Report: Humanitarian Impact of Syria Sanctions

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Date: 
October 18, 2016

A new report prepared for the United Nations (UN) Economic & Social Commission for Western Asia looks at the effects of sanctions encountered by those delivering humanitarian aid in Syria. 

Humanitarian Impact of Syria-Related Unilateral Restrictive Measures outlines the complex network of non-UN economic sanctions, primarily set out by the European Union and the United States. EU sanctions restrict the types of financial services that EU banks can offer in Syria as well as the types of goods that can be exported to Syria. The US imposes a blanket export embargo and broader financial restrictions. There "is no consensus of opinion on whether the use of such unilateral, coercive, economic measures are achieving their desired impact," the study states. Although both sanctions regimes make exceptions to permit humanitarian work, the study notes that "the practical application of navigating these permissions, when combined with wider regulatory risks, can at times be far removed from the policy commitment of limiting the impact on the local civilian population, and those carrying out legitimate activities." The requirements are difficult to understand, often require legal analysis and impede the rapid delivery of aid. As a result, they have created "immense hurdles for those engaged in delivering immediate humanitarian aid and wider stabilization programmes," the report explains. 

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have reported an inability to process funds through the formal financial sector into Syria as there are minimal un-sanctioned banking channels are available to those delivering humanitarian aid. This prevents groups from paying local staff and suppliers, and operating programs. In an effort to work around these problems, aid groups are increasingly transmitting funds via remittance and informal payment channels, creating greater risk. The report also notes the reluctance among western banks to offer services for fear of sanctions violations. 

Beyond the delivery of food and certain medicine, the EU and US licensing processes designed to enable aid work in Syria actually inhibits aid delivery in that it is "ill-prepared to respond to the need of humanitarian actors," the report found. Many elements of humanitarian aid fall outside the scope of the licenses' exceptions. 

Read the full report here