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European Union
The European Union (E.U.) member states comprise Syria’s largest export market and, according to E.U. officials, in 1996 and 1997 Syria received approximately ECU 59 million (U.S.$68 million) in funds for economic development projects.

The European Commission and the Syrian government held an initial round of negotiations on a Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement on May 14-15 in Brussels, following a year of preparatory talks. Similar treaties, aimed at creating a Euro-Mediterranean free trade and security cooperation area, have been concluded with Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, and Jordan, and were under negotiation with Egypt, Algeria, and Lebanon. Article 2 of each text states that “respect for human rights and democratic principles...constitute an essential element” of the agreement. Syria was the last of the twelve “Mediterranean partners” to enter treaty negotiations. There were no indications that any human rights issues were raised at these negotiations. A second round began on October 20 in Damascus. Manuel Marin, the official responsible for Mediterranean affairs in the commission, said he expected talks to continue through the end of 1999.

Twice during the year, however, the E.U. publicly noted human rights concerns. On March 12, the European Parliament passed a resolution concerning Lebanese held without charge in Syria. While welcoming the release of 121 Lebanese, the parliament expressed its concern about those who remained in prison and called on the Syrian government “to provide a full list of the Lebanese nationals detained in Syria, to release those prisoners who face no charges and to transfer the other Lebanese prisoners to Lebanon.” It also called on the Council of Ministers and the governments of the Member States “to take these factors into consideration when negotiating the Euro-Mediterranean association agreement with the Government of Syria.”

On April 14 in Geneva, Ambassador Audrey Glover, head of delegation of the United Kingdom, presented a statement to the 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the European Union. Regarding Syria, she said: “Despite the progress made in the past two years, the E.U. remains concerned about the human rights situation in Syria, particularly arrest and detention procedures, prison conditions and lack of freedom of expression. We believe that Syria’s own long-term interests would be best served by action to improve the country’s human rights performance.”

The main themes of President Asad’s July meetings with French leaders in Paris reportedly were trade and investment, and France’s initiatives in Middle East peace negotiations. According to a French government spokesperson, President Chirac called the Syrian government’s release of political prisoners “a step in the right direction,” and other officials told Human Rights Watch that Chirac asked for the quick release of specific prisoners. Prime Minister Jospin reportedly told President Asad that “Europe is founded not only on economic development but also on democracy and respect for human rights, to which our people are profoundly attached. In making the choice of Europe your country should naturally open up to this view.”

United States
Syria’s human rights record once again was not a significant factor in the Clinton administration’s public diplomatic discourse. The priority U.S. policy goal, as in past years, was to facilitate resumption of the suspended peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Martin S. Indyk told the House International Relations Committee on July 29 that such negotiations were of “critical importance,” and that it was in the “strategic interest” of the U.S. to bring Syria “into the circle of peace.” He said that Secretary of State Madeline Albright had “detailed discussions” about the negotiations with Syria’s Foreign Minister Farouq Shara’ and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri during their visits toWashington earlier in the year. Human Rights Watch was aware of no public demarches by U.S. diplomats in 1998 that focused on Syria’s continuing limitations on the basic human rights of its citizens and the repressive mechanisms of control that remained in place.

Unilateral economic sanctions, first imposed in 1979 and expanded in subsequent years, prohibit U.S. aid to Syria as well as “aircraft, aircraft parts, and computers of U.S. origin or containing U.S.-origin components and technology,” noted the U.S. State Department 1997 Country Reports on Economic Policy and Trade Practices , submitted to Congress in January 1998. The U.S. Department of Commerce added in its 1998 country report on Syria that U.S. firms interested in business or investment opportunities must consider “a range of U.S. export controls and a lack of guaranteed trade financing that stems from Syria’s presence on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.” U.S. exporters to Syria could not utilize OPIC and other insurance programs, or financing from the EXIM Bank, the Small Business Administration, and the Commodity Credit Corporation.

Despite the sanctions, in 1997 Syria exported an estimated $30 million to the U.S. and imported $190 million in goods and services. American firms had $634 million of direct investments in Syria, primarily in oil exploration and development. The State Department revealed in 1998 that Mobil had a 49 percent share in a joint venture with Syrian investors for a lubricant manufacturing plant. Agence France-Presse reported from Damascus on March 16 that U.S. oil companies ARCO and Marathon were negotiating oil exploration contracts with the government, and, according to Reuters on September 9, a $400 million letter of intent had been signed by the U.S. firm Conoco and the French Elf Aquitaine with the state-owned Syrian Petroleum Company for natural gas projects.







Israel, The Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority Territories

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Human RIghts Watch