Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

US Anti-Normalization Act set to worsen dire humanitarian situation in Syria: UN expert

22 February 2024

GENEVA (22 February 2024) – A UN expert today expressed concern over the United States Anti-Normalization Act under consideration by the US Congress, saying it could worsen the already dire humanitarian situation of the Syrian people and destroy their hope of rebuilding a peaceful life.

“I call on the US Congress to ensure the fulfilment of international obligations derived from the UN Charter, to uphold the principles of cooperation and equal sovereignty, save lives and minimise suffering,” said Alena Douhan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights.

The United States has imposed unilateral sanctions on the Syrian Arab Republic since 1979, which have intensified over the past decade and were followed by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act in 2019. These sanctions form a set of primary and secondary sanctions that cover goods, services, technology and information, with many items used in water, sanitation, hygiene and health (WASH) production.

“The sanctions have put the country in a straitjacket with serious repercussions on a broad range of human rights,” Douhan said.

The Special Rapporteur noted that nearly 70 per cent of Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the destruction of critical infrastructure, including access to water, sanitation, heating, electricity, food and medicine, and the near impossibility of reconstruction efforts as a result of the impact of unilateral sanctions and over-compliance. The humanitarian situation worsened following the earthquake on 6 February 2023 and UN independent experts called for sanctions to be lifted.

“Despite a host of humanitarian concerns, the proposed legislation seeks to prohibit any official action to recognise or normalise relations with any Syrian Government led by Bashar al-Assad,” the expert said. “Following a policy of isolation, the Anti-Normalization Act – if passed – will exert extraterritorial pressure on any efforts to restore and rebuild critical infrastructure,” she said, warning that the legislation would further complicate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and increase the burden on humanitarian actors.

Douhan said the bill overstepped the jurisdiction of the United States and sought to put pressure on the Syrian Government and third countries.

“The US Anti-Normalization Act is a flagrant violation of fundamental principles of international law and will lead to a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, which is already affected by barely functioning critical infrastructure, shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur called for action in full conformity with the UN Charter, its objectives and principles, including sovereign equality, non-intervention and cooperation, to protect the human rights of the Syrian people.

Alena Douhan is the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact the mandate of the Special Rapporteur at [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on X: @UN_SPExperts