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U.N. Rapporteur: Lift Sanctions on Syria to Help People Rebuild After War & Devastating Earthquakes

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We speak with human rights expert Alena Douhan, a United Nations special rapporteur and one of several U.N. experts calling for the lifting of economic and financial sanctions against Syria in order to aid recovery efforts following last week’s devastating earthquakes. “The people of Syria are currently deprived of any possibility to rebuild their country, and their country needed reconstruction before the earthquake,” says Douhan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria that have killed at least 36,000 people, but the estimates are expected to far surpass 50,000. The earthquakes left millions homeless, including many Syrian refugees who had already fled their homes due to 12 years of war in Syria.

We’re joined now by Alena Douhan, United Nations special rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. In November, she urged nations to lift unilateral sanctions against Syria, saying they, quote, “severely harm human rights and prevent any efforts for early recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction.” Joining us now from Minsk, Belarus, where she’s a professor of international law at the Belarusian State University.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Douhan. If you can start off by talking about what you’re calling for?

ALENA DOUHAN: Good morning.

It’s a pleasure to be able to share, because, basically, I would refer not only to my end-of-mission statement but to the latest press release, which has just been released on Friday by 10 special rapporteurs calling to lift sanctions and provide for the free delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syria to provide human needs without any discrimination.

I call to lift unilateral sanctions because people of Syria are currently deprived of any possibility to rebuild their country, and their country needed reconstruction before the earthquake, because of the 12 years of military hostility. And naturally, the need for reconstruction of all sorts of critical infrastructure, starting from electricity, water and up to shelter, education, as well as other needs, is even more urgent now.

Secondly, I call for all sanctioning states on the first help to provide for the possibility to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syria in a free way. I need to say that I very positively know the U.S. steps, which was taken on the 8th of February, about issuing the General License number 23, but, unfortunately, I believe it’s not sufficient so far, because many private businesses, many banks are very scared to provide for the possibility of bank transfers, and therefore, people can’t get basic needs.

I have co-listened to the statement of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and I can say that I have been the eyewitness of all the elements she has mentioned and more. That’s why I am joining her call to all donors to help Syrian people with donations, but they need not only money. They need a long list of goods, starting from food, medicine, medical equipment, blankets, clothes, up to the recovery machinery, fuel, vehicles and many other elements. So, I am also calling to all the donors to help people on the ground, and I hope will call on sanctioning states to lift sanctions and to do all their best to make sure that no one overcomplies and people can get their life-saving goods.

AMY GOODMAN: This is United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths speaking along — at the border Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and northwest Syria.

MARTIN GRIFFITHS: We’re going to be doing an appeal for a three-month humanitarian phase for the earthquake response. We’re going to push it out in the next day or two. It’s going to require the kind of generosity from member states and individuals in the private sector that we have already seen in the international response to the earthquake in Türkiye and elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what — your final comments on what you feel people aren’t understanding about this catastrophe?

ALENA DOUHAN: In the situation of the use of unilateral sanctions, people probably do not understand that Syria has already been much destroyed and people be in need. They already lived with 90% poverty and not much food and health insecurity. Now the need is even more urgent. We are speaking about hundreds and thousands, and even millions, of people’s lives to be at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: Alena Douhan, we want to thank you for being with us, United Nations special rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, professor of international law at the Belarusian State University in Minsk.

Next up, it’s the 25th anniversary of V-Day, the 10th anniversary of One Billion Rising, and the release of V’s book, formally known as Eve Ensler. It’s called Reckoning. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Taína Asili, singing the anthem for One Billion Rising, “We Are Rising.”

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