Report by UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan Overlooks the Syrian Regime’s Responsibility for Its Facing Sanctions

Sanctions Were Imposed on the Syrian Regime Because of the Crimes Against Humanity That the Regime Has Been Committing for Over 12 Years

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Press Release:

The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released a statement entitled, ‘Report by UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan Overlooks the Syrian Regime’s Responsibility for Its Facing Sanctions’, in which the group notes that sanctions were imposed on the Syrian regime because of the crimes against humanity that the regime has been committing for over 12 years.

The statement stresses that, on July 3, 2023, Alena Douhan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, released her report on her visit to Syria. Alena Douhan, a Belarusian national, is a professor of International Law at the Belarusian State University. Ms. Douhan assumed her duties as the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights on March 25, 2020.

In the report, she describes the sanctions as “unilateral measures against the Syrian Arab Republic and its nationals and entities that are imposed without the authorization of the Security Council and the use of which cannot be justified as retortions or countermeasures in accordance with international law, and that prevent, among others, the much-needed rebuilding and reconstruction of the country, as well as the rebuilding of the lives of the Syrian people.” This is just one of many fallacies contained in the report in relation to both international law and the situation in Syria.

These are fallacies for three main reasons:

1. a state does not need to seek the authorization of the UN Security Council in order to impose sanctions on another state. In the case of Syria, the sanctions imposed are not UN sanctions, but are imposed by states and entities against the Syrian regime. In other words, it is not within the Security Council’s jurisdiction to approve or block such sanctions;
2. Ms. Douhan has failed to recognize the Syrian regime’s responsibility for its facing sanctions, which were imposed because of the multiple grave violations committed by the regime itself, some of which amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, with many still taking place during Ms. Douhan’s visit to Syria. These include forcible disappearance, with the regime having forcibly disappeared at least 95,696 Syrian citizens to date, including 2,316 children and 5,734 women, in addition to torture, with all detainees and forcibly disappeared persons enduring non-stop torture, as well as the seizure of political dissidents’ properties and many other horrific violations that have been exhaustively documented in the recent report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI);
3. The report fails to mention the impact of the unilateral practices by the regime’s allies, Russia and Iran, which include coercing the Syrian regime into signing agreements enabling them to steal the Syrian people’s resources in exchange for reinforcing the regime militias with weaponry and manpower. It is no secret that those so-called allies have looted, pillaged, and stolen vast quantities of resources and land in Syria, and this is before even mentioning the colossal and devastating impact that all of this has had on the Syrian economy and the Syrian people.
The statement stresses that sanctions alone are not enough to apply meaningful pressure on the Syrian regime. This is evidenced by the fact that the regime has been able to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity for the last 12 years. Economic sanctions must go hand-in-hand with other forms of punitive measures, including military sanctions. In tandem with these steps, there should also be real political will and serious action within a strict timetable to set Syria on the path of genuine political progress that aims to bring about a political transition towards a democratic government that respects democracy and human rights.

Finally, the report emphasizes that Ms. Douhan should have called on the Syrian regime to end all forms of violations, including torture and enforced disappearance, return properties and lands to their rightful owners, and compensate all victims. This is the only means by which sanctions should be lifted . On the other hand, the UN Human Rights Council should thoroughly familiarize itself with the details of the work of the UN Special Rapporteurs and with their political and ideological views. The Human Rights Council should also assess the sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime in a professional and objective way, and call on the Security Council to take action and impose UN sanctions on the Syrian regime that includes an arms embargo. Falling short of doing so is effectively perpetuating the Syrian regime’s impunity and attracting other totalitarian and dictatorial regimes to follow in the Syrian regime’s footsteps.

Download the full statement