Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2014

Enablers of the Syrian Conflict

February 2013

Human Rights First


The Syrian conflict is a human rights catastrophe. Over the past two years, nearly 70,000 people have died, mostly civilians, including more than 3,700 children, and nearly one million refugees have fled the country. Although both sides of the conflict are responsible for atrocities, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the vast majority. The regime’s security forces have used indiscriminate bombings, intentional mass killings, rape, and torture to kill and brutalize civilians. There is no end in sight.

President Obama has made stopping mass atrocities a “core national security interest” of the United States, which manifestly applies to Syria. As neighboring countries struggle to absorb the nearly one million refugees and regional powers become more involved in the conflict, the possibility of wider violence and instability looms.

Yet U.S. efforts to slow or stop the crisis—diplomacy and sanctions against the regime, primarily—have had little effect. Amid calls to arm the rebels, we urge the United States to approach the conflict from the other end: to choke off the flow of arms, resources, and money to Assad. While no single strategy could resolve this crisis, this low-risk, nonviolent one could help stem the bloodshed and put pressure on Assad to stop the bloodshed.

The Syrian regime’s mass atrocities—like all mass atrocities—are complex, organized crimes requiring the support of third party “enablers.” This report provides both a unique overview of Assad’s enablers and a roadmap the U.S. government can follow to crack down on them.