Top Democrat introduces measure to require Trump to recognize Turkish human rights abuses in Syria

Top Democrat introduces measure to require Trump to recognize Turkish human rights abuses in Syria
© Aaron Schwartz

A top Democratic senator is looking to force the Trump administration to report on human rights violations by Turkey in its offensive in northern Syria.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Tuesday he will introduce a resolution that would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report on whether Turkey has committed human rights abuses in Syria.

ADVERTISEMENT

The resolution invokes the Foreign Assistance Act, meaning Menendez could force a vote on it 10 days after it’s introduced.

Using the Foreign Assistance Act also means the report could be a first step in ending U.S. security assistance to Turkey. Under the law, the administration would have 30 days to give Congress the report, after which Congress can vote to end any aspect of security assistance.

"Our strongest allies should be those in NATO, those who have made a treaty commitment to mutual defense, those who share our values, those who work in concert with us to face the threat from countries like Russia and Iran with common cause" Menendez said in a floor speech Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, Turkey under [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan embodies none of those things," Menendez continued. "Turkey under Erdoğan should not, Turkey under Erdoğan cannot be seen as an ally."

Congress has been fuming since President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE announced last month that he would withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s long-threatened offensive against Kurdish forces.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish forces terrorists, but the United States partnered with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, relying on them to do the most dangerous ground fighting.

“Provided with a green light from Trump administration, President Erdoğan’s invasion of Syria to attack our Kurdish partners is an unconscionable act of brutality that has caused death and untold suffering among our Kurdish friends and partners,” Menendez said Tuesday.

“There must be a full accounting by Turkey of these atrocities,” he added. “That is why I am today introducing an expedited resolution of request for the secretary of State to inform the Senate in 30 days of the extent of Turkey’s human rights abuses in Syria.”

The resolution would also call for an overview of the steps the United States has taken to promote Turkey’s respect of human rights in Syria, as well as a determination of whether Turkey’s actions have resulted in the release of ISIS fighters or other extremists inside Syria.

ADVERTISEMENT

In response to Trump’s removal of troops and Turkey’s subsequent offensive, the House passed a resolution opposing the withdrawal and a bill that would sanction Turkish officials. The House also last week passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, infuriating the Turkish government.

Menendez on Tuesday called on the Senate to pass the Armenian genocide resolution.

“And as momentum builds following the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution in the House of Representatives, Turkey and its lobbyists are working overtime to block it in the Senate,” he said.

"The Armenian genocide happened. It was a monstrous act, and those who deny it are complicit in a terrible lie," he continued. "Genocide is genocide. The Senate should not bow to this pressure, it cannot bow to this pressure. Let’s pass this resolution today."

Menendez, who co-sponsored a Turkey sanctions bill with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Dairy industry doesn't own the word 'milk' MORE (R-Idaho), also urged the Senate to “deliberate” the sanctions measure. He added that he and Risch are “updating the language to condition sanctions based on Turkey’s actions” and that he hopes the committee will mark up the bill “in the coming days.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ky.) has cautioned against sanctioning a NATO ally, saying after the House vote on Turkey sanctions that senators should "carefully examine" if a broad sanctions bill "is really the best solution."

Erdoğan is scheduled to visit the White House on Nov. 13. Three unnamed Turkish officials told Reuters that Erdoğan is reconsidering the trip in protest of the House votes on sanctions and the Armenian genocide.

Menendez in his speech urged Trump to cancel the meeting and “side with the bipartisan consensus in the Senate and House that Turkey under Erdoğan is no friend to the United States.” 

"Do not ruin our reputation further by fawning over yet another authoritarian leader. You want to repair the damage that’s been done? Show our commitment to our allies by inviting the Syrian Kurdish leadership to the Oval Office for a meeting on how we prevent a resurgent of ISIS," Menendez said.

"That’s how you protect our interests," he added. "That’s how you protect our national security."