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Syrian Democratic Forces Violate US Sanctions’ Caesar Act, Supplying Oil and Gas to the Syrian Regime


Around Six Million Barrels of Oil Annually Make Profits of $120 Million, Amid Lack of Financial Transparency


Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report released today that Syrian Democratic Forces are violating the US sanctions’ Caesar Act, supplying oil and gas to the Syrian regime, including around six million barrels of oil annually, that makes profits of $120 million.
The report notes that the since the first months of the popular uprising for democracy, the Syrian regime has perpetrated innumerable atrocious violations, many of which amount to crimes against humanity, which have prompted many countries worldwide to impose political, and then economic sanctions, in an effort to stop these violations and to launch a political process to change the state’s ruling system from a hereditary dictatorship to a democratic, pluralistic government.
The 12-page report further notes that the United States of America has imposed many sanctions packages on the Syrian regime, most notably the Caesar Act, adding that both Russia and Iran have repeatedly violated the Caesar Act, which is only to be expected from regimes under US sanctions, both of which are longtime organic allies of the Syrian regime, with intersecting interests. More surprisingly, however, the report notes, US allies, namely Syrian Democratic Forces, have also violated the Caesar Act.
The report addresses the continuing provision of oil to the Syrian regime by Syrian Democratic Forces (mainly the Kurdish Democratic Union Party forces), even after the adoption and enforcement of the Caesar Act in June 2020 up until July 2021, focusing on the extent of the massive benefit to the Syrian regime from these operations, which it uses in its continuing perpetration of atrocious violations. Finally, the report refers to the issue of the toxic environmental pollution caused by the primitive oil extraction methods used.
The report observes that the US-led Coalition forces’ operations to stop oil-smuggling remain limited and incomplete in nature, with their impact usually lasting no longer than a few days, after which the oil trucks once again return to resume transporting the oil to the areas controlled by the Syrian regime
The report adds that whilst Syrian Democratic Forces have sought to curb smuggling operations via water crossings, they turn a blind eye to smuggling and sales that take place via the overland route; the report explains that the real reason behind this contradictory attitude is that the sales of oil transported via the overland route guarantee twice the profit for Syrian Democratic Forces compared to the oil transported by river crossings, with the SDF able to sell the oil transported overland directly without payments to any intermediaries among the companies that oversee the transportation of oil, such as the regime-affiliated al Qatirji Company. Meanwhile, oil transported via the river crossings is sold from the oilfields to the people of the region, who in turn supervise its transfer via the water crossings to the areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
To estimate the extent and value of the support provided by the Syrian Democratic Forces to the Syrian regime through these oil smuggling operations, the report outlines the incidents of oil sales that SNHR documented in December 2020, through which SNHR estimated the total amount of oil sold, with the amount of oil smuggled in December 2020 alone providing the Syrian regime with 1,500 tanker-loads of oil; with the capacity of one tanker estimated at 40,000 liters, this is equivalent to 60 million liters in total, i.e. at least 500,000 barrels of oil per month supplied by the Syrian Democratic Forces to the Syrian regime, that is, 6 million barrels per year; considering that the price for each barrel of oil is $20, Syrian Democratic Forces get an estimated annual return from selling oil to the Syrian regime of at least $ 120 million.
As the report reveals, approximately 50% of the oil produced in the areas under the SDF’s control is smuggled, with the annual production of oil in these areas being estimated at 11 million barrels. The report adds that this large amount of oil being smuggled out of the area leaves the region in permanent need, with the remaining quantity often insufficient to meet the needs of the regional population, especially since the northeastern region is an agriculture-centered one in which fuel mainly contributes to the operation of agricultural machinery and irrigation tools.
The report addresses the Decision No. 119 issued by the Self-Management Authority on May 17, 2021, which stipulates increasing fuel prices in areas under its control by between 100% and 350%. The report refers to the protests against this decision that took place in areas under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces, adding that the SDF confronted these protests with gunfire, using live bullets against peaceful protesters, which resulted in the deaths of six civilians, including one child. The report also documents the arrest of five other civilians by SDF, before the Self-Management Authority rescinded the decision on May 19
The report also addresses the issue of environmental pollution caused by the use of ‘oil burners’ after the damage to oil facilities as a result of the armed conflict; these ‘oil burners’ are makeshift refineries using primitive processing methods to refine crude oil by heating it at high temperatures, resulting in the emission of many toxic gases into the atmosphere. The report notes that these processes have caused the spread of many diseases due to the toxic gases emitted by this process, adversely affecting the population of these areas, with these negative effects also extending to livestock and wild animals that graze there; meanwhile, the Syrian Democratic Forces fail to make any serious investment from the massive oil revenues they obtain into creating a less environmentally toxic oil extraction process, repairing the environmental imbalance and compensating the local people for their heavy losses in land and livestock.
As the report further notes, through their oil-smuggling operations the Syrian Democratic Forces have supported the Syrian regime which is involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity, noting that the SDF have treated the oil and gas fields as though these facilities were their own private property and that of the Self-Management and Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which may have transferred some of the funds earned from these sales to its leaders in the PKK, an entity which is on the US terrorism list. This falls into the category of providing financing and support for global terrorism. The report adds that supplying the Syrian regime with oil and gas is a violation of the Caesar Act.
The report calls on the US government and the governments of countries participating in supporting the US-led Coalition against ISIS to open an immediate investigation into the involvement of Syrian Democratic Forces in oil-smuggling operations that benefit the Syrian regime, which is on US sanctions lists, to hold Syrian Democratic Forces and the Self-Management accountable under the Caesar Act, to ban their travel to the United States of America, to freeze their assets, and to impose all other available penalties in order to deter them from continuing to supply the Syrian regime with oil and gas.
The report also calls on the US government and its allies in the US-led coalition to establish a pluralistic and impartial body that oversees oil and gas extraction operations and the sale of these resources, and invests their revenues for the benefit of all the people of the region without ethnic or racial discrimination.
The report further calls on the US-led Coalition and its allies to make genuine efforts to establish legitimate civilian local governance and democratic elections in Northeast Syria as a positive replacement for the current dominant military forces, placing military forces under the authority of the democratically elected civilian governance, and placing the region’s resources under these democratic authorities’ control, which would be reflected in positive effects on services and infrastructure, as well as providing a number of other recommendations.

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