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Sanctions on Syria means Criminalising Aid for Earthquake Victims

Has demonisation of Syria on the back of crippling sanctions by America and the European Union, contributed to pathetic minimal humanitarian responses in the wake of colossal earthquakes?

Sadly this is the case and it was evident in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s marathon speech during his States of the Union Address (SONA).

It appears that many political commentators and media analysts missed a glaring omission by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he  expressed sympathy for Turkish victims but not for Syrians.

Absence of reference to the devastating impact on Syria can be construed as explicitly implying that only Turkiye had suffered tragic consequences of the earthquakes.

Was it a simple error or deliberately calculated to avoid delving into the vexious question of America’s embargo on Bashar al-Assad’s regime?

Nevertheless his SONA inadvertently and at a time global attention has been rivetted on the unimaginable scale of devastation following massive earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, brought to the surface the unfairness and unjust discrimination faced by Syrian victims resulting from US/EU-led sanctions.

Syria has for decades been in the crosshairs of various American administrations and in particular Israel. The Assad regime had been earmarked for regime change along with Iraq, Iran and Libya.

However unlike the violent overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fuelled by a full scale military invasion by the US and NATO, Syria was thrown into the throes of an uprising which began in 2011.

That America had a hand in it is clear from a statement attributed to its State Department: “… the U.S. government has intensely pursued calibrated sanctions to deprive the regime of the resources it needs to continue violence against civilians and to pressure the Syrian regime to allow for a democratic transition as the Syrian people demand”.

America’s duplicitous role used the pretext of “shielding civilians” while fomenting civil war. And in cahoots with various formations of the insurgency, remains in occupation of a huge chunk of Syrian territory.

As questions arise about why very little aid is reaching the so-called “rebel-held” parts of Syria, it is crucial not to ignore America’s violation of international law by invading and dismembering the country and slapping sanctions on it. Quite a bizarre way to give expression to a “rules-based international order”.

That the shock and horror of utter devastation stretching across Turkiye and Syria has compounded the helplessness of families hoping in desperation to have their loved ones dug out from beneath the rubble of apartments, is a given.

But to have thousands upon thousands of search and rescue teams from hundreds of countries across the world aiding Turkiye while only a handful are operating in Syria, is unforgivable.

Not only have Syrian victims of the earthquakes been unfairly dealt with a decade of war; they continue to be victimised by the weaponisation of America’s economic and political policies known as sanctions.

It is sadly true as pointed out by the UN special envoy for Syria, that the earthquake-affected regions in the country had received “nowhere near enough” lifesaving aid.

More importantly he warned against politicising assistance.

Regrettably, the reality is that Syria’s colossal disaster has suffered a double blow due to aid provided in “drips and drabs”, unlike the flurry of states, humanitarian ngos and rescue missions who have descended in Turkiye.

With temperatures dropping below freezing alongside feelings of despair, sanctions have extracted a huge price: human lives.

The European Union (EU) is equally complicit in crimes against the Syrian population, by being an active partner and proponent of sanctions. The end goal remains regime-change while casualties of the war and now of the earthquake are used as cannon fodder.

Not surprising that a western diplomat confirmed that “the goal is to get the Syrian people to blame their president for western countries’ refusal to provide aid”, as reported in Middle East Eye.

Having politicised this catastrophic disaster, America and the EU have pinned the blame on the Assad regime for the near-total absence of humanitarian aid. In other words it is not sanctions that’s having any bearing on non-delivery of assistance.

On the other hand Syrian government spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban has argued that if the US and EU lift sanctions, the Syrian people will be able to take care of their country. Similar pleas have been made by well-meaning humanitarian organisations as well as the United Nations.

UN Human Rights expert Alena Douhan has claimed to be struck by the pervasiveness of the human rights and humanitarian impact of the “unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria and the total economic and financial isolation of a country whose people are struggling…”.

The UN has reported that in 2022, 90% of Syrians lived below the poverty line as they have limited access to food and water – because of sanctions that are causing a lot more harm than good.

No wonder Douhan called for the immediate lifting of “suffocating sanctions”.

In defiance of America’s insistence that no aid be directed to Damascus, thus far the UAE, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Algeria and India have sent relief aid directly to the Assad government.

It makes perfect sense given that access to the disaster-affected areas is easier and faster from inside Syria. And the urgency of need cannot wait for America and the EU to lift sanctions.

Going back to Ramaphosa’s blunder of omitting reference to Syria, one wonders why media hasn’t reached out to Syria’s ambassador in the way they regularly engage the envoy of Turkiye?

Hope not a blind spot induced by sanctions.

Iqbal Jassat

Exec Member

Media Review Network


South Africa



Iqbal Jassat