EU heaps new sanctions on Syria

The Council of the European Union is seeking to tighten a financial noose around the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

Virginia Mayo/AP
British Foreign Minister William Hague waits for the start of a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 27. EU foreign ministers are trying to increase the pressure on Syria's regime to stop its violent crackdown on opponents.
Virginia Mayo/AP
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (l.) speaks with Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 27.

The European Union announced stepped-up sanctions against the Syrian regime today that, to my eyes, looks like a preliminary step to more serious sanctions on Bashar al-Assad and those around him.

In a statement, Catherine Ashton, the EU's representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said "Today's decisions will put further pressure on those who are responsible for the ruthless campaign of repression in Syria. The measures target the regime and its ability to conduct the appalling violence against civilians. As long as the repression continues, the EU will keep imposing sanctions."

The EU also explained that the "Syrian regime's continued use of violence against civilians" prompted the new measures. One wonders if war crimes indictments are not far off. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and members of his circle were hit with International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments far sooner during that country's uprising, and if only half of the reports coming out of Syria are to be believed, Mr. Assad long ago passed Qaddafi's triggering threshold.

Of course, such decisions are political, and that's probably why a formal war crimes measure hasn't happened till now. But it sure looks like the window for "dialogue" that has been left open is down to just about a sliver.

The new EU sanctions call for "trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank" to be prohibited within the EU.  "Cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers will not have access to EU airports, with the exception of mixed passenger and cargo flights. The Council also froze the assets of the Syrian central bank within the EU, while ensuring that legitimate trade can continue under strict conditions. Finally, the Council subjected seven ministers of the Syrian government, who are associated with the human rights violations, to an asset freeze and a visa ban."

Clearly, the killing of Marie Colvin of the UK's Sunday Times and French photographer Remi Ochlik in Homs last week has galvanized the latest step (as has the evidence of ongoing killings of Syrian civilians. Two EU citizens and reporters were wounded in the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik, and efforts to evacuate them in recent days have been confounded.

"The EU strongly condemns the illegal attacks against medical staff and installations carrying the symbols of the Red Crescent. The Syrian authorities must immediately cease all violence. They must also allow full and unimpeded access of relief personnel from humanitarian organisations for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid to people in need of assistance," the EU council's statement says.

The full statement on the new sanctions is here.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to