Mr. Anatoly Isaikin
Re: Syria Weapons Supplies Risk Corporate Complicity in Grave Abuses
Dear Mr. Isaikin,
I am writing to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch to urge you to halt all weapons deliveries to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In view of the overwhelming evidence that the Syrian army is committing crimes against humanity, Rosoboronexport’s arms dealings with the Syrian government place the company at a high risk of complicity in such crimes in violation of international law.
Human Rights Watch is an independent, international nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights conditions in more than 90 countries around the world, including by conducting on-the-ground investigations into serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in conflict areas. We have conducted extensive research into the ongoing military campaign by the Syrian government to crush dissent.
Below we have summarized information on several issues arising from our work that are of relevance to Rosoboronexport. We would welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue on these issues. With that in mind, we have included a few questions below as well. We look forward to hearing your views.
Crimes against Humanity in Syria
Both the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) established by the UN Human Rights Council have asserted that crimes against humanity are occurring in Syria. Human Rights Watch’s own investigations into human rights violations in Syria, including evidence from hundreds of victims and witnesses, support the COI’s conclusion that the Syrian government’s “forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State.” Violations include the use of snipers to target civilians, enforced disappearances, rampant use of torture, and mass arbitrary detentions. The government’s intense shelling of Syrian cities, including Homs and Idlib, and the devastation wrought on civilians in those cities, have taken violations of the right to life and personal security to a new level. The crisis has also resulted in massive displacement of civilians who have fled their homes and in many cases sought refuge in neighboring countries.
In light of the above, we would like to inquire if Rosoboronexport conducts a due diligence review to assess the risk of weapons it provides being used in violation of international law? If so, please elaborate on your approach. For example, at what stage does Rosoboronexport carry out such reviews and drawing on information from which sources? To clarify, we wish to know about the company’s internal review processes, if any, rather than the assessments made by the Russian government as part of its arms export control procedure.
Weapons Misuse in Syria
Human Rights Watch research also has uncovered details about some of the weapons being used in the Syrian army’s assault. For example:
- On March 13, 2012, Human Rights Watch documented multiple accounts by witnesses that appear to confirm that the Syrian army has planted landmines, including the Soviet/Russian-made PMN-2 antipersonnel mines and TMN-46 antivehicle mines, near the country’s borders with Lebanon and Turkey during the current crisis.
- In March 2012, five witnesses, including three foreign correspondents, gave separate accounts to Human Rights Watch that in Idlib government forces had used large-caliber machine-guns, tanks, and mortars to fire indiscriminately at buildings and people in the street.
- On February 24, 2012, Human Rights Watch documented the Syrian government’s use in Homs of the Russian-made 240mm F-864 high explosive mortar system, which fires the world’s largest high explosive mortar bomb known to be in production and use. The 240mm round weighs 130 kilograms and contains 31.93 kilograms of TNT as an explosive charge.
- Also in February in Homs, Human Rights Watch documented the government’s use of explosive weapons including 122mm howitzers and 120mm mortars.
- Human Rights Watch research also indicates that, as is widely known, the Syrian army uses AK-series assault rifles, commonly referred to as Kalashnikovs.
We are aware that the Syrian army uses a considerable amount of older Russian equipment, some of which may date to the Soviet era and much of which may not have involved Rosoboronexport. Nevertheless, these examples from our research raise the question of whether and how the company tracks how its weapons are used. Could you please let us know if Rosoboronexport conducts any end-use monitoring to ensure that the weapons it supplies are not misused? If so, please elaborate.
Rosoboronexport’s Dealings with Syria
Public information sources indicate that Rosoboronexport is Syria’s main weapons supplier. Since 2007, Rosoboronexport has held a virtual monopoly on arms exports from Russia. For the five-year period beginning in 2007, Russia accounted for the vast majority (78 percent) of Syria’s imports of major conventional weapons, which increased five-fold compared to the previous five-year period, according to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
SIPRI, which is considered an authoritative source on the trade in heavy weapons, has identified numerous transfers from Russia to Syria during this period:
36 Pantsyr-S1 mobile air-defense systems, delivered between 2008 and 2011
Some 700 surface-to-air missiles for use with the Pantsyr mobile air-defense systems, delivered between 2008 and 2011
87 anti-ship missiles, delivered from 2009 to 2010
2 Bastion-P mobile coastal defense systems, delivered from 2010 to 2011
72 anti-ship cruise missiles, delivered from 2010 to 2011, for use with the Bastion-P coastal defense system
300 air-to-air missiles, ordered in 2010 for use with MiG-29 combat aircraft
2 surface-to-air missile systems, delivered in 2011, from an order for 8 such systems
40 surface-to-air missiles, delivered in 2011, from an order for 160 such missiles, for use with the missile systems
36 Yak-130 jet trainers/combat aircraft ordered in 2011
24 MiG-29 fighter aircraft, ordered in 2007 (delivery pending)
Although the Russian government has reported annually to the United Nations Conventional Arms Register during this same period, it has identified only one transaction with Syria—the transfer of 81 missiles and missile launchers in 2010. The Moscow think tank Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies has reported that from 2007 to 2011 Russia completed a contract to upgrade 1,000 T-72 battle tanks. In addition, Jane’s Defense Weekly in 2010 cited a deal for Russia to supply armored vehicles to Syria.
Public reporting on transfers of small arms and light weapons and associated ammunition is more limited, due to problems of transparency in the global trade. The Russian Federation has not submitted any information to the UN register covering such weapons and materiel, although the UN has encouraged such reporting since 2006.
