There is already chatter on Capitol Hill about whether or not to arm the Syrian rebels. Just last week, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) introduced the “Free Syria Act of 2013,” which calls on the Obama administration to arm Syrian rebels and provide them with training and intelligence support.
But the choice whether or not to arm rebel groups isn’t the only choice Congress faces on Syria. There are ways that Congress can act to slow the violence that have not yet been fully acted on. Congress should pass legislation to:
· Tighten sanctions on the enablers of the Assad regime. Such legislation would mandate the secretary of the Treasury to issue regulations prohibiting foreign financial institutions that enable the atrocities in Syria from doing business with U.S. financial institutions.
· Prohibit U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining correspondent or payable-through accounts with foreign financial institutions where the secretary of the Treasury finds that the financial institution is enabling the atrocities in Syria by allowing the regime to pay for the procurement of lethal resources, or allowing the Syrian regime to receive funds for its exports.
· Require U.S. financial institutions that do business with foreign financial entities that may be enabling atrocities in Syria to perform internal audits of the activities of those financial institutions, establish due diligence policies to prevent those institutions from doing business with the United States if they are found to facilitate atrocities in Syria, and certify to the Department of Treasury that the foreign financial institution is not helping the Assad regime finance its crimes.
· Require federal contractors to certify that they are not doing business with entities enabling atrocities in Syria. This legislation could amend the Federal Acquisition Regulations to require every executive agency to secure certification from all prospective contractors that neither the contractor, its subcontractors, or any foreign subsidiaries or affiliates engages in activity that enables atrocities in Syria. Such regulations would prohibit entities like Rosoboronexport (Russian state-owned arms exporter), Finmeccanica (Italian communications technology provider), and others from receiving U.S. contracts while engaged in activities that threatens the national security interests of the United States and enables the perpetration of atrocities in Syria.
Secretary Kerry laid an important marker in Iraq. He pointedly told the prime minister that the United States won't stand idly by as those enabling the Assad regime - and those who help them or look the other way - continue to fuel the Syrian atrocities. Congress should build on this momentum with actions of its own. More than 70,000 people have died in the two years since Assad's regime began its deadly crackdown. There is no time to delay taking steps to protect those who remain in harm’s way.
Hameed is director of Human Rights First’s Crimes Against Humanity Program.