United States Senators Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer announced today that they would be introducing the Syrian Human Rights Accountability Act to impose sanctions of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in the face of a violent and bloody crackdown the government has executed on opposition protestors in the country. The bill, set to be introduced this coming week, would require the president to identify those persons in the Syrian government, and those helping them, who have violated the human rights of pro-democracy demonstrators, members of the opposition, or organizations calling for reform in the country, for the purposes of denying access to visas to travel to the United States and blocking of any financial and property transactions in the US. The sanctions bill also prohibits the sale of technology or weapons to Syria, by any companies seeking to do business with the United States, that would be used for censorship or human rights abuses in the country. Gillibrand and Schumer made the announcement just days after the Obama administration announced it was beginning to make preparations to close the U.S. embassy in Damascus due to a rapid deterioration of the security situation in Syria.
“President Assad has brutally violated the human rights of his own people while killing thousands of Syrian citizens and fostering terrorism across his borders,” said Gillibrand. “It is time for the Iranian regime’s best friend President Assad to step down. The tough sanctions I introduced to crack down on Syria’s energy sector which funds the development of nuclear weapons and supports terrorists isn’t enough. This new bill is an important step to end the bloodshed by the Syrian government and provide the Syrian people with tools needed to take back their own country.”
“Syria continues to show it has no desire to curb the bloody crackdown that has become synonymous with the Assad’s regime,” said Schumer. “If Syria won’t willingly change its brutal approach and continues to violate the human rights of those seeking to exercise their voices, then we will do everything we can to send the strongest message possible to that nation’s leadership that this behavior is beyond the pale and not without consequence. It will also ensure that no companies that do business with the United States facilitate these atrocities.”
Since March, when protests began in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has launched a series of crackdowns on his own people, sending tanks into rebellious cities as military forces fired on demonstrators. The United Nations currently estimates that more than 5,400 people have died since the beginning of the conflict, and estimates of the number of detainees range from 15,000 to 40,000. Throughout the conflict, President Assad has clung to power through violence, defying protesters’ demands to step down.
Last September, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was trapped in an office building as a mob gathered outside the building, threatening to rush in. Security forces were forced to escort the ambassador out of the building, and in the process of leaving, the crowd threw stones and concrete blocks at the convoy, and hit the Ambassador’s car with iron bars. In recent days, violence has escalated in Syria, with a series of recent car bombings and increasing violence that threaten to throw the country in civil war. On Friday, the Obama Administration announced that they were preparing to close the U.S. embassy in Damascus and evacuate all American personnel by the end of this month.
The sanctions bill would prohibit the sale of weapons by companies seeking to do business in the United States, as well as sensitive technology, including hardware, software, telecommunications equipment, or any other technology that the president determines to be used specifically to restrict the free flow of information, monitor, or otherwise restrict the free speech of the Syrian people. The bill would also make individuals identified by the administration as engaging in human rights violations prohibited from obtaining U.S. Visas, U.S. property, or conducting financial transactions with U.S. institutions. Furthermore, companies selling internet monitoring and jamming equipment would be prohibited from obtaining U.S. Government contracts.