Even before the terrible damage caused by earthquake in Syria and Turkey, there was a strong case for ending sanctions against Syria as the existing sanctions imposed by the USA and its close allies, continuing for several years, had already accentuated the humanitarian crisis greatly in Syria. Now in the post-earthquake situation, it would be nothing short of a crime against humanity if these sanctions against the Syrian people continue.
Of course the sanctions are imposed in the name of the Assad regime which is the target of many accusations by the sanction imposers, but the real consequences have to be borne by the people in the form of denial of food, denial of life-saving medical treatment and other essential needs in a country where over 80% of people are suffering from denial of some basic needs.
As far as the many accusations against the Assad regime are concerned, without even trying to come to the defense of this regime, it can be stated that there are more than one sides of this narrative and what is stated by the USA and its allies cannot be accepted without listening to the other side of the more complex story. What concerns us here more directly is that regardless of the details of these narratives, there is no case at all for the continuation of the sanctions which are only adding to the immense distress of the people of a war-ravaged country. This was very true even before the earthquake and this is even more true now.
Last year (2022) UN special rapporteur Alena Douhan had stated in a report that sanctions against Syria were resulting in denying food, medicines, medical equipment and essential spare parts for infra-structure in a country in which nearly 90% of the people were living in poverty, where vast numbers suffered from food insecurity and where a very substantial part of infra-structure had been destroyed. In such a situation, the sanctions were creating suffocation, the report said, and their continuation amounted to a crime against humanity.
Here it may be pointed out that according to some estimates the number of people , particularly children, who died from the impact of sanctions in Iraq was even higher than the number of people who died in direct warfare, even though the number of people who died from very highly destructive weapons here was also very high. We must keep in mind this highly distressing but entirely avoidable tragedy while considering the issue of Syrian sanctions.
The highly destructive nature of sanctions should be recognized. While there is an urgent need for ending all sanctions in Syria, there is also a wider need for the United Nations to issue an open declaration that in any part of world struck by a natural calamity, any sanctions which exist will cease to be operative and there will be no restrictions on sending relief supplies and equipment.
While both Turkey and Syria have suffered heavily in earthquake damage, Turkey is in a much better position to take care of the needs of its people compared to Syria. In such a situation, it will be very improper for international relief and rescue teams to restrict themselves to quake affected areas in Turkey while those across the border in Syria may be in greater need of their help.
Hence keeping in view all these factors there should be a strong international campaign for ending the sanctions regime against Syria. In fact there is a wider strong case for ending highly unjust sanctions against several other countries as well.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign for Saving Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Earth without Borders, Protecting Earth for Children, and Planet in Peril.