The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Caesar Act: punishing the regime or the people of Syria?

The U.S. “Caesar Act” is expected to come into effect on June 17, when the United States begins to announce the first package of economic sanctions against the Syrian regime, in accordance with the new act passed by U.S. President Donald Trump several months ago.

According to the Act, the United States will be able to impose sanctions on Bashar Al-Assad regime and  prosecute individuals and companies that finance the regime, whether Syrian or foreign . The Act also allows the U.S. to freeze their assets and prevent them from entering the United States.

 Sanctions to target regime’s financial resources

It is expected that once the Act is active, the Syrian economy will suffer  immensely, as it targets the Syrian financial structure (Central Bank of Syria) and its associated networks, as well as placing restrictions on economic exchange between the regime and its allies regarding financing and other supplies of weapons and other materials. The Act also allows sanctions to be imposed on the regime’s supply of everything that helps the Syrian war to continue.

The Act also seeks to impact Syria’s defense factories, infrastructure and the central bank, and allows for Russia and Iran to be punished if they continue to support Bashar al-Assad’s regime. 

The U.S. Senate passed the 2019 Caesar Act, naming  it  after “Caesar”,  a former Assad regime official who leaked thousands of photographs of victims of torture and abuses against Syrians. The United States has already imposed sanctions on a few senior Syrian officials, but the new powers will allow for “targeting foreign companies if they prove to support repression”.

Caesar Law is scheduled to exclude autonomous administration areas, where joint action and coordination will take place within the framework of U.S. support programs.

Hassan Abdul Azim: Caesar Act is the result of U.S.-Syrian efforts

The general coordinator of the opposition coordination body, Hassan Abdul Azim, said that “those who follow up the news, will know that the US Caesar Act was the result of the efforts of Syrian, US, civil society organizations, political forces and negotiating entities that began from a military figure who portrayed the brutal torture of detainees, which ended mostly with death, physical disability or psychological collapse, psychological collapse and confessing false crimes based on false accusations by informers, then issuing unjust sentences imposed by special or field courts with sentences ranging from death to life and provisional criminal sentences ranging from the minimum to the highest of 3 to 15 years with hard labour.”

“Many Syrian civil society organizations, including lawyers, human rights activists, judges and civilians, contributed to documenting crimes against humanity which were revealed by (Caesar) or made by detainees who were released  or were able to escape. What was documented was sent to the United Nations and countries supporting the opposition, including a US non-governmental organization which formed a working group called (Syria Emergency) headed by Executive Director Moaz Masfi and the second member in the team Asaad Hanna,” Hassan told the SOHR.

Hassan said that political parties and other legislative and military institutions joined the Caesar team, aiming at finalizing the Act and implementing it in order to pressure the regime and the states actors to release the detainees and political prisoners who the regime refuses to release and to explain the fate of the missing, prisoners and the absent, in accordance with the Security Council decision 2254/2015, as the regime refuses to engage in the political negotiating process and evades sending its team in the Constitutional Commission to Geneva as an entry point for the political process and the political transition process to implement the Geneva 1 declaration, and international resolutions, the most important of which is Resolution 2253.

“This activity has had an impact on the US public opinion, civil rights organizations, European lobbyists, and a broad number of congressmen in its both chambers. The senate adopted the Caesar Act last year and it is due to come in effect on June 17. The act includes the narrow circle at the top of power of military and civilian bodies of the Syrian regime, in addition to those who cooperate with them, including allies of the U.S. administration in the region, the Arab region, Europe and the world,” he said. “there will be an exception for humanitarian, relief and medical assistance. The US Act also aims at removing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its sectarian militias from Syria”.

With regard to the sanctions that this act will impose, Hassan Abdul Azim added that “it will have repercussions on the collapsed Syrian economy and the living conditions of a large group which lives below the poverty and unemployment line, but its repercussions on the regime and its supporters will be great, especially with the current division at the top of power, which makes it forced to bow to US, European and Russian pressures to accept to engage in the political negotiating process in Geneva to avoid a hunger revolution all over Syria”.

Mohammed Khalid Al-Shaker: A regime change or change of behaviour

Talking to  SOHR, international law professor Mohammed Khaled al-Shaker said that “the Caesar Act provisions could include two parts, the first is political seeking to impose sanctions on supporters of the Syrian regime, and the second is the legal procedure to support Syrians and entities involved in collecting evidence for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria since March 2011”.

