US slaps Caesar Act sanctions on Syria starting today
- The Act prohibits entities, governments and individuals from conducting business with the Assad regime under the threat of arrest, travel bans and capital freeze.
The first measures under the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act, or Caesar Act for short, were revealed on Wednesday, with more to be released over the course of the summer. The Caesar Act is a group of stringent new sanctions on Syria by the United States, imposed by existing ones, that prevent any foreign company or donor aiding the Bashar al Assad-regime in reconstruction efforts in Syria, either through funds or technical support. It specifically targets entities in the oil & natural gas, military, construction and engineering sectors.
These are the most severe sanctions to be placed on Syria since the war began nine years ago. The existing sanctions have frozen the assets of the Syrian state as well as companies and individuals connected to the Assad government. It also prevented any American national from making investments in or trading with the Syrian regime. The sanctions have received rare support from both sides of the political divide in the US.
The Caesar Act is named after a Syrian military photographer, codenamed Caesar, who documented several war crimes of the regime, from systematic torture and summary executions of over 11,000 Syrians in government-controlled prisons. He fled Syria in 2013 and testified in disguise before the US Congress a year later, submitting over 55,000 pictures he had taken. He testified again in March this year calling for new sanctions, saying the regime is continuing to kill its citizens because of inaction from the international community.
These sanctions come at a particularly bad time for Syria which is already reeling from an economic crisis compounded by earlier sanctions, government corruption, infighting and the pandemic. The crisis has deepened with the concurrent economic crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, which has been Syria’s main link to the outside world. Already its citizens are out on the streets protesting the rise in prices and the collapse of the local currency, which has to one-fifth of its value since the start of the year. The Syrian government has called this “economic terrorism” and has held the US accountable for the suffering of its citizens.
Supporters of the Act say that Assad must not be allowed to claim victory in the civil war, a victory built on the corpses of millions of its citizens, and go on to reconstruct what they destroyed without any repercussions. The sanctions lay out certain conditions that should be met before they can be lifted. These include calling on Syrian-Russian airstrikes on civilians, the release of political prisoners and return of refugees, humanitarian aid to all territory under its control, accountability of war criminals, constitutional reform and a political process that leads to some form of power-sharing.