EU Slaps Sanctions on Syrian First Lady

Posted March 23rd, 2012 at 8:50 am (UTC-5)
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The European Union imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's British-born wife and several other members of his family and administration Friday.

The moves came as the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva toughened its stance on Syria with a sharp condemnation of the “escalating violence.” The council called for an extension of a probe into the Syrian government's alleged abuses in the past year of unrest.

The body voted 41 to three in favor of an EU-sponsored resolution backed by the United States and Arab countries. China, Russia and Cuba voted against the measure.

The EU curbs on Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, the president's mother and sister, as well as eight government officials, will go into effect Saturday.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the European body is greatly concerned over the Syrian crisis and that sanctions are an important tool in dealing with the situation.

“I never underestimate that sanctions make a significant difference because they do two things, one is they target individuals' entities in ways that prevent them from carrying on business as usual. And secondly they make the strong political statement about how the international community feels about what's going on.”

The sanctions come amid reports of leaked emails saying Mrs. Assad went on lavish shopping sprees as Syria descended into violence. British officials say the EU travel ban cannot stop the Syrian first lady from traveling to Britain, if she has retained her citizenship.

Opposition activists, meantime, reported a continuing government crackdown on dissent.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA three Syrian army defectors were killed during heavy fighting in Azaz, near the border with Turkey. It also said Syrian forces continued their assault on the central city of Homs – the site of a highly publicized siege earlier in the year.

Amnesty International called on UN special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan to include the monitoring of human rights abuses in his six-point peace plan backed by the UN Security Council earlier this week. The London-based human rights group says its “essential” to document the crimes in order to hold those responsible accountable in the future.

Mr. Annan's spokesperson says the former U.N. chief plans to travel to Moscow and Beijing later this week for crisis talks on the issue. He said Mr. Annan is still studying the Syrian response to his proposal, after returning from three days of intensive talks in Damascus.

The United Nations says at least 8,000 people have been killed in the Assad government's violent crackdown on the revolt, which began with peaceful protests and became increasingly militarized as army defectors attacked pro-Assad troops who assaulted civilians.