“The legal reference for the Act is to protect civilians, which was the last priority of the conflicting forces in Syria. The Syrian people have been dying, displaced and starving for more than nine years, without the conflicting parties reaching a formula capable of protecting Syrian civilians. We all know that in international relations, states are not charities, so it is more likely that the law will not only change the behaviour of the forces supporting the Syrian regime, but also change the shape and course of the entire political process, and to reposition the US vision, particularly to change the behaviour of the forces that involved in the Syrian agenda (Russia, Turkey, Iran),” Al-Shaker said.

Al-Shaker said that the goal of the act is to hold the regime accountable for its atrocities, and it will also be one of the determinants of the political process through which the U.S. administration wants more space to influence the Syrian file. “The evidence is that the U.S. administration excluded the north-eastern Syria only, which indicates that it is a message to the (guarantors) of the political process (Russia, Turkey, Iran), in a sign of the great significance for its strong presence in the Syrian file”.

Also, Al-Shaker believes that the U.S. administration itself, through many historical experiences related to sanctions, realizes that the possibility of Caesar act affecting the security and military structure of the regime will have a limited impact, unless this possibility is accompanied by a real change, not only in the behaviour of Iran and Russia, but in changing the formula and understandings of Astana as a whole, especially that the political process in Syria will remain lame. “the Act includes sanctions against companies, military or technology companies, individuals and countries, including Russia and Iran”.

“The Act targets anyone who supports reconstruction, which is aiming to say that there is no serious political process without a safe return of refugees, preceded by the reconstruction of their destroyed homes, especially since the understandings of the three parties of Astana continue to dissociate themselves from the reality of this situation, and tend towards a kind of alliance of necessity that continues to relate to identifying areas of influence and drawing lines of contact, reaching a dead end which was revealed by the direct war between the trio in Idlib”, he added.

“The above mentioned indicators would keep the political process in a state of intractability, which Syrians are tired of, having impacted significantly on their economic and security conditions, both in regime areas and opposition areas. Also, the poverty has become a tool to control civilians politically and militarily, and thus the Astana formula failed to achieve the minimum protection sought by citizens, he said.

As for the best way to assist and support Syrians and entities involved in collecting evidence for investigators of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria since March 2011, which are included in Caesar act, Al-Shaker believes that “the act is capable in the foreseeable future of creating a legal impact that will bring international accountability to the perpetrators of international crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, before bringing about a structural change in the political process”. “Therefore, the legal implications of Caesar’s act need to make victims feel safe in their own country, not pressure them from any authority whatsoever, and, more importantly, promote human rights in the post-conflict stages, by having political and constitutional institutions such as parliament, judiciary, police. All this brings us back to the need for radical changes in the course, form and tools of the political process”.

“Therefore, it can be said that Caesar Act may be an US stick to change the behaviour of actors in the political process, rather than as a measure to change regime’s own behaviour in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Ibrahim Musallam: All parties will suffer  

For his part, Syrian opposition, academic and political researcher, Dr. Ibrahim Musallam, told  SOHR that Caesar Act aims directly at the Syrian regime, however “everyone will be affected, because the Syrian economy is integrated, and all areas of Syria deal in Syrian pound except for the Turkish-backed factions held areas which use the Turkish Lira”.

“Whether we like it or not, the fact that the Syrian economy is integrated can’t be ignored, and the entire region will be affected by this law,” Musallam said. “There are some measures to limit the damage, and the Russian-Iranian-Regime differences caused a decline in the value of the Syrian pound, not to mention the impact of family differences inside Bashar al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf on the economic situation as well”.

Musallam said the situation or the picture  in Syria is “fragmented”, in the absence of a health and economic system that protects the people, noting that “this law will have a negative impact on most segments of society”.

With regard to the implications of the law on the political status of the autonomous-administration, he said that “the U.S. administration has reviewed its strategy regarding dealing with the Kurdish administration since President Donald Trump announced to withdraw from the region, especially with the deterioration of the situation,” adding that “the subsequent actions taken by Washington were justified in order to fight ISIS so that it does not reappear in that region, in addition to focusing on the Kurdish administration area, especially after France and the United States made some progress in the Kurdish-Kurdish and Syrian-Kurdish reconciliations”.