24th Mar 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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 summit takes hard look at Russia

EU leaders will discuss Russian security threats in the wake of the UK attack, but will not adopt new sanctions at Thursday's summit.

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

EU leaders demanded a permanent exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium - and ruled out any bilateral trade talks within the 1 May deadline set by Donald Trump.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica