Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could face economic woes if the EU santions oil imports from Syria
Credit: HASSAN AMMAR/Stringer

International human rights organizations Human Rights Watch (HRW)  and Avaaz have launched a campaign to pressure the EU to ban imports of Syrian oil, the sake of which they say directly funds the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors.

HRW sent a letter to the EU High Representative and foreign ministers of the 27 member states on August 13 urging the EU to freeze the assets of the Syrian National Oil Company, Syrian National Gas Company and the Central Bank of Syria “until the Syrian government ends gross human rights abuses against its citizens”.

While most of Syria’s oil production is used for its own consumption, 95 percent of oil exported goes to Europe, mainly Germany, Holland, France and Italy, all of whom have denounced the violence in Syria, but have yet to leverage their trade with Syria in order to end the crackdown.

HRW said local human rights activists reported at least 231 anti-government protesters and other civilians have been killed in August so far. The confirmed death toll of civilians is now over 2,000, while several hundred members of the security forces have also been killed since the uprising began six months ago.

“Syria’s authorities are still killing their own people despite multiple efforts by other countries, including former allies, to make them stop,” Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Tuesday “It’s time to show the government that Europeans won’t help to fund its repression.”

While Syrian oil accounts for just around one percent of EU consumption, oil exports are estimated to account for more than 25 per cent of government revenues, and, according to Avaaz, likely much more given that the all important tourism sector has collapsed since the uprising began.

Both HRW and Avaaz said revenue gained by oil exports is helping fund the regime’s crackdown as the government is the major shareholder in the oil and gas sector through its ownership of the Syrian National Gas and Syrian National Oil companies.

According to HRW these two companies have a 50 percent share in every oil and gas project in Syria. In a March 2010 report the International Monetary Fund estimated the government earns approximately €2.1 billion from oil and gas revenues per year.

The EU has already frozen the assets of 35 Syrian officials and four entities in response to Syria’s widespread human rights abuses. The EU imposed similar assets freezes against the Libyan oil sector and central bank in March.

“For months, Syria's brutal President Assad has paid henchmen to wage war on his own people with lucrative European oil revenues,” said Alice Jay, Campaign Director at Avaaz. “Governments across the world have condemned these atrocities, but key European leaders could easily cut off the cash flow that finances this bloodbath.”

“If these countries move to impose immediate oil sanctions, Assad's slaughter funds will dry up. We have no time to lose. Every day dozens of Syrians are killed, tortured or disappeared simply for calling for basic democratic rights. The EU can stop funding the crackdown now,” she said.

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