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Senate Resolution 428 -- Condemning the Government of Syria for Crimes Against Humanity, and for Other Purposes

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I rise to submit a resolution condemning the Government of Syria for crimes against humanity. I am pleased to be joined by Senators GRAHAM, KLOBUCHAR, KIRK, CARDIN, COATS, COLLINS, and MCCAIN in submitting this resolution.

I am very proud we have strong bipartisan support and I thank, in particular, Senator Graham for his leadership, along with Senator McCain, who repeatedly and consistently in this area of human rights and liberties have stood for basic American principles of democracy and freedom. I had the great opportunity to visit a number of the Middle Eastern countries with them, and my strong support for this kind of resolution rises from the firsthand views we were able to have of the results of freedom fighters in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and the impact on the future of their country and being on the right side of history, as the United States was there. Those people showed their gratitude and welcomed us to their countries.

I am grateful to Senators MCCAIN and GRAHAM for giving me that opportunity, along with Senators Sessions and Hoeven, who accompanied us, for their leadership.

Syrian crimes against humanity include acts such as murder, torture and unlawful punishment and imprisonment when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on civilian populations.

Since peaceful protests began last year, the Syrian regime has brutalized and savaged its own people, leaving thousands dead as it commits horrific crimes against humanity, including the abduction and torture of children.

This resolution tells the Syrian people they are not alone, that the American people are with them as they fight for freedom and basic democratic rights; the people of the world are watching.

On November 23, 2011, the U.N.-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic expressed grave concern that ``crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape or other forms of sexual violence ..... imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances of persons and other inhumane acts ..... have occurred in different locations in Syria since March 2011.''

The Commission also found that ``the Syrian Arab Republic bears responsibility for these crimes and violations.''

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman testified before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate that ``large numbers of Syrians are living every day under siege, deprived of basic necessities including food, clean water and medical supplies, and women and children are wounded and dying for lack of treatment.''

General Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command, for whom I have the strongest and deepest respect, explained before the Senate Armed Services Committee ``the Syrian military continues to ruthlessly use lethal force with impunity against the Syrian people.''

In this body, we have not remained silent in the face of this humanitarian disaster, approving on February 17, 2012, S. Res. 379, condemning violence by the Government of Syria against the Syrian people. We have also approved S. Res. 391, which I cosponsored, condemning violence by the Government of Syria against journalists and expressing the sense of the Senate on freedom of the press in Syria.

The world should be inspired by the continuing courage and determination of Syrian protesters standing and speaking, despite the Syrian military gunning down and bombing their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods.

I know our Nation is at war and rightly wary of intervention abroad. But military intervention is not our only option, not the only means to summon support or step forward in solidarity with the freedom fighters in Syria, nor is military intervention alone sufficient to call forth the world's conscience. Even without military action, we need not abdicate the democratic rights and principles that underlie and underpin our own Nation's constitutional ethos.

One powerful and profound step this body can take is to bear witness to the atrocities occurring in Syria. More than 9,000 people have died in Syria since these protests began. As Elie Wiesel has said, ``For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.''

The Syrian thugs who detain and torture children must know the United States bears witness to their crimes. We should say to President Assad that the world is watching and witnessing as he uses snipers to target civilians, indiscriminately shelling homes and businesses, and torturing protesters who dare to speak of change.

This resolution calls on President Obama to bear witness by using his existing authority. America can and must bear witness by taking and preserving evidence of actions and incidents in Syria that constitute crimes against humanity. America must bear witness by asking the President's newly created Atrocities Prevention Board to consider crimes against humanity occurring in Syria.

These atrocities epitomize the crimes this prevention board must address. I commend President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton for their work at the U.N. and with our allies to assist the Syrian people. We should make our own findings about what has occurred in Syria concerning the crimes against humanity. We cannot avoid this obligation simply because the result may present difficult choices.

As Martin Luther King would often remind us, ``The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.''

If we bear witness today, justice will come closer for the Syrian people. President Assad and the Government of Syria, its leaders and senior officials who are responsible for crimes against humanity, will be brought to account and justice for their crimes.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.

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