United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen warned that “famine could well be knocking on [the] door” in light of the wide economic collapse witnessed by Syria after some 10 years of war.
“In recent months, new factors have joined these underlying structural problems, pushing the economy to the brink. The banking crisis in next-door Lebanon has had a significant impact. The repercussions all societies and economies have experienced from measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have also played their part,” Pedersen told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
He also noted “significant” sanctions by the United States and the European Union.
“These target individuals and entities affiliated with the government, and also restrict activity in the financial, banking, oil and gas and military sectors as well as exports and multilateral lending to and investments in Syria,” the envoy said.
“Further US secondary sanctions - which have been foreshadowed since the passage of legislation six months ago - will begin entering into force as early as tomorrow, aimed at deterring foreign business activity with the Syrian government,” he added, referring to the US Caesar Act, which goes into effect on Wednesday.
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the Security Council that Washington would implement the measures to “prevent the Assad regime from securing a military victory.”
She gave the regime two choices, either continue with the international course of the peace process or suffer the cutting off of finances for reconstruction and face sanctions.
Craft said the sanctions would be imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act - signed by President Donald Trump in December - which aims to deter “bad actors who continue to aid and finance the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people while simply enriching themselves.”
“I heard a new level of alarm at the dramatic collapse in economic conditions throughout the country,” Pedersen said.
“It is easy to understand why. During just one week during the reporting period, the Syrian lira’s market rate depreciated more than in the entire nine years prior, before rallying somewhat. But currency and price volatility remain acute. And the inflation rate has hit peak levels in the past six months,” he added.
The Caesar Act, passed by the US Congress last year with bipartisan support, seeks to prevent Assad's normalization without accountability for human rights abuses.
The law penalizes in the United States any company that deals with Assad and blocks reconstruction assistance from Washington.
The law is named after a former Syrian military photographer who fled at great personal risk in 2014 with 55,000 images of brutality in Assad's jails since he launched his crackdown on protests three years earlier.
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