Comments and statements by Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Comment by the Information and Press Department on the procedure for providing humanitarian aid to Syria by EU member states amid the coronavirus pandemic
We noted the “clarifications” on the procedure for providing humanitarian aid to Syria amid the efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic that were released by the European Commission on May 12. As you know, Syria has for many years been under illegal unilateral EU sanctions in circumvention of the UN Security Council, a fact that has substantially complicated the provision of humanitarian aid to Syria. Now, amid the pandemic, these sanctions appear absolutely inhumane. It is starkly at odds with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call to soften and suspend the international restrictions that impede the battle against the coronavirus infection.
A closer look at the EU’s "instructions" reveals a blatantly political motive. While recognising the fact that sanctions can affect the countries’ ability to counteract the coronavirus infection, the prospects for sending relief and medical supplies to Syria through the EU have, in fact, been reduced to zero by a number of restrictions.
More than 300 Syrian individuals and legal entities included on the EU sanctions lists are almost entirely cut off from humanitarian aid. Before establishing direct interaction with those on the list, EU businesses will have to provide their respective national authorities with exhaustive evidence that the medical products in question will not allow the above individuals or organisations to profit from reselling them or using them for other purposes. In addition, without prior EU permission, it is illegal to open accounts with Syrian banks in order to accept payments for medical supplies.
The “cleared” medical supplies nomenclature also comes with a set of conditions. In particular, regarding common personal protective equipment, which the WHO classifies as vital, like medical masks, gloves, protective suits, as well as ventilation devices and disinfectants, delivering them to Syria appears perfectly legal. However, the European Commission’s clarifications on this come with alarming reservations such as “in principle” and “as a rule.” In order not to be charged with selling “dual-purpose” products, suppliers are advised to coordinate their activity in advance with the national authorities. The European Commission has doubts even about the basic components of the most common alcohol-based antiseptics, such as ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. European officials’ concerns that some internal reprisals, including chemical attacks, can be carried out with the use of these substances are overtly absurd.
Clearly, “clarifications” like this are designed to avoid providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians, and are being used to demotivate EU businesses by outlining, in detail, the bureaucratic hurdles that stand in the way of potential distribution. In other words, this is another attempt to portray the EU sanctions as “humane” which in practice comes down to a collective punishment for the Syrians living in the neighbourhoods controlled by the government.
The fact that the Syrian opposition, as well as the country’s regions that are not controlled by the legitimate Syrian government, are still not affected by any kind of restrictions is absolutely cynical. This is a direct violation of the international principles of impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian aid which are included, among other things, in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Art. 214).
We urge the EU to abandon the practice of imposing unilateral sanctions on Syria. We invite Brussels to show solidarity with the long-suffering people of that country and jointly confront the dangerous challenge that has affected everyone without exception.