(Photo credit: Delil Souleiman/ AFP)
On 10 November, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Elena Dohan, called on the US and other countries to immediately lift sanctions against Syria, which she said have had a dire impact on the humanitarian situation that the country faces.
In 2019, the US Congress passed the Caesar Act, which, on top of already existing sanctions, strictly prohibited states, companies, and individuals from doing business with the Syrian government.
“I was shocked to witness the massive and widespread impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria,” Dohan said, adding that sanctions exacerbate the “economic and financial isolation of a country whose people are struggling to rebuild a dignified life after a decade of war.”
“90 percent of the Syrian population currently lives below the poverty line, with limited access to food, water, electricity, shelter, cooking fuel, heating, transportation, and health care,” she added.
Dohan stressed that the limitations on Syria’s foreign reserves, which are a direct result of sanctions, have created severe shortages in medicines and medical equipment, making it difficult to combat chronic illnesses, such as Cholera, which currently poses a health threat to both Lebanon and Syria.
Significant cuts in international aid have also impacted the country, resulting in a severe health crisis in the northwest of Syria.
The UN Rapporteur also emphasized the threat that sanctions pose on food security, as rights groups have already sounded the alarm over a food crisis plaguing West Asia. Over 12 million Syrians are currently suffering from food shortages, she warned, citing World Food Program (WFP) figures.
Although sanctions have been imposed on Syria since 2011, a 2022 report by BMJ Global Health states that since the implementation of the Caesar Act, US sanctions against Syria have taken a turn for the worse, particularly targeting civilian areas which are held by Damascus.
“A politicized agenda for regime change over the past decade has overlooked the right to food of Syrian civilians, in particular those in areas under the control of the government of Syria (70 percent of land),” the report states.
“Unilateral coercive measures (UCMs) are blunt instruments repeatedly condemned by the UN Human Rights Council as [illegal] man-made tools of hunger and deprivation, increasingly recognized as a failed strategy,” it adds.
According to the report, basic food costs in Syria are now “29 times higher than pre-crisis averages.” It also states that unilateral coercive measures devastated Syria’s ability to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN official asserted that these measures constitute a “violation of basic human rights,” which “cannot be justified by talking about the good intentions and goals of unilateral sanctions.”
“The international community must commit to solidarity and provide assistance to the Syrian people,” she said.