MEPEI calls on the international community for lifting unilateral sanctions on Syria to facilitate humanitarian aid and to start rebuilding the Syrian economy.

Due to the devastating earthquake that hit Syria on the 6th of February 2023, United States (US) and European Union (EU) relaxed their unilateral sanctions on Syria. However, in order to save the Syrian people from extreme poverty, economic hardship and emigration.

The unilateral sanctions have a devastating effect on nearly all categories of human rights including economic, social and cultural rights, the rights to health, to food, to adequate housing, to an adequate standard of living, to clean water and sanitation, to a favorable environment, to access the Internet and to life.

Conditions in Syria have steadily worsened, as unilateral sanctions – along with the destructive effects of twelve years of conflict, the economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the devastating earthquake that struck Northern Syria on 6 February 2023 – have fueled an economic collapse. It has left more than 90% of the population living in poverty and have caused an unbearable level of suffering for all the people in the country.

The imposed comprehensive unilateral sanctions, leading to a protracted slowdown in economic activity with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracting by more than 90%, with growing inflation and frequent devaluations of the national currency. The crisis is exacerbated by the country’s financial isolation, with the sanctions’ designation of the Central Bank and all public financial institutions, thus completely blocking transactions for imports and exports, including of food, medicine, spare parts, raw materials, and items necessary for the country’s needs and economic recovery, and restraining foreign currency inflows.

The unilateral sanctions have also prevented the government from having resources to restore and maintain essential infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, housing, roads, civil aviation, electricity and water supply and many others. They hinder the provision of critical services including water, electricity, heating, transportation, shelter and education, the repatriation of Syrian refugees and internally displace persons, and vaccinations, resulting in reduced social support programs, more pollution and the spontaneous cutting of trees for heating. They also prevent the implementation of academic, cultural and environmental projects and the maintenance and restoration of the tangible and non-tangible heritage of the Syrian people, thus having a devastating effect overall population and on the functioning of civil society. The number of Syrian schools which closed down reached 8.733, a percentage of 48% from the total of Syrian schools, out of which 1.659 being completely destroyed, 457 partially damaged and out of order, and 32 used as shelters during the crisis. There is also a lack of 95% of educational resources, as a result of sanctions, which has greatly affected the quality of the educational process, forced to be limited to oral teaching and learning, without other academic or written sources. The percentage of teachers is also diminished. On top of that, 74% of primary schools and 20% of high schools do not have access to drinking water sources. Also, as a consequence of the frequent and sometimes almost continuous electricity shortages, there is no lighting in the school halls and internet access for e-learning, which adds up to the other difficulties, especially during winter, on top of the lack of any heating system, caused by the acute absence of fuel for heating.

Syria’s crude oil and oil derivatives production is less than 10% of pre-2010 levels, with the main oil fields located outside government-controlled areas. As oil products are under sanctions, Syria cannot import them, resulting in shortages for heating, transport, industry, and healthcare system.

Because of the water and energy/fuel shortages, financial and trade restrictions, as well as inflation, the quantity of agricultural inputs has decreased, causing crop production to drop. Syria is facing a serious food crisis. According to the World Food Programme, 12 million Syrians – more than half of the population – are grappling with food insecurity – 51% more than in 2019 – and 2.4 million are severely food insecure.

Overall, the sanctions aggravated the safety and stability issues related to the food procurement, which resulted in many parents withdrawing their children from schools, and, instead, forcing them to become part of the labor force to ensure supplementary revenues. In 2022, the absenteeism rate reached 31,18%. In addition, the child marriage rate increased, as a result of the economic precarity and of small revenues, which determined parents to marry their daughters at younger ages.

The unilateral sanctions affect the capabilities of Syria’s healthcare system. Although medicines and medical devices are technically not subject to sanctions, the vagueness and complexity of the licensing processes, the persistent fear among producers and suppliers, the restrictions in the processing of payments, and the obstacles to shipping these goods have made them inaccessible to the Syrian public. Pharmaceutical companies withdrew their concessions publicly and in writing, by them or through the local concessionaire company. Some of the pharmaceutical companies did not withdraw their concessions publicly or in writing, but at the same time the local companies were unable to renew their concessions either because of unwillingness or because they were unable to bring renewal documents due to the companies’ refusal to issue documents for Syria for fear of sanctions, and these Items are not available in the market for importing companies.

The death rate resulting from some diseases and the deterioration of the health situation was affected in the light of the economic sanctions and the associated lack of diagnostic and therapeutic equipment and the necessary medicines, especially in specific diseases such as cancers, dialysis, and others. The causes of deaths reported in Syria in 2020 included diseases of the circulatory system (40.6%), external causes of injuries and poisonings (9.7%), tumors (8.9%), respiratory diseases (7.8%), in addition to other conditions related to childbirth (5.2%), etc.

Problems arising from the deteriorating economic situation, the growing illiteracy among internally displaced persons due to the conflict, poverty, food insecurity and limited access to health services all contribute to rising criminality, smuggling, engagement in terrorist activities, creating civil and transboundary insecurity, and growing migration. The enormous migration of Syrians (reported to reach 6.8 million) because of the poverty and despair amid the shortages mentioned above substantially affects the human rights of people of neighboring countries that must cope with the massive refugee flows while they are vulnerable to critical economic situations of their own. Thus, the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to constitute a threat to peace and security in the region.

Maintaining unilateral sanctions amid the current catastrophic and still-deteriorating situation in Syria may amount to crimes against humanity against all Syrian people.

The unilateral sanctions against Syria do not conform to a broad number of international legal norms, are introduced to apply pressure on the state, thus, cannot be justified as countermeasures under the law of international responsibility, and therefore can be qualified as unilateral coercive measures. In addition, there is no reference to positive objectives or unintended negative humanitarian consequences of unilateral sanctions. We witness the violation of fundamental human rights or of international obligations of states to Syria and the Syrian people.

We urge the immediate lifting of all sanctions that prevent early recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction of critical infrastructure and services, to give hope to the Syrian people and establish conditions for the return of refugees. The lifting of the unilateral sanctions will contribute decisively to the creation of a stable and safe environment in the region.

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