The ‘Caesar Bill’: A step towards accountability in Syria, or a worsening economic crisis?

The Caesar Bill has become the subject of debate among progressive and democratic Syrian actors. But what are the key arguments surrounding the bill?

On December 20, 2019, US President Donald Trump signed into law the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, so named after the Syrian military photographer—codenamed “Caesar”—who defected in 2013, leaking tens of thousands of graphic images of detainees tortured to death in Syrian government prisons.

The bill is the result of nearly four years of advocacy by the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a US-based organisation comprising Americans for a Free Syria, the Syrian American Council, Syrian Christians for Peace and the Syrian Emergency Task Force. The Syrian National Coalition, the Syrian opposition’s main representative body, based in Turkey, has welcomed the bill and thanked the work of these Syrian-American organizations.

After the final vote, many of these groups argued that the bill is a step in the direction for accountability. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meanwhile called the act “an important step to promote accountability for the [Assad regime], which has committed large-scale atrocities in Syria.”

The text of the Caesar Bill itself states that: “It is the policy of the United States that diplomatic and coercive economic means should be utilized to compel the government of Bashar al-Assad to halt its murderous attacks on the Syrian people and to support a transition to a government in Syria that respects the rule of law, human rights, and peaceful co-existence with its neighbors.” One way in which the US proposes to do that is through secondary sanctions—sanctioning foreign individuals and institutions doing business with Syrian entities that are themselves already under US sanctions.

The Caesar Bill has since become the subject of debate among progressive and democratic Syrian actors. The key contentions of the bill are the nature and reach of the secondary sanctions; the measures targeting Syria’s reconstruction efforts, various sections of the economy and Syria’s allies (Russia and Iran); and the bill’s potential impacts on the broader Syrian population. As such, it’s important to analyze the set of measures that make up the Caesar Bill.

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The ‘Caesar Bill’: A step towards accountability in Syria, or a worsening economic crisis?

 

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