Press reports have featured accounts of alleged recent weapons deliveries from Rosoboronexport to Syria. According to shipping records collected by ThomsonReuters, at least four cargo ships have left Russia’s Black Sea port of Oktyabrsk—reportedly used by Rosoboronexport for weapons shipments—for the Syrian port of Tartus since December 2011. In addition, a Russian-operated vessel, the MV Chariot, was carrying four containers of “dangerous cargo,” from St Petersburg to Syria when it stopped in Cyprus in January 2012. Although the ship ostensibly changed course for Turkey it nevertheless traveled to Syria, according to Reuters, which described the cargo as ammunition reportedly supplied by Rosoboronexport. Company spokesperson Vyacheslav Davidenko declined to either confirm or deny the report, telling Reuters, “We do not comment on where our deliveries go, when they leave port or how.”
At other times, the company has provided information about particular weapons deals. For example, in August 2011 you reportedly said that Rosoboronexport has a confidentiality agreement with the government of Syria yet confirmed to the press that the company was supplying Yak-130 aircraft and associated training equipment. Interfax quoted you as adding, “Of course, we also supply military equipment” to the Syrian government without specifying further.
More complete company disclosures about Rosoboronexport’s supplies to the Syrian government would be very welcome. If there is a confidentiality agreement in place, we encourage you to be as open as possible under that agreement and also to contact the client to seek to lift that provision. Especially considering the very alarming situation in Syria at the moment, it would be in Rosoboronexport’s own interest, as well as the public interest, if the company would be more transparent about weapons, materiel, technical assistance and other forms of military support it has provided to the government of Syria. The absence of transparency only fuels speculation that the company may be involved in deliveries of the kinds of weapons that are being used in violation of international law.
Arms Supplies and International Law
Human Rights Watch is aware that the Syrian government has received weapons from countries other than Russia. Nevertheless, Russia—via Rosoboronexport—is its key supplier and there is ample reason to be deeply concerned about Rosoboronexport’s recent and planned transfers. The company’s known weapons deals with the Syrian government can be deemed at the least to significantly enhance Syria’s military capability at a time when there is credible and persuasive evidence that the military is responsible for committing crimes against humanity. Continuing to provide military support for armed forces that are directly implicated in such serious international crimes raises a real risk of complicity for your company.
We are aware of statements you and other Rosoboronexport representatives have made that the company will continue its deliveries to the Syrian government because there is no international embargo on transfers of arms and related materiel to Syria, nor has the Russian government ordered the company to halt doing business with the Syrian government. For example, Rosoboronexport spokesperson Vyacheslav Davidenko told the New York Times in February, “We understand the situation has become aggravated in Syria. But since there are no international decisions, and there are no sanctions from the U.N. Security Council, and there are no other decisions, our cooperation with Syria — the military-technical cooperation — remains quite active and dynamic.” That comment echoed statements you made to the media in August 2011, on the occasion of the MAKS international airshow, in which you were quoted as saying, “While no sanctions are announced, while there are no orders or directions from the government, we are obliged to fulfill our contractual obligations, which we are now doing.”
However, we must point out that the absence of an international arms embargo does not mean that Rosoboronexport’s supplies to the Syrian government could not give rise to legal liability. To the contrary, the company’s recent and continued provision of military materiel or support to the Syrian government may violate international law. To the extent that the transfers aid or assist Syria in carrying out international crimes, Rosoboronexport and other weapons suppliers who know or should know that crimes are being committed, are potentially liable as accomplices to those crimes and could be held accountable.
We would like to hear Rosoboronexport’s views regarding its responsibilities under international law. Are there circumstances, short of mandatory sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council or an order from the Russian government, in which the company would suspend its supplies to Syria? If so, could you please elaborate?
Implications for Rosoboronexport’s International Business
We also wish to make you aware that, in view of the alarming human rights situation in Syria and the company’s role as a major supplier of weaponry to the Syrian government, we plan to advise governments and companies around the world that they should avoid any new business contracts with Rosoboronexport unless it verifiably ceases providing weapons to Syria. In case the deliveries to Syria continue we are also planning to advise companies and governments to consider suspending any existing contracts with the Rosoboronexport until they are able to conduct a full review of its role in providing support and assistance to the Syrian Army’s current military offensive, and its risk of complicity. In this case we would urge that they evaluate all commercial contracts with Rosoboronexport, including weapons deals, service contracts, the company’s planned appearances in arms trade shows and its advertising in industry publications. We may also call on others who partner with the company through joint military production and licensed production to also reconsider their association with Rosoboronexport.
In order to help clarify these important issues for its clients and partners and the public at large, would Rosoboronexport consider conducting an internal audit of the human rights impact of its weapons supplies and other military cooperation with the Syrian government and making the results available?
To be clear, we feel strongly that third parties, particularly other buyers of weapons and those involved in promotional activities for the industry, should avoid doing business with a potential accomplice to international crimes. The same applies to any other supplier of weapons and related materiel or other forms of military or security assistance to the Syrian government in the current context.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you. Human Rights Watch’s deputy executive director for external relations, Carroll Bogert, and our associate director for Program and the Emergencies division Anna Neistat will be in Moscow from April 10-13. We will be in contact with your office regarding the possibility of arranging a meeting and genuinely hope that you or your colleagues will find it possibly to speak to our representatives next week. We are looking forward to a productive discussion. In case you do not have the time to meet with us, could you kindly provide a written reply to this letter?
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter and we look forward to hearing from you.
Cc: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov