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UN official urges US to lift Syria sanctions 

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus, Syria on 11 February 2016 [JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images]
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus, Syria on 11 February 2016 [JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images]

A senior UN official has expressed concern over the US sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, saying that they obstruct efforts to rebuild the country's infrastructure and worsen the humanitarian crisis.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, Alena Douhan, spoke of America's Caesar Act yesterday, and condemned the most wide-ranging and effective set of sanctions on the regime imposed by the US in June this year.

"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," explained Douhan. "Enforcement of the Act may worsen the existing humanitarian crisis, depriving the Syrian people of the chance to rebuild their basic infrastructure."

Douhan pointed out that what particularly alarms her is the way that the Caesar Act runs roughshod over human rights. "This includes the Syrian people's rights to housing, health and an adequate standard of living and development." She urged the US government not to put obstacles in the way of the rebuilding of hospitals because the lack of medical care threatens the entire population's very right to life.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act was named after the former Syrian military photographer codenamed "Caesar" who escaped in 2013 and smuggled over 50,000 photographs of Syrians tortured to death by the regime. After years of lobbying and campaigning, the legislation was finally passed by the US Senate in December 2019 and took effect in June this year.

The US Caesar sanctions are a punishment not a solution for Syria

The economic sanctions imposed by the Act target 39 entities within and affiliated with the regime, including Assad and his British wife Asma. They also threaten to target any country or company which does business with the regime.

The concern of Douhan and other like-minded figures in the UN is that the sanctions could target anyone helping in the reconstruction of Syria. This could include employees of foreign companies and humanitarian organisations involved in the rebuilding process. She insists that the sanctions also make it difficult to access vital humanitarian aid imports, especially as the Central Bank of Syria is among the entities targeted in a further raft of sanctions imposed last week.

Supporters of the Caesar Act and other sanctions, however, maintain that they are necessary due to the regime's continued violation of human rights. These include mass torture in its vast prison network, the rampant corruption within the Syrian economic and political class, and the targeting of civilians and their infrastructure by the regime and its Russian ally during the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Douhan's condemnation of the sanctions is seen by many as unsurprising, due to the fact that she hails from Belarus which cooperates with the Assad regime and has announced its readiness to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria. Back in October, Douhan also criticised the US sanctions on Iran, another Assad ally.

The US Caesar Act is four years too late

International OrganisationsMiddle EastNewsSyriaUN
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