Europeans and US seek sanctions against Syria

AP News
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Posted: Aug 23, 2011 8:08 PM
Europeans and US seek sanctions against Syria

European nations and the United States circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Tuesday seeking an arms embargo and other sanctions aimed at stopping the Syrian government's ongoing crackdown on opposition protesters.

But the supporters faced immediate opposition from veto-wielding Russia. Asked whether it was the right time to slap sanctions on Bashar Assad's regime, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, "No. We don't think so."

The draft resolution calls for an asset freeze against 23 key Syrian figures including Bashar Assad, his younger brother, Maher, who is believed to be in command of much of the current bloody crackdown, and his millionaire cousin, Rami Makhlouf, who controls the mobile phone network and other lucrative enterprises in Syria and has been the target of many protesters' rage.

It also calls for an asset freeze against two companies controlled by Makhlouf _ Bena Properties and Al Mashreq Investment _ and the Military Housing Establishment and Syrian General Intelligence Directorate. The resolution would also impose a travel ban on 21 individuals including Makhlouf, but not Assad or his younger brother.

Last week, a high-level U.N. human rights team said that Syria's crackdown "may amount to crimes against humanity" and should be referred to the International Criminal Court. U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said Thursday she asked the Security Council to refer Syria to the permanent war crimes tribunal, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, echoes the team's conclusion and notes Pillay's recommendation "that the Security Council consider referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court." But it does not order Syria to be referred to the court, saying only that "those responsible for violence should be held accountable."

British deputy ambassador Philip Parham told reporters after Tuesday's closed council session that Syria "can stop the killing, release detainees, and allow access" for humanitarian aid.

"The focus of the resolution is to apply pressure to achieve that," he said. "The solution lies in a Syrian-led political process."

While the resolution is backed by Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and the U.S., it is likely to face opposition not only from Russia but also from veto-wielding China _ and possibly from council members Brazil, India and South Africa.

Parham said council action could come in "the next few days."

"We want to allow people time to look at it carefully and consult with capitals," he said. "But then we do want to move, if we can, as quickly as possible."

The draft resolution "strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, also of children."

With Assad's forces continuing to crack down on the protests, the U.N. said this week the overall death toll has reached 2,200.

The draft would express "profound regret at the deaths of thousands of people including children."

It would demand that Syrian authorities immediately stop human rights violations and the use of force against civilians and "allow the full exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms for its entire population, including rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and lift restrictions on all forms of media."

The proposed resolution "calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from fear and intimidation and aimed at effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria's population."

On the arms embargo, the draft would require all countries to ban the sale or transfer of arms and military-related assistance to Syria _ and it would also ban the Syrian government from exporting arms or providing military assistance to any state.

It calls on all countries, especially Syria's neighbors, to inspect suspect cargo heading to and from Syria, including on the high seas if they have consent of the vessel's flag state.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.