Friday

23rd Jun 2017

Rights group: EU must end 'faustian pact' with Syria

  • Al-Assad poster in Damascus. The Arabic caption says 'We love you' (Photo: anjci)

With the death count in Syria jumping up drastically, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said the EU should impose sanctions on the al-Assad regime or risk missing a historic opportunity to shape events in the Middle East.

Syrian rights activists inside the country report that President Bashar al-Assad's forces killed at least 70 people during protests on Friday (22 April), bringing the number of deaths since violence began six weeks ago to some 270.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

HRW no longer has staff in Syria, but its sources speak of systematic use of live ammunition against unarmed crowds, night-time snatch squads and torture of detainees.

HRW analyst Nadim Houry told EUobserver in his office in Beirut, in neighbouring Lebanon, that the EU reaction so far - statements by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urging restraint and silence from EU embassies in Syria - is doing nothing to make al-Assad change track.

"Given the level of violence, the EU should impose targeted sanctions against key figures in the regime. Visa bans, asset freezes - no more business as usual, no more glossy spreads in Vogue about Louboutin shoes," Houry said, noting a recent article on al-Assad's wife.

"He must be given a stark choice - either you keep going down the path of repression and you become an international pariah, and it will be very costly for you economically, or you make real reforms and the European Union will give you all the support you need for that."

He added that Ashton's job should be to lobby Mediterranean rim EU powers - France, Italy and Spain - as well as the US and EU-aspirant Turkey to back the tough new line.

Houry, a 33-year-old Lebanese lawyer, said that recent events have exposed a flaw in EU foreign policy.

EU-Syria diplomacy has up to now neglected the rights of Syrian people for the sake of strategic objectives, such as seeking al-Assad's support for the Middle East peace process or maintaining stability in Lebanon. But the uprisings in Syria and beyond show that ordinary Arabs are better partners for bringing positive reform to the region.

"It's time for Europe to stop making faustian pacts with repressive regimes and to realign its foreign policy with its ideals," Houry said. "These are historic events that no-one could have predicted. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a relationship with a new wave in Arab society."

Looking more closely at Syria, he said people have "broken through the wall of fear" that maintained order.

He added that al-Assad could still become a "transitional" leader, but only if he dismantles his hated secret police, the al-Mukhabarat, and makes his security chiefs accountable for crimes.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in Lebanon is calm. People in Beirut are partying on Easter weekend and there is no visible difference apart from extra security on the Syrian side of the border.

Nerves are tense below the surface, however. The largest military power in Lebanon, Hezbollah, is an ally of al-Assad and could get involved if the situation escalates. "If we move to a civil war in Syria, it will have a huge impact on Lebanon," Houry said.

EU extends sanctions on Russia

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia hadn't done enough to implement the so-called Minsk peace process, a condition for lifting the sanctions.

EU steps up global counter-terrorism drive

EU foreign ministers vowed to increase the number of projects and financial support in different parts of the world ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, where leaders will focus on security and defence.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit