DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Syrian government condemned Wednesday a new wave of U.S. sanctions against the country, calling the measures “economic terrorism” that will increase the suffering of the Syrian people.
A Foreign Ministry statement said Washington’s so-called Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which goes into effect this month, is based on “lies and fabricated claims by enemies of the Syrian people.”
The act, which gained bipartisan support in Congress in December, envisages sanctions on Syrian troops and others responsible for atrocities committed during Syria’s civil war and funding for war crimes investigations and prosecutions. President Donald Trump later signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the Caesar act, into law.
Caesar is a code name for a Syrian forensic photographer who took thousands of photographs of victims of torture and other abuses and smuggled them out of the country. The images, taken between 2011 and 2013, were turned over to human rights advocates, graphically exposing the scale of the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown.
The bill applies sanctions to those who lend support to “the Assad regime’s military efforts” in the war, and grants authorities to the U.S. secretary of state to support entities collecting evidence and pursuing prosecutions against those who have committed war crimes in Syria.
It gives the U.S. another means to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies with sanctions. The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on Assad and a number of his top officials, but the new authority allows foreign companies to be targeted if they are found to be supporting repression.
Syria’s economy is facing a major crisis with the Syrian pound at a record low of more than 1,800 pounds to the dollar. Before the conflict began in March 2011, the dollar was worth 47 pounds.
The Syrian statement said the U.S. sanctions are a “flagrant violation to the most simple human rights and international laws.”
At a time when the world is uniting to focus on the fight against coronavirus, it said, “the American administration … continues the policy of hegemony and arrogance on the international arena.”
The Foreign Ministry said Syria has vowed to confront the Caesar act, urging the international community to work on removing all “illegitimate unilateral sanctions.”