Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2014

Disrupting Atrocity Enablers

July 2012

Human Rights First


In its brutal crackdown on civilians, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria has committed mass atrocities. These crimes are not only a human rights catastrophe but also, as the Obama Administration says, a threat to U.S. national security. Yet American diplomatic efforts have failed to curb the violence.

This case study offers the United States government a valuable tool that it could and should use to try to save lives in Syria and protect its own national security interests. Historically, those seeking to stop the worst human rights abuses have focused on the perpetrators. But mass atrocities are not mere spasms of violence; they are organized crimes requiring infrastructure, planning, and resources. Perpetrators therefore depend on support from third parties—what we call “enablers.”