from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Obama and Human Rights Violations: See No Evil?

November 10, 2014

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Last week The Cable reported that

The U.S. State Department plans to cut its entire $500,000 in annual funding next year to an organization dedicated to sneaking into abandoned Syrian military bases, prisons, and government facilities to collect documents and other evidence linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its proxies to war crimes and other mass atrocities....

For the past two years, the U.S. State Department has channeled a total of $1 million in funds to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a group of international war crimes prosecutors that sends local researchers, lawyers, and law students into Syrian battle zones to collect and extract files and other evidence that can help map the Syrian command structure and identify the military orders authorizing illegal activities, including barrel bomb campaigns, the starvation of besieged towns, and a spate of mass murders that have pushed the conflict’s death toll past 190,000 since March 2011.

Why? No explanation was given, and apparently there was an argument within the administration: the Commission spokesman "hinted that the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, Stephen Rapp, had not supported the decision. ’Ambassador Rapp and his team have been highly supportive of our work but they do not control the funding,’ she said."

But the goal that will instantly occur to many people, including me, is that the administration no longer wants to pursue war crimes trials against Assad and his regime. Instead, we may be seeking accommodation with him--and an accommodation about Syria with Assad’s sponsor, which is Iran. Last week Mr. Obama wrote his fourth letter to Iran’s "Supreme Leader." The Wall Street Journal reports that:

Mr. Obama’s letter also sought to assuage Iran’s concerns about the future of its close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to another person briefed on the letter. It states that the U.S.’s military operations inside Syria aren’t targeted at Mr. Assad or his security forces.

Once upon a time Obama said "Assad must go," but that is no longer policy--nor do we want to learn more about his war crimes.

Sadly, there is a direct and exact precedent for this move by the Obama administration: in 2009 it cut off funding for groups that were examining Iran’s own crimes. The Boston Globe broke that story in October 2009:

For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that - for the first time since it was formed - its federal funding request had been denied.

Several other groups working on Iran’s human rights violations were also defunded. The Iran Documentation Center, cut off by Mr. Obama, closed its doors in 2010.

Think of the timing: just when world interest in the Iranian regime’s human rights record was at its height after the stolen election and the Green Movement of June 2009, the Obama administration says "no more of that information!"

Such funding moves bespeak a policy of seeking accommodation with the world’s worst regimes on their terms, by playing down their crimes. Think of the message this sends to those regimes, and to the courageous people in Syria and Iran struggling for their rights. When the history of the Obama administration is written, moves like these will be a source of shame.

More on:

Iran

Middle East and North Africa

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

Syria

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