerships with the Muslim World. Providing Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) support directly to the people of the Middle East and North Africa is one way the United States can help provide tools to citizens who aspire to deliver positive change in their countries.
Through MEPI, we support efforts to expand political participation, strengthen civil society and the rule of law, empower women and youth, create educational opportunities, and foster economic reform throughout the region.
At her first strategic dialogue with civil society, Secretary Clinton emphasized that “the United States supports democratic change,” and that change is more likely to be peaceful and permanent when it involves both the government and a broad cross-section of the population. Civil society holds governments accountable, keeps them honest, and helps them be more effective. But it plays an even more fundamental role than that as it helps to strengthen the basic bonds of trust that are essential to democracy.