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DAMASCUS: A UN envoy has urged Western and Arab countries to lift sanctions imposed on Syria years ago, warning the moves exacerbate “the destruction and trauma” that Syrian civilians have been exposed to from the start of the civil war in the country 11 years ago.

Alena Douhan, UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, said the sanctions are leading to shortages of medicines and medical equipment that affect the lives of ordinary Syrians.

The statement, at the end of Douhan’s 12-day visit to the war-torn country, detailed what she described as “the catastrophic effects of unilateral sanctions on all walks of life in the country”.

Sanctions imposed by the US, EU and some Arab countries have been in place since 2011, after President Bashar Assad’s regime cracked down on protests against his rule that began as part of the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the area. Syria quickly descended into civil war. The sanctions have targeted the oil industry, money transfers and a number of institutions and officials, including Assad.

Over the years, they have been expanded to target officials accused of repression and the use of chemical weapons.

“I call for the immediate lifting of all unilateral sanctions which seriously undermine human rights and impede any effort for early recovery, reconstruction and reconstruction,” Douhan said, adding that 12 million Syrians are in struggling with food insecurity.

Douhan said that 90% of the Syrian population currently lives in poverty, with limited access to food, water, electricity, housing, cooking, heating and fuel.

With more than half of Syria’s vital infrastructure “completely destroyed or severely damaged”, the sanctions are undermining economic recovery efforts, she added.

Once an oil exporter, Syria is now dependent on imports, and rising fuel prices caused by the sanctions have pushed up prices in almost every sector.

The Syrian pound now sells for around $5,000 to the dollar on the black market, down from 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced and large parts of the country destroyed.

Some rights groups pushed back on Douhan’s assessment.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said Douhan should demand that “the Syrian regime end its violations and crimes against humanity” as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions.

The group said the Assad regime had never opened an investigation into the murder and disappearance of tens of thousands of Syrians – and had never held any official responsible to account.

“Therefore, we believe that more sanctions should be imposed on thousands of implicated individuals from the Syrian regime, in order to combat the culture of impunity,” he said.

Douhan said the blocking of payments and denial of deliveries by foreign producers and banks, coupled with the sanctions-induced limited currency reserves, “have caused serious shortages of medicines and specialized medical equipment, especially for chronic and rare diseases”.

“No reference to the good goals of unilateral sanctions justifies the violation of basic human rights,” Douhan said.

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