In two letters, politicians, senior clergy and heads of aid organisations from around the world urged US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to end their economic sanctions on Syria.
Citing an appeal at the end of December from the UN Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercieve Measures, Prof. Alena Douhan, they called on Biden and Johnson to end “the complex web of economic sanctions that severely harm the people of Syria” and “to alleviate a humanitarian crisis that threatens to trigger a new wave of instability in the Middle East”.
The letter states that Douhan’s “findings reflect a growing consensus in the humanitarian aid and human rights communities that this form of collective punishment of the civilian population is driving Syria into an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”
The sanctions imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, signed into law by President Trump in December 2019, were intended to make the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies accountable for the war crimes in the region. Under the act, the US could freeze the assets of parties that “support or engage in a significant transaction” with the Assad government. However, Douhan noted that in practice, the sanction “could target any foreigner helping in reconstruction of the devastated country, and even employees of foreign companies and humanitarian operators helping rebuild Syria.”
“When it announced the first sanctions under the Caesar Act in June 2020, the United States said it did not intend for them to harm the Syrian population,” she said.
“Yet enforcement of the Act may worsen the existing humanitarian crisis, depriving the Syrian people of the chance to rebuild their basic infrastructure.”
In light of these revelations, the letters called on Biden and Johnson to end the crisis by implementing the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. The undersigned of the letters concluded that the US and UK could pursue their national interests without the need to “collectively punish the people of Syria”.
In an addendum in the letter to Prime Minister Johnson, the leaders further called on him to:
1) Endors[e] the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendation;
2) Terminat[e] the UK’s own economic-sector sanctions against the Syrian people;
3) Protect UK citizens and institutions from the coercion of the United States’ extraterritorial and extrajudicial secondary sanctions.