European Union (EU) imposes further sanctions on Syrian regime

On 24 April 2023 the European Union (EU), at the initiative of the Netherlands and other member states, adopted additional sanctions against individuals and organisations associated with the Syrian regime. This new package of sanctions relates to the regime’s large-scale drug-trafficking operations, the oppression of the population, and Syria’s cooperation with Russia.

These sanctions have no influence on support being provided to the Syrian people, such as humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes.

Existing sanctions against Syria

There have been sanctions in place against Syria since 2011, when people took to the streets en masse to protest against President Assad. EU sanctions target individuals and organisations associated with the Syrian regime that are responsible for the violent oppression of the Syrian people. Examples are militias that have massacred civilians and officers who have used chemical weapons in residential neighbourhoods. Sanctions are also being imposed on businessmen who are profiting greatly from the ongoing Syrian conflict and the resulting humanitarian crisis. In addition, there are sanctions against certain sectors of the Syrian economy (including arms, oil, instruments of repression, gold, diamonds and the transport sector) that help finance the regime. These parties and organisations are impeding the UN-led peace process, which is seeking a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
The purpose of these sanctions is to prevent the Syrian regime from using violence against its own people, and to impel the regime to undertake political reforms that are necessary for peace. EU sanctions against Syria permit the flow of aid to the population, and where necessary, the EU takes additional measures to ensure the smooth delivery of this aid.

Additional sanctions

The EU is now adopting an additional package of sanctions on individuals and organisations associated with the Syrian regime. The Netherlands had been pressing for this within the EU. The sanctions target the revenue models currently used by the regime that serve to prolong the Syrian conflict. The package of sanctions consists of three parts:

1. Sanctions against those responsible for the production and trade in Captagon (drugs)

In the past few years the Syrian regime has developed into a central player in the illegal production of and trade in the narcotic Captagon (fenethylline). Members of President Assad’s family, sections of the Syrian army and militias associated with the regime play a key role in this trade. The extensive trade in Captagon threatens not only public health in Syria, but also the security and stability of surrounding countries in the Middle East. Shiploads of the drug have also been intercepted in Europe.

The large profits generated by the Captagon trade enable the Syrian regime to maintain the dire situation in Syria without feeling any pressure to work towards a solution.

Ninety per cent of the Syrian population lives below the poverty line. Seventy per cent is dependent on food aid, from local and international organisations. The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the biggest of its kind in recent history. Instead of investing in its destitute population, the regime is enriching itself with money from drug trafficking. The regime is also not cooperating with UN-led attempts to arrive at a political solution to the conflict. All the while, the situation in Syria continues to worsen, exacerbating human suffering and giving rise to growing numbers of refugees. This is why the EU is imposing sanctions on those responsible for the production of and trade in Captagon.

What is Captagon?

Captagon is a synthetic and highly addictive amphetamine which is illegal in most countries, including the Netherlands. The active ingredient is fenethylline. Prolonged use and addiction can lead to confusion, hallucinations, strokes, high blood pressure and heart palpitations.

2. Sanctions against perpetrators of human rights violations

The EU is also imposing sanctions on perpetrators of serious violations of human rights by the Syrian regime. The Syrian president Assad has never stopped violently oppressing his own people; indeed, he has continued to do so till the present day. Various notorious regime-backed militias that are responsible for this violence have been placed on the sanctions list. They are currently attempting to evade the sanctions by changing their name and seeking to attract international contracts by posing as private security firms.

The sanctions will also apply to those who have recently been identified as responsible for massacre of civilians in Tadamon, a suburb of Damascus, on 16 April 2013. Military officers systematically executed dozens of men, women and children and threw them in a mass grave. The EU is imposing sanctions on the perpetrators and their superiors: high-ranking officers in the Syrian regime.

3. Sanctions due to economic deals with Russia 

While the Syrian people suffer under terrible economic conditions, the regime is funnelling valuable raw materials to Russia. As an ally of Syrian President Assad, Russia continues to leave a major imprint on the Syrian economy. This imprint has only grown since Russia began helping the Syrian regime to stay in power by carrying out large-scale airstrikes on the country’s civilian population.

Syria has large quantities of phosphate, a highly sought-after raw material. The phosphate trade is controlled by the regime, which does not invest the proceeds in the development of country; rather, it has given Russia more and more control over the trade. The economic deals that the regime has made with Russia line the Russian war chest and prevent Syrians from being able to build a liveable future in their own country. This is why the EU puts entities that are responsible for channelling Syrian raw materials to Russia on the sanctions list.  

A powerful signal

Any assets in the EU belonging to individuals and organisations that appear on the sanctions list have been frozen. In addition, individuals and companies in the EU are prohibited from doing business with these parties. And people on the list are barred from entering the EU. With these targeted sanctions the EU and its member states are sending a clear signal: the violation of international law has consequences. The Netherlands and the EU will continue to stand behind the Syrian people. The EU is one of the largest donors to humanitarian aid efforts in Syria. Since the start of the conflict, the Netherlands has provided a great deal of humanitarian aid to Syria, including in the aftermath of February’s earthquake. The Netherlands and the EU remain committed to helping the people of Syria.

Read more here about the package of sanctions, including the list of names.