As the new U.S. president meets his counterpart from the Russian Federation this week in Geneva, Baroness Caroline Cox of the House of Lords and Dr. John Eibner, the president of Christian Solidarity International, have written to both President Biden and President Putin, urging them to cooperate to lift the economic sanctions on Syria and enable humanitarian aid to flow.
Presidents Putin and Biden. csi/Pete Souza, official White House photo
The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, Cox and Eibner write, “has never been more urgent.” “Although violence has greatly decreased in Syria over the past few years,” they note, “there are more Syrians who are hungry, impoverished, and lacking essential services today than ever before.”
According to the UN World Food Programme, 4.5 million more Syrians have slipped into food insecurity during the past year. Over half the population is dependent on aid to survive; over 90% live in poverty. 600,000 Syrian children are malnourished. With the Syrian economy battered by increased Western economic sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Lebanese financial crisis, the ability of ordinary Syrians to feed their family and access medical care has suffered dramatically over the past year.
Cox and Eibner note that both Biden and Putin are in a position to greatly alleviate this crisis. Mr. Putin can help Syrians in opposition-held territory, especially Idlib province, by supporting the re-authorization of direct UN aid convoys to these areas. Most of the people living in these areas are displaced people with no means of subsistence.
Mr. Biden, on the other hand, can “lift, suspend, or greatly reduce the draconian comprehensive sanctions the United States has placed on Syria, and advise his European partners to do the same.” As Cox and Eibner wrote in their letters, the sanctions regime on Syria contributes “to skyrocketing food prices and massive shortages of fuel, which is needed to ship food, generate electricity, and power irrigation systems, among other vital functions.”
Cox and Eibner urged Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin to “ignore any voices encouraging you not to cooperate for the benefit of the Syrian people. Syrians should not be treated as bartering chips for the Great Powers.”
“Threatening Syrians with starvation as a negotiating tactic is obscene and is contrary to the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on the collective punishment of civilian populations,” they concluded. “We urge you, in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, to mutually pledge to help Syria’s long-suffering population.”
Baroness Caroline Cox, a Life Peer of the House of Lords since 1982, is the founder and CEO of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART). Dr. John Eibner, in his position at Christian Solidarity International, has been traveling to Syria on aid and fact-finding missions since 2013. Both signed an open letter to President Biden on January 21, 2021, asking him to lift the sanctions on Syria.