By Brad Hoff, September 30th, 2016
An internal United Nations report which the public wasn’t supposed to see has just hit the web. And its findings contain some explosive and uncomfortable truths.
Western sanctions on Syria, the report says, are harming ordinary civilians the most – preventing hospitals from accessing basic medical equipment and even hindering effective humanitarian aid.
The 40-page UN investigation was leaked to The Intercept‘s Rania Khalek, and was subsequently put online. The report describes a humanitarian crisis in Syria that is the worst the world has seen since World War II, due to the five-year-long conflict that has engulfed the country. It also outlines the many ways that Syria is being squeezed economically by the West, which it describes as:
some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.
Western sanctions harming civilians
While the US, UK, and EU governments have consistently claimed that their driving concern in Syria is the protection of civilians, the report shows Western actions to be a prime factor responsible for actually increasing civilian suffering. Sectors such as medicine, banking, and energy are among those that have been hit the hardest by punitive sanctions placed on the embattled Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. This translates to the average Syrian living without power, urgent medicines, and basic food staples in a collapsed economy.
US restrictions are the most stringent, and apply to all items wherever they’re located, even if they’ve been produced abroad. The Intercept confirms that:
Items that contain 10% or more of US content, including medical devices, are banned from export to Syria.
Preventing aid and medical relief
The UN report also describes the negative ‘trickle down’ effect that sanctions are having on aid and humanitarian workers in all parts of Syria. The report’s summary findings conclude that:
The combined effect of comprehensive, unilateral sanctions, terrorist concerns and the ongoing security environment have created immense hurdles for those engaged in delivering immediate humanitarian aid and wider stabilisation programmes.
One eyewitness interviewed by the UN team (described as a “European Doctor operating in Syria”) said the following:
Even though in theory it should be possible to procure medical equipment, the indirect effects of sanctions, especially the challenges it creates for Syrians to access bank accounts, makes the import of medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, nearly impossible.
The EU lifts sanctions… on weapons
But while life-saving medical devices are kept out, weapons pour in. In 2013, the EU lifted its arms embargo on Syria for the express purpose of shipping weapons and other supplies to anti-government militants. At the time, an investigation by The Independent found that:
France was instrumental, alongside the UK, in lifting the EU arms embargo on Syria which would allow supplies to be sent to the rebels.
So while medical supplies, fuel, and essential infrastructural items like water pumps became restricted, weapons and military equipment flowed into Syria by legal means. At the same time, many experts say, Western sanctions actually increased civilian dependence on Syrian state institutions, a pattern previously seen in Iraq.
Indeed, The Intercept’s analysis of the UN report warns that Syrian sanctions are creating a situation similar to that of Iraq in the 1990s:
The US continued to rationalise the Iraq sanctions even after a report was released by UNICEF in 1999 that showed a doubling in mortality rates for children under the age of 5 after sanctions were imposed in the wake of the Gulf War, and the death of 500,000 children.
UN says the issue is too “politically sensitive”
The UN report stops short of directly condemning the Western sanctions regime on Syria. And the report’s “Executive Summary” section contains a potential clue as to why the report had to be leaked instead of being made available through official channels for public debate and scrutiny:
discussion on whether unilateral measures are appropriate is a politically sensitive and highly emotive subject, and is therefore outside of the scope of this report.