UN says US sanctions on Syria are too broad and hamper reconstruction

Washington says sanctions can push Bashar Al Assad to give Syria's opposition a say in the country's future

A joint Russian-Turkish patrol advances in the countryside of the Syrian town of al-Jawadiyah, in the northeastern Hasakeh province, near the border with Turkey, on December 24, 2020.  / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN

A UN official castigated the US for imposing too broad a range of sanctions on Syria, saying they deter aid groups from rebuilding bombed-out schools, homes and hospitals in the war-ravaged country.

Alena Douhan, a UN expert on unilateral sanctions, urged Washington to abandon its so-called Caesar Act, which is used to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and others accused of war crimes.

Ms Douhan said the Caesar Act also discouraged foreign aid groups from launching reconstruction projects in Syria, wary of tie-ups with the regime and becoming ensnared in Washington’s sanctions regime.

“What particularly alarms me is the way the Caesar Act runs roughshod over human rights, including the Syrian people’s rights to housing, health and an adequate standard of living and development,” Ms Douhan said on Tuesday.

“The US government must not put obstacles in the way of rebuilding hospitals because a lack of medical care threatens the entire population’s very right to life.”

The US began imposing Caesar Act sanctions in June, aiming to choke off revenue for Mr Al Assad’s government in an attempt to force it back to UN-led negotiations and broker an end to the country’s decade-long war.

Caesar Act travel restrictions and asset freezes can be used against anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality. The law also targets those dealing with Iran and Russia, Mr Al Assad's key foreign backers.

This month, the US slapped more sanctions on Syria’s first lady, Asma Al Assad, her UK-based family and several Syrian shipping, construction, plastic and freight companies. More than 110 individuals and entities are affected.

"When it announced the first sanctions under the Caesar Act in June 2020, the US said it did not intend for them to harm the Syrian population," said Ms Douhan, a UN special rapporteur whose opinions are not legally binding.

“Yet enforcement of the act may worsen the existing humanitarian crisis, depriving the Syrian people of the chance to rebuild their basic infrastructure.”

The act was named after the code name for an Assad regime defector who fled the country and turned over tens of thousands of photographs of atrocities against civilians by the Syrian government.

Millions of people have left Syria and millions more have fled their homes since a crackdown by the government on protesters in 2011 led to a civil war that has dragged in Russia, Iran, Turkey, the US and others.

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