Council tightens arms embargo
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Monday 23 July 2012
The member states’ foreign ministers have officially agreed to further tighten the EU’s arms embargo against Syria, forcing the bloc’s 27 states to inspect vessels and aircraft headed to Damascus if they are suspected of carrying arms or equipment that can be used for internal repression. They also added 26 individuals and three entities to the list of those targeted by an asset freeze and a visa ban.
Meeting in Brussels, on 23 July, the 27 foreign ministers, together with High Representative Catherine Ashton, decided to strengthen the enforcement of the EU’s arms embargo against Syria that has been in force since May 2011. But events, such as a Russian ship allegedly transporting arms to Syria having transited through Cyprus in January, have demonstrated that the EU and its member states were not prepared – or not willing – to fully apply the embargo. “The EU has warned against a further militarisation of the conflict. Today we are taking practical steps towards limiting the supplies that fuel the fighting” Ashton said.
The new obligation decided by the Council “applies in member states’ seaports and airports as well as in their territorial seas, in accordance with international law”. While items that may not be exported to Syria under EU law must be seized, “aircraft and vessels heading to Syria will have to provide additional pre-arrival an pre-departure information on their cargo”. The goods that could be seized by national authorities include arms, dual-use goods and equipment used for repression, as well as dual-use goods that can be used for the manufacturing of chemical weapons.
The EU’s 17th round of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime also includes a visa ban and asset freezes on 26 individuals – mostly members of the military and intelligence officials – and three entities that support the regime, including Syria’s national airline, Syrian Air, EU diplomats said. According to one diplomat, the ban on Syrian Air will mean the company’s aircraft will no longer be allowed to land in the EU, unless an emergency landing is needed. Flying over the continent will still be tolerated. The total number of persons subject to sanctions is now 155, and 52 entities are now affected by an EU asset freeze.
Ministers also discussed calls for al-Assad to be given refuge status in a third country in exchange for leaving power, a diplomat said. But member states could not agree on such a decision, some demanding that al-Assad be brought to the International Criminal Court, the diplomat added.
While tightening the EU’s arms embargo, ministers approved an exemption to the existing EU asset freeze, thus allowing member states to “authorise payments through banks subject to sanctions it the transfers constitute financial support to Syrian students or researchers in the EU”.