Obama order targets technology used for human-rights abuses

President Obama signed an executive order Sunday that would impose sanctions on people who provide technology to help the Syrian and Iranian governments carry out human-rights abuses.

Obama announced the order Monday at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony, where he said the order would stop those who help oppressive regimes “monitor and track citizens for violence.”

Mobile technologies have helped cultivate the Arab Spring, where citizens have launched protests using social media to help with organizing demonstrations. But Iran and Syria, as well as others, have also used technology as a way to stop citizen uprisings by tracking them or shutting down access to the Internet.

“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to oppress them,” Obama said Monday.

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The order uses sanctions and a visa ban to target people who have sold or helped implement technology to the Iranian and Syrian governments that facilitates computer or network disruption, monitoring or tracking to enable human-rights abuses.

Obama was introduced at the remembrance ceremony by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. He talked about preventing mass atrocities and his administration’s efforts in Libya and against African warlord Joseph Kony.

In particular, Obama focused on the situation in Syria, where a cease-fire is in peril as violence there continues, with United Nations estimates tallying more than 9,000 dead.

Obama said once again that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be ousted from power for his army’s violent crackdown against the Syrian opposition. He said the United States is not giving up on the Syrian people, and will continue to provide humanitarian aid, ramp up sanctions and try to document human-rights abuses.

“We need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these national atrocities,” Obama said. “Because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people.”

Obama said the executive order is one more step the administration was taking toward “the day we know will come — the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people.”

The executive order is part of Obama administration’s Atrocities Prevention Board, which was established in August 2011. 

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