On Monday, February 7, two hours before dawn, a very powerful earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria.
Fortunately, the international rescue services rushed to Turkey, and in particular to Antakya (Antioch), where they were able to save many lives. Unfortunately, the same did not happen for Aleppo, the major city in northern Syria. The forced isolation of the country, caused by the decade-long international sanctions, is responsible for this “double standard”. Everything for the Turkish victims, almost nothing for the Syrians.
Four days after the first tremor, the United States suspended its sanctions against Syria for 180 days. It was too late for the families buried under the rubble, but let’s hope that this is the beginning of an awareness among our American allies.
The general sanctions against Syria taken by the United States, immediately followed by the Europeans, have proven to be counterproductive.
Western interference in the Syrian civil war was ultimately aimed at the well-being of the population. But these sanctions – which make it impossible for Syrian residents to conduct financial transactions with foreigners – are having a devastating effect on the population.
It took Dr Nabil Antaki, an Aleppine gastro-enterologist and president of the wonderful NGO Les Maristes Bleus, a year and a half to change a simple defective part on his endoscope. Because, as a Syrian resident, he was blocked by international banks, all of which live in fear of possible retaliation by the US Treasury.
Dr Antaki also told us that many patients had died of Covid in Syria because of the lack of respirators in the hospitals.
Generalized sanctions, aimed at isolating an entire population, are not only inhumane. They are also ineffective. In Syria, they have not helped the peace negotiations between the Ba’athist regime and the rebels one iota.
As early as 1960, the United States introduced sanctions against Cuba. Their aim was to bring down the Castro regime, which was guilty of nationalising the agricultural sector. Fidel Castro died in his bed in Havana in 2016, and it is still Castroists who govern the large Caribbean island.
In Syria, the sanctions are also unjust. They impoverish the entire population, except for the traffickers, who are in cahoots with the customs and police services – 90 per cent of Syrians now live below the UN poverty line.
The Geneva Conventions, to which all Western countries are signatories, prohibit collective punishment.
After driving Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991, America and its allies imposed a very severe regime of sanctions on Iraq. The idea was to wait for conclusive reports on its atomic, chemical and biological disarmament before lifting them. These reports never came, due to the unwillingness of the American inspectors.
Because of the sanctions, Iraq has not been able to rebuild its electrical infrastructure (affected by the American bombs) or modernise its oil installations for twelve years. Due to the lack of health care, many Iraqi children have died.
Bombs kill, so do sanctions.
The worst thing is that the Americans realized, after their invasion of Iraq in 2003, that there were no weapons of mass destruction hidden in the country.
Today, the sanctions imposed on Syria prevent any investment, any reconstruction of the country. It is a pity because a lot of funding is ready, coming from the Gulf petro-monarchies.
Does this mean that all forms of sanctions should be banned in international life? No. There are targeted sanctions that are both fair and effective. Notably against war criminals. In the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague invented the excellent formula of the secret indictment list.
The war criminals, who were also great thieves, no longer dared to leave their countries to spend their money, afraid of being arrested when they got off the plane.
Wagner’s mercenaries, who are active in Syria, Libya, Mali, CAR and Ukraine, often combine war crimes and predation. The travel ban and the freezing of their assets are legitimate measures. They can dissuade new vocations.
It is not the sanctions that should be banned, it is their generality.
The great paradox of general sanctions decreed in the West is that they are taken in the name of the happiness of foreign populations, and that they always end up making them unhappy.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.