Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of the recently-releasedNo More War: How the West Violates International Law by Using "Humanitarian" Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests.
Millions hungry... no fuel or electricity... worthless currency... I witnessed all of this in Lebanon and Syria. And the greatest tragedy is this needless suffering is caused by the West's desire to introduce ‘freedom' and ‘democracy'.
I have just returned from my second trip to Lebanon and Syria this year. I previously visited in May, and in the course of a few months I have witnessed a precipitous decline in the wellbeing of the people of both of these countries.
Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, seemed rather normal and tranquil in May but is now completely dark at night, due to a lack of electricity. There are only a few hours of sporadic electricity a day throughout the city. Meanwhile, fuel is nearly impossible to come by, with lines of cars spanning at least a kilometer waiting for gas. A number of my friends told me that they could not drive to meet me because they had no fuel for their vehicles.
There is also little to no garbage service, and so the streets and sidewalks are lined with trash. In what was once dubbed the ‘Paris of the East', I witnessed goats roaming the streets in search of garbage to eat on the side of the road. The Lebanese lira has tumbled in value daily, with menus at restaurants that were still able to operate displaying prices written in pencil so they could be changed every morning. As I write these words, the lira is now worth 0.00066 US dollars. A number of truly exasperated people stated - with a swoosh of the hand in the air - that "Lebanon is finished." And it certainly feels that way.
Everyone in Lebanon I talked to wants out of the country; some even asked if I could take them with me. The possible exception is the mass of Syrian people who have fled the war in their own country. Many of these Syrians now live on the streets in Beirut. It is very common to see Syrian women with their children sleeping on the dark city sidewalks. According to UNICEF, there are nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, putting further strain on a social system which is unable to take care of its own people.
Syria is also suffering from a lack of electricity, with power for only a few hours a day, and food and vital medicines are hard to come by as well. Personal protective materials necessary to protect against Covid - such as masks and hand sanitizer - are almost non-existent.
The families I stayed with would be at the ready with their laundry and food to cook for the odd occasion that the electricity would turn on for an hour. Most people are without air-conditioning or refrigeration in the sultry climate. The Syrian pound is also relatively valueless, with $100 buying bags of the currency, as I myself have experienced. Meanwhile, huge swathes of cities like Homs remain largely in rubble as post-war reconstruction has ground to a halt.
All of this is, of course, according to the plan of the Western ‘humanitarians' who claim their suffocating economic sanctions on Syria - once Lebanon's biggest trading partner and largest source of fuel - are intended to somehow bring democracy and freedom to the region. As we well know, these sanctions hurt civilians first and foremost, and disproportionately injure women and children in every country upon which they have been imposed.
As an article in Foreign Affairs explains, the example of Iraq shows that sanctions do nothing but create human misery. It reads, "US sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Their effect was gendered, disproportionately punishing women and children. The notion that sanctions work is a pitiless illusion."
And it goes into great detail about the humanitarian toll of the sanctions first imposed upon Syria by President Trump. "The Trump administration designed the sanctions it has now imposed on Syria to make reconstruction impossible. The sanctions target the construction, electricity and oil sectors, which are essential to getting Syria back on its feet. Although the United States says it is ‘protecting' Syria's oil fields in the northeast, it has not given the Syrian government access to repair them, and US sanctions prohibit any firm of any nationality from repairing them - unless the administration wishes to make an exception..."
The article goes on to point out that these restrictions mean the country faces "mass starvation or another mass exodus," according to the World Food Program. This is backed up by alarming statistics which show that 10 years ago, abject poverty in Syria affected less than one percent of the population. By 2015, this had risen to 35 percent of the population. The rise in food prices - up 209 percent in the last year - is also noted, as is the fact that according to the World Food Program, there are now 9.3 million "food insecure" Syrians.
There is also criticism of the requirements the Syrian government must meet to secure relief from the sanctions. These are described as "deliberately vague" - a ploy, it is said, to deter investors who might be able to assist Syria, but are unprepared to do so because they are not certain they are free to help.
The UK humanitarian organization, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), echoes these concerns, explaining that "[t]he sanctions that have been placed on Syria by the EU (including the UK) and USA have caused dire humanitarian consequences for Syrian citizens in Government controlled areas (which is 70% of the country) who are seeking to rebuild their lives..."
"Of the huge amounts of humanitarian aid that western governments are sending ‘to Syria', the vast majority reaches either refugees who have fled the country, or only those areas of Syria occupied by militant groups opposed to the Syrian government. Most Syrian people are therefore deliberately left unsupported; indeed, even their own effort to help themselves and re-build their lives are hampered by sanctions."
The despair being brought about by Western sanctions is palpable. Syrians and Lebanese, whose fates are inextricably tied to each other, have little hope for a happy and prosperous future. Once again, the West's claims to ‘civilize' the world have brought only misery, sorrow and destruction.
But I would be remiss if I did not end on this note: that, still, despite it all, the incredible hospitality and kindness of the Syrians and Lebanese have yet to be destroyed by the cruelty visited upon them. Everywhere my companions and I went, including in the most modest homes of places like Maaloula, Homs or Latakia, Syria, or in Lebanon, families were quick to offer us coffee, water, and snacks.
Despite the fact that they are being denied the basic amenities of life by sanctions as targeted as a nuclear weapon, these people still know how to share the little that they have. This, I will always carry with me and be grateful for.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.