Today, in the wake of earthquakes that killed tens of thousands and left millions homeless, Christian Solidarity International (CSI) wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden, urging him once again to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S.
In a joint action, Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the UK House of Lords and the founder-president of CSI’s strategic partner HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), released a letter to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, asking him to end his country’s participation in the sanctions regime.
CSI’s affiliates in France, Germany, and Switzerland also released calls for their respective governments to lift their sanctions on Syria.
The appeal comes a week after earthquakes caused devastation in southern Turkey and northern Syria. Global and regional religious leaders, including the World Council of Churches and the patriarchs of the Syrian churches, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur for Unilateral Coercive Measures, have also called for sanctions to be lifted in the wake of the catastrophe.
In the letter to Biden, CSI’s International President, Dr. John Eibner, recalled, “At the beginning of your presidency two years ago, more than 90 academics, human rights activists, diplomats, politicians and religious leaders signed an open letter to you, warning you of the humanitarian catastrophe being caused by the U.S. and its allies’ unilateral sectoral sanctions against Syria, and asking you to end these sanctions.”
Eibner regretted that, “You chose instead to continue the sanctions, albeit with some modifications.”
Eibner noted that, according to figures from the WFP and UNOCHA, the number of Syrians who are severely food insecure has nearly doubled since then, and that 85% of Syrian households are unable to meet their basic needs – up from 65% when Biden took office. 70% of Syrians are now food insecure or at risk of becoming so.
This was before the earthquakes struck on February 6, revealing the lack of capacity that the sanctions have caused. The quakes left tens of thousands homeless or buried under rubble in cities like Aleppo, where medicines and medical equipment, electricity, and fuel to run digging equipment and ambulances were all in short supply. “We will never know how many lives were lost that might have been saved, had Syria not been subjected to this comprehensive sanctions regime,” Eibner wrote.
While the Biden administration issued a temporary sanctions exemption for “earthquake relief” on Thursday, Eibner noted that this exemption means little in the face of the broader bans that cut Syrians off from fuel, the capacity to repair infrastructure, the ability to conduct financial transactions, and support for “reconstruction,” as well as the secondary sanctions that apply worldwide.
“The United States now has an opportunity to show true leadership in the Middle East,” Eibner continued. “We urge you to lift the sectoral and secondary sanctions on Syria, and to send direct aid to all areas of Turkey and Syria affected by the earthquake, including reconstruction aid.
“We remain convinced that it is possible to pursue the U.S.’s legitimate interests in Syria – including holding those who commit atrocities to account – without waging economic warfare on the entire population.”