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Syria’s sanctions: who is truly suffering?

Almost a year has passed since the Cesar law was passed. Implementing the law that was meant to punish the Assad regime for their horrible war crimes and horrendous acts have always been a questionable dilemma for many. Moreover, even before the president of the USA signed the act, humanitarians feared its and other sanctions’ impact on the already vulnerable civilians. However, as sanctions continue to strangle the economy in Syria, it is important to ask: who is truly suffering from these sanctions?

Expanding sanctions

Many countries started imposing sanctions on Syria following the eruption of the civil war. In 2011, the main targets of those sanctions were military and security officials and entities, as well as the Central Bank of Syria, public banks, investments in the Syrian oil and gas sector, regime cronies, and pro-regime activists. Moreover, many countries from all over the world contributed to imposing these sanctions, including the EU, USA, Turkey, and many members of the Arab league. Thus, they aimed to undermine the regime’s military and economic foundations without overly harming the war-torn population.

Then, these sanctions further expanded when the United States decided to activate the Caesar act. While sanctions mainly targeted entities inside Syria, in the past, this law authorized the sanctions on any foreign entity with business connections to the regime. The act also limits international financial networks as a means to speed up the regime’s already deteriorating economy.

Hitting ordinary Syrians the hardest

Despite the sanctions being a method to punish the Syrian regime, they appear to be hitting the ordinary Syrian civilians way harder. Even after 10 years of relentless war, the tips are still leaning in Assad’s favor. Many even are considering the regime as the current and ultimate winner of the tragic war. On the other hand, Syrians are still suffering. Data even estimate that 80 percent of the Syrian population is living in poverty.

The sanctions make it very hard for Syrians to have access to oil derivatives such as diesel. Normal civilians are also having high difficulty conducting any form of a financial transaction such as receiving remittances. Furthermore, the law created a “chilling effect” with foreign companies, who are choosing not to invest on Syrian soil even in the non sanctioned sectors.

Thus, the country is failing to cope with these unprecedented times. In January, 940 Syrian pounds used to equal 1 US dollar. However, the pound’s value dropped to 3,500 on 18 June 2020. With the currency’s collapse, the food prices started to soar. According to locals, the price of a simple food basket reached the highest levels recorded since the start of the crisis, at 15.8 times the five-year pre-crisis average. Therefore, amidst a global pandemic and the economic collapse, the ordinary Syrian civilian can’t even afford basic goods and essentials.

A compromise between lifting and keeping Syrian sanctions

Since the start of the pandemic, many are rightfully arguing the humanitarian significance of lifting the sanctions. It is hard not to agree that it is not fair for the elite regime supporters to be lavishing in luxury while normal civilian starves. The sanctions do have negative consequences on the Syrian economy as a whole, and, by extension, on the Syrian people. However, it is essential to note that the matter is much more complicated than mere appearances. Suspending the sanctions would ultimately undermine any efforts to pursue human rights, justice, and accountability for war crimes committed in Syria.

Though the regime is using the global pandemic as an excuse to lift the sanctions, experience shows that they won’t necessarily use humanitarian aid to humanely aid its citizens. There is concrete evidence of the Syrian government diverting and weaponizing international aid in the past, while effectively co-opting the multi-billion dollar humanitarian relief effort from donors. Furthermore, in the case of suspension, there is no guarantee of fair and equitable distribution of humanitarian and medical across the country.

On the other hand, current events prove the necessity of a sanction’s improvement. The alluded humanitarian exemptions must be modified in a way that addresses issues consistently experienced by the Syrian groups, companies, and organizations. Moreover, the lawmakers must listen to the humanitarian groups and comply with any modification they see fit. Instead of giving the Assad regime more power, the sanctions must do their job without strangling the population in the process.


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