The Syrian Arab Republic is a Muslim country located in Western Asia. Syria has always been a conflict-borne state surrounded by controversies all around. Whether it bears 30 years of dictatorship, the forceful occupation of Lebanon, or its integral Civil War, the country has always been a center of hegemonic activities funded and sponsored by foreign invaders, the Government, and opposition factions. Syria is currently being ruled by Bashar Al Assad, who took the reign from his father, Hafez Al Asad, in 2000. Bashar Al Assad, because of his violent crackdown on Arab Spring protestors, use of chemical weapons in Ghout, and corruption allegations, does not enjoy good relations with the US and European Union, leading to political unrest within the country. Financial transactions by the main stakeholders, due to which 90% country is residing below the poverty line. The recent earthquake has further worsened the already devastating situation.
- The Bashar Al Assad regime (63.38%) Damascus, the country’s capital, all governorate capitals, and important cities of Aleppo, Homs, and Hama.
- The opposition factions (10.98%) are mainly in the northwest and include the Idlib Governorate, the Northern part of Hama and Latakia, and the W.estern Aleppo Governorate.
- The Syrian Democratic Forces (25.64%), most of the territory which earlier was in ISIL control, including Raqqa and Hasaka Governorates and some portions of Government controlled areas.
Sanctions on Syria
Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US implemented strict sanctions against Syria because of its illicit involvement in terror funding and its support, Human rights violations, illegal enhancing infiltration activities into Lebanon, Violating the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, and disrupting US effort to normalize the situation in Iraq.
Gist of Sanctions. The following are the primary sanctions that have been imposed by the US on Syria:
- Blocks properties and interests on it owned by the Government of Syria or its officials in the US
- Prohibits dealing with Syrian Officials to any US Citizen residing within or outside the US.
- Prevents new investments or transactions in Syria by US citizens.
- Prevents US citizens from exporting, re-export or selling anything to Syria
- Prohibits the import of Syrian petroleum products into the US
- This prevents US citizens from financing and facilitating any Syrian.
Exemption from Sanctions
A devastating earthquake (magnitude 7.8) hit Syria and Turkey on 6 Feb 2023. The aftermaths of this catastrophic earthquake demanded a humanitarian response from all global stakeholders worldwide on an emergent basis, as the disaster has led to the death of 22000 people, countless injured, and an infinite number of people strangled within the debris, affecting 11 Million people around the country. Ever since the natural calamity hit the country, many around the world, including UN workers, NGOs, and even the Syrian Government, have pleaded in front of the United States to lift all the sanctions considering the devastating situation in Syria as these financial bindings are severely hindering the smooth flow of aid to affected individual and are hampering relief operations. Regarding humanitarian grounds, the US has lifted all the sanctions on transactions directed at earthquake affectees and nonprofitable causes for 180 days. Moreover, US Agency for International Development announced $85 Million in humanitarian aid for Syria. But was it the case, and has this uplift of sanction solved the problem? Maybe for the Government controlled areas, but what about the rest?
Exemptions from Sanction (Licenses)
As per the US department of treasury and OFAC sanction clauses, certain forms of undertakings and communications which otherwise would be forbidden concerning Syria but have been sanctioned by general licenses, which include:
• The exportation and reexportation of things to Syria by the US as per the recommendation of the US department of commerce
• Non-commercial, personal transactions to or from Syria or on behalf of Syrians, as long as the transfer is not made by, to, or through the Syrian Government or any other person whose property and property interests are blocked. Any Transaction which may affect US persons residing in Syria.
• The transfer and re-export of facilities or commodities supporting public-spirited and other not-for-profit happenings in Syria by the US.
• Transactions related to the security of literary property.
As per the fourth clause, any transaction related to export or re-export in aid of humanitarian crisis is exempted from sanctions, then why relaxation in these sanctions was so essential, and why Bashar Al Assad wants the flow of support to be routed through his Government and not through Turkish borders. Let’s see some of the effects it would have:
- Normalization of tensed transaction policies which otherwise would have been near to impossible.
- The distribution and flow of goods will be controlled centrally by Government. Hence focusing more on Government administered areas.
- Blocked bank payments would be available with the Syrian Government, which would be helpful in the purchase of medicines and other life-saving tools.
- Revitalization of frozen/blocked assets of the Syrian Government and officials.
- Unblocking of bank payments.
- Delivery of goods by foreign producers, payments of which have already been made.
- Permission to use frozen foreign currency reserves.
Current Situation (Foreign Aid)
Only Syrian government supporters, including Russia and China, are currently delivering aid in earthquake effected areas through Bashar Al Assad Government, whereas most of the western powers assisting in the flood-affected Syrian segment are through Turkish Borders and its surroundings. Despite repeated requests by Bashar Al Assad and his ally Vladimir Putin US till now has decided to avoid any diplomatic correspondence with Bashar Al Assad’s regime and has continued to supply aid through Turkish Border, which is offensively being opposed by the Syrian Foreign Office.
Diplomatic relations all over the world dictate the policies of any nation. Specifically for third-world countries like Syria though how resilient a nation may be, support from World powers can make you an essential player in the great game. On the contrary, unilateral diplomatic policies can be disastrous, specifically in dealing with untoward and unplanned calamities. Although the crisis brought by the earthquake is far beyond what any diplomatic aid could recover still, nothing is better than something. Let’s hope and pray for well-being of all the affectees.
About Author: This article is written by Shaheera Khalid having 3 years of writing experience.