During the past nine years of conflict in Syria the world has been a spectator to the mass human rights violations being committed with appalling frequency; from allegations of chemical attacks, to the use of indiscriminate military tactics, such as the use of barrel bombs, to the deliberate targeting of civilians, schools and medical staff, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
More than half a million Syrians have been killed, over a million have been severely injured, tens of thousands have been imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in secret prisons. In addition, over 12 million people have been displaced, either internally, or externally, becoming the largest refugee population in other countries. A significant proportion of those fleeing were forced due to the brutal conduct of the Syrian State Security Forces and have not been able to return for the very same reasons that forced them to leave.
Extremist groups have devastated parts of Syria, and the so-called Islamic State, Da’esh, have committed equal barbaric crimes in large areas of Syria and Iraq.
Trapped between a brutal Regime and a barbaric collection of extremists – Syrians have been abandoned by the world with no justice, no accountability and no end to entrenched impunity.
It is a fear felt across the globe that the Syrian conflict, that started as a peaceful revolution striving for democratic freedom and dignity, has descended into the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history with no end in sight.
The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which enters into force today, could change that.
Guernica 37 welcomes the designations made today by the United Stated Department of State and the United States Department of Treasury on Syrian individuals and entities complicit in human rights abuses and war crimes.
These designations were made possible by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act passed earlier this year, named after the brave individual who smuggled tens of thousands of photographs of victims who died from torture in regime prisons. Guernica 37 is humbled to have had the opportunity to work on the Caesar investigations alongside its Syrian partners including advancing a torture and crimes against humanity case before Spanish courts for the torture of a Syrian man based on the evidence provided by Caesar and to have met and interviewed Caesar prior to releasing a Torture Investigation Report in 2014.
It is quite clear that the entity responsible for these sanctions being imposed on Syria is the Syrian Regime. The Caesar Act has clear provisions as to how these sanctions will not be implemented if the regime respects human rights, releases detainees, and engages in a political process.
This last round of sanctions designated individual and entities, including the head of the Syrian regime Bashar Al-Assad, but also notably his wife Asma, a British citizen, who became a growing economic figure in the country with increased influence. It is further important that an entire division of the Syrian Army, the Fourth Division, was designated in the sanctions list. This division, led by Maher al-Assad, has become infamous during the conflict not only for well-documented human rights abuses, but also the economic gains it has sought to acquire. It is welcomed that the list has included business persons and companies who are linked to the human rights abuses in Syria, particularly those who contributed to the expropriation of civilian properties.
The United States now needs to expand this list over the coming months, targeting those responsible for serious violations of international law. Equally, it needs to do so with diligence to minimize the impact on civilians.
Whilst these targeted sanctions are certainly a step towards accountability in Syria and fighting impunity, they should remain only as interim measures and used as a policy tool, rather than a policy. There is no alternative to the constitutional transfer of power through a democratic process, the building and strengthening justice institutions and the implementation of a full transitional justice process in Syria that aims to hold those persons accountable for the atrocities committed over a nine-year period and puts truth, justice and accountability at the forefront of any political transition of power. Guernica 37 will continue to work directly with its Syrian partners to make sure that this takes place.