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Lift ‘suffocating’ unilateral sanctions against Syrians, urges UN human rights expert

A young girl living in an informal settlement in Raqqa city, northeast Syria.
© UNICEF/Delil Souleiman
A young girl living in an informal settlement in Raqqa city, northeast Syria.

Lift ‘suffocating’ unilateral sanctions against Syrians, urges UN human rights expert

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A UN-appointed independent human rights expert on Thursday, urged States to lift unilateral sanctions against Syria, warning that they are perpetuating and exacerbating the destruction and trauma suffered by ordinary citizens since the brutal war began there in 2011. 

“I am struck by the pervasiveness of the human rights and humanitarian impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria, and the total economic and financial isolation of a country whose people are struggling to rebuild a life with dignity”, said Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

Crippling sanctions

In a statement following her 12-day visit to the country, she presented detailed information on the catastrophic effects that sanctions are having on all aspects of life.

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Currently, 90 per cent of Syria’s population is living below the poverty line, she said, pointing to their limited access to food, water, electricity, shelter, cooking and heating fuel, transportation, and healthcare.

Moreover, growing economic hardship threatens to trigger a massive brain-drain in the country.

“With more than half of the vital infrastructure either completely destroyed or severely damaged, the imposition of unilateral sanctions on key economic sectors, including oil, gas, electricity, trade, construction and engineering have quashed national income, and undermine efforts towards economic recovery and reconstruction”, said Ms. Douhan.

Human rights violations

At the same time, blocking bank payments and refusing deliveries by foreign producers, coupled with sanctions-induced limited foreign currency reserves, have caused serious shortages in medicines and specialized medical equipment, particularly to treat chronic and rare diseases. 

And due to the unavailability of equipment and spare parts, Ms. Douhan warned that the rehabilitation and development of water distribution networks for drinking, and irrigation, has stalled, with serious implications for public health and food security.

“In the current dramatic and still-deteriorating humanitarian situation as 12 million Syrians grapple with food insecurity, I urge the immediate lifting of all unilateral sanctions that severely harm human rights and prevent any efforts for early recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction”, she said.

“No reference to good objectives of unilateral sanctions justifies the violation of fundamental human rights. The international community has an obligation of solidarity and assistance to the Syrian people”.

Other repercussions

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the negative effects of sanctions on international cooperation in science, arts, sports, national cultural heritage and artifacts preservation.

Additionally, she drew attention to their harmful impact on access to new technologies, online information platforms, crime fighting capacity and security across the region, as well as the issue of frozen foreign assets of Syrian financial institutions and other entities.

“I urge the international community and the sanctioning States in particular, to pay heed to the devastating effects of sanctions and to take prompt and concrete steps to address over-compliance by businesses and banks in accordance with international human right law”, said the UN expert.

Quoting one view she had heard expressed many times, she said: “I saw much suffering, but now I see the hope die”.

Wide-ranging visit

During her visit, the UN expert met representatives from government institutions, non-governmental organizations, humanitarian actors, businesses, faith-based organizations and the diplomatic community.

In addition to the capital Damascus, she visited Homs city, rural Homs, and rural Damascus.

Ms. Douhan will present a report to the Human Rights Council next September.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.