Caesar Act sends Syria’s Bashar Assad a stark reality check

  • Syria’s collapsing economy is set to suffer another blow as tough new sanctions come into force on Wednesday
  • The Caesar Act warns institutions, businesses and officials against engaging in business with Assad government

NEW YORK CITY: It all began in 2014, when a Syrian military police photographer, codenamed “Caesar,” testified in disguise before the US Congress. He provided the back stories for some of the 55,000 images of torture victims that he had helped to smuggle out of Syria.

The trove of photographs testified to a campaign of human rights violations, torture and murder by the government of President Bashar Assad.

The stage was thus set for the drawing up of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which did not pass until late last year as part of a Defense Spending bill.

Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act is named after “Caesar,” a Syrian military forensic photographer who documented torture by Assad’s regime.

The legislation warns Washington’s friends and foes alike, worldwide institutions, businesses and officials that engagement in any business with the government of Assad could lead to travel bans, denial of access to capital, and arrest.

“Any country or individual, if you’re supporting Assad, stop now! If you’re thinking of supporting Assad in the future, cancel your plans! Because the Caesar bill is an open-ended warning to everyone (who deals with Assad),” said Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of Syrian Emergency Task Force, dubbed “Caesar’s Godfather.”

He brought Caesar to testify in Congress, and then coordinated efforts to help in the drafting, passing and now implementation of the bill.

The legislation received rare bipartisan support. Top Republicans and Democrats from the congressional foreign affairs committees urged all nations to shun Assad, who “remains a pariah,” and called on the Trump administration to vigorously enforce the new measures.

“The regime and its sponsors must stop the slaughter of innocent people and provide the Syrian people a path toward reconciliation, stability and freedom,” said Representatives Eliot Engel and Mike McCaul and Senators Jim Risch and Bob Menendez.

“(Assad) will never regain standing as a legitimate leader,” added the joint statement.

While Assad appeared to be emerging victorious from the civil war and talk had turned to reconstruction, a spiraling economy is now threatening his grip on power.

“The Assad regime understands what most of the world doesn’t about the reality on the ground (where it) can detain and torture to death, displace or murder by airstrikes or chemical weapons,” said Moustafa.

“The world will just watch and make statements of condemnation. And the only solution that we have seen actually progressing over the last nine years is the military solution: that of the Assad regime and the Russian air force and Iran and Hezbollah and other terrorists.

“The Assad regime is counting that they’ll just kill, displace, and detain until he occupies all of Syria. And he thinks when he does that, he can claim victory, and then the world somehow is going to welcome him back.

“The Caesar Act pulls away that military victory from the Assad regime. It says that no matter what, any place that the Assad regime rules and governs cannot be worked with or dealt with or ever integrated into the international community, because Assad belongs in the International Criminal Court, not in the United Nations.”

Sanctions from the era of President Barack Obama already target the oil sector, and powerful Syrian individuals. The Caesar Act closes loopholes in these sanctions by adding secondary sanctions that target entities operating for the Assad regime’s benefit in four sectors: Oil/natural gas, military aircraft, construction and engineering.

This includes indirect support to the regime, such as support to Iranian- and Russian-backed militias operating in Syria.

Source: Arab News 45

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