A number of prominent Christian leaders have signed a duo of letters to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden urging them to lift their respective sanctions on Syria so that humanitarian aid can reach the country's stricken citizens.
Syria remains gripped in a brutal civil war which the UN estimates has caused the displacement of more than 6.5 million people and left approximately 13.1 million in serious need.
In her open letter to the Prime Minister, Baroness Caroline Cox urged the government to "help Syrians to alleviate a humanitarian crisis" by "terminating the UK’s own economic-sector sanctions against the Syrian people".
"We believe that the national interests of the United Kingdom can be pursued without using economic sanctions to collectively punish the people of Syria," she added.
In a separate letter, the president of Christian Solidarity International, Dr. John Eibner, called on President Joe Biden to "end economic sanctions that kill, displace, impoverish and psychologically damage Syria’s civilians".
Both letters called for the two leaders to get behind the UN Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures, Professor Alena Douhan, who at the end of December called on the United States to lift its economic sanctions, which had not been approved by the UN Security Council.
"I trust that your administration will cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur to make sure that any US economic sanctions against Syria conform to the letter and spirit of the international humanitarian and human rights law," Eibner added.
Baroness Cox noted that the Special Rapporteur had agreed that U.S. sanctions “violate the human rights of the Syrian people” and “exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in the course of COVID-19 pandemic,” by blocking the aid, trade and investment necessary for Syria’s health system and economy to function.
"The Special Rapporteur’s findings reflect a growing consensus within humanitarian aid and human rights communities that this form of collective punishment of the civilian population is driving Syria into an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe," she added, noting that, according to the UN World Food Program, the country is approaching "not just hunger, but starvation".
Approximately half a million people have died during the almost decade-long Syrian civil war between troops loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad and various domestic factions and foreign forces who oppose his rule. Al-Assad has been accused of perpetrating war crimes against his own people by employing the use of chemically-armed barrel bombs which contain lethal substances such as chlorine gas and sarin.
In August 2014, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report detailing the use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon and accusing Syrian government forces of dropping the substance on a number of towns across the country.
Baroness Cox's letter includes signatures from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Rev Hans-Martin Gloël of the Evangelical Church of Germany and His Beatitude Ignatius Youssef III Younan, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.