Activists urge the UK to lift unilateral sanctions against Syria, warning that they are further exacerbating the suffering of Syrians, most notably following the devastating earthquake.
A Palestinian-British academician specializing in International Relations and Political Communication and the Director of the European Centre for the Study of Extremism in Cambridge in the UK, Makram Khoury-Machool, in addition to several British-Arab citizens, filed an application to the High Court in England seeking permission to proceed to a Judicial Review following the refusal of the UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development, James Cleverly, to lift the “cruel and unnecessary sanctions imposed on the Syrian Arab Republic for the last 11 years.”
In a press release, the activists acknowledged that the sanctions have added to the suffering of innocent civilians in Syria following the devastating earthquake of February 2023. At the time, several Western countries mobilized rapidly to send aid and rescue workers to Turkey but excluded Syria, leaving it to its own fate.
Due to the war that weakened the infrastructure in Syria, the draconian Western sanctions imposed on the country, the US occupation of some Syrian land, as well as the looting of billions of dollars of its resources, Syria was unable to fully respond to the tragic catastrophe. As a result, the number of victims of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rose dramatically.
The more than 400-page application was sealed last week, and the petitioners served their court documents on the attorneys for the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, as per the press release.
The applicants, in their application, slammed the UK’s sanctions relating to Syria and implemented via the “Syria Regulations” 2019 as unlawful and ensured that their implementation is inconsistent with the UK’s domestic and international obligations.
The applicants also said the impact of the UK’s sanctions on Syrian civilians breaches the rights of the applicants under the European Convention of Human Rights
In addition, they called on the UK government to lift all unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria without authorization of the UN Security Council and not justified in accordance with international law, as per the press release.
In this context, the UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights Alena Douhan, called on November 10, 2022, for the lifting of all such unilateral sanctions.
On his part, the leader of the group that filed the application to the High Court, Dr. Makram Khoury-Machool, said, “As British citizens, we very much appreciate the existence of the separation of powers in the United Kingdom and the ability of the judiciary to scrutinize our government’s actions. Submitting this application is part of our strong belief in the British judiciary and in line with our civic and moral duties,” adding that they are proposing the cessation of sanctions against Syria in the wake of the devastating earthquakes that hit the country.
In his August 2018 report to the Human Rights Council, UN expert on coercive unilateral measures, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, wrote that “despite the efforts to implement “smart” sanctions with humanitarian exemptions, the application of current sanction regimes have contributed to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Other UN voices have recently been raised to the same effect, including Professor Alena Douhan, Ambassador Jazairy Jazairy’s successor as UN Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures and Human Rights, and Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria.
At this highly crucial moment, we need to act morally, within the realm of international humanitarian law and minimize suffering as a matter of urgency, the activists expressed in their statement, reiterating a call to every state, government, and international NGO – directly and through the UN Secretary-General – to urge all governments imposing sanctions on Syria to have them lifted immediately.
“This is vital to ease the rapid and effective delivery of international aid to the Syrian people,” the activists affirmed.
“The maintenance of UK sanctions in the face of the appalling suffering we are now seeing after the earthquake will intensify an already dire humanitarian situation, and do nothing at all to assist Syria’s journey to stability, security, reconstruction, and development,” Dr. Khoury-Machool concluded.
The US, UK, and European Union have been imposing expansive and complex batches of draconian sanctions against Syria– a country bearing the scars of 12 years of brutal war, exacerbating the people’s suffering, most notably after the catastrophe, for the past three decades.