In the context of the suffering caused by COVID-19, an Italian Catholic group, New Humanity for a Global World, has pleaded with the EU and the US to lift their “cruel and unacceptable” sanctions on Syria.

Full text of the New Humanity appeal

Lift the Economic Embargo against Syria

(Source: MJ/change.org)

If COVID-19 can destabilize populations in the most developed and organized countries, what can happen to an unspecified number of women, men, young people, and children in countries at war for years like Syria, a country on its knees also because of the embargo?

This petition is a firm exhortation to rethink the embargo placed on the Syrian government and to take timely and concrete actions to provide effective help for the Syrian people to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this time of overwhelming difficulty, this petition expresses a firm warning to take, as a matter of urgency, all the necessary steps before it is too late.

Our appeal also follows the recent message of Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the U.N.:

“Our world faces a common enemy: Covid-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction, or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly. 

“Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world.  The most vulnerable — women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, and the displaced — pay the highest price.

“They are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19”.

International sanctions further accentuate the vulnerability of the Syrian people.

Following the logic of this call for a ceasefire, these sanctions should also be, if nothing else, temporarily suspended at least for healthcare supplies and materials intended for medical treatment and for the funds needed to pay for them.

Recently, Pope Francis urged nations to respond to the appeal by saying,

“I join all those who have accepted this appeal and I invite everyone to follow up by stopping all forms of war and hostility. […]

“The joint commitment against the pandemic may lead everyone to recognize our need to strengthen fraternal ties as members of the one human family. […]

“In particular a renewed commitment must be given to the leaders of nations and other interested parties overcoming rivalries“.

It should also be pointed out that this appeal does not go into the merits of the various political positions [but], on the contrary, wants to go beyond the parties involved, since the aim of safeguarding Syrian people goes beyond any political or ideological orientation.

As both Mr. Guterres and Pope Francis said, we are all members of one human family.

If we can help the people of Syria already exhausted by a decade of war, it is our precise moral duty to do so, and quickly, to avoid being complicit in a catastrophe which would bring shame on us all forever.

We have the possibility to write in history a page of pride and not of shame: to take decisions without precedent in the face of a crisis without precedent.

[A] brief description of today’s situation:

On 17 May 2019, the European Council extended the EU’s restrictive measures against the Syrian Government until 1 June 2020. Without considering the substance of the decisions taken by the EU and Washington, objectively, the situation today in Syria, because of these sanctions, is grave.

As a result of the embargo, the country’s economy collapsed dramatically.

According to a UN report published in May 2018, GDP fell by as much as two thirds and, according to that report, the causes [were] largely because of the economic sanctions imposed on Syria, not only [because of] the conflict.

Medicines and medical equipment are also in short supply because of the embargo, so hospitals – those that escaped the bombing – are struggling to serve citizens in need of treatment, whereas, before the war, Syria had one of the most advanced health systems in the Middle East.

Moreover, before the sanctions, the country was self-sufficient in a number of vital medicines that Syria previously produced.

To date, the restrictive measures due to the embargo have severely damaged Syria’s ability to produce, rather than purchase medicines, equipment, spare parts, and software.

Foreign companies are unwilling to make transactions for fear of being accused of violating the restrictive measures.

Objective of this petition:

For years, the civilian population in Syria has been living, or rather, surviving in this context [of] many difficulties, including those caused by the embargo against it.

However, today, in addition to the conditions of poverty brought about by the sanctions, there is the further threat of COVID-19.

This time, the Syrian people are facing an even more devious and nefarious enemy, an invisible enemy that claims victims among the weakest.

That is why, in our view, the embargo and the sanctions appear, at this moment in history, to be cruel and unacceptable, because they deprive women, men, young people, and children of the aid and support that can prove vital for them to survive the real danger posed by COVID-19.

Today, we must consider that the rationale behind the embargo has become outdated, since preserving the lives of the people of Syria is enormously more important.

If there is only one lesson that this pandemic [must teach] us, it is the importance and the obligation to reach out to those most in need of help and support.

We are at a time in history when we must have the courage to make unprecedented decisions, because the situation demands it.

We need to take a common stand for the sake of the Syrian people and for all human persons in war-torn countries at risk from this pandemic, especially the most vulnerable.

Therefore, we call for all competent bodies, various associations, and individuals to join this petition in solidarity, regardless of their positions on the Syrian conflict.

The focus must be on the people, the ordinary people, who must be adequately supported to face this umpteenth test.

For the above reasons, we call for the immediate withdrawal of the economic embargo against the civilian population in Syria (and actions to safeguard people “in all corners of the world” facing similar conditions).

We call on the European Union and the United States of America to remove promptly any legal obstacles that could prevent the peaceful exchange of goods and money needed by our sisters and brothers in Syria to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marco Desalvo – New Humanity NGO, President

To stay up to date on petition membership and initiatives, visit the New Humanity website and the AMU (Azione per un Mondo Unito) website.

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.