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Legislation Would Crack Down on Assad Supporters & Push Negotiations

Washington, D.C. — Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the Committee’s Chairman, today announced that they introduced legislation that would impose new sanctions on supporters of Syria’s Assad Regime, encourage negotiations to end the crisis, and kick off investigations into the eventual prosecution of war criminals.  The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (HR 5732), named for the former Syrian military photographer who defected to the opposition after documenting Assad’s torture of the Syrian people, would also require reports on human-rights violators in Syria, abuse of cross-border assistance, and the feasibility of a no-fly zone or safe zone over Syria.

The legislation was marked up and approved unanimously by the Committee today.

“When Caesar appeared before our committee, we saw the brutal, unvarnished images of Assad’s abuses against the Syrian people, and we know that type of violence continues unabated. American leadership is desperately needed to help bring this conflict to an end,” said Rep. Engel. “Our legislation would crack down on anyone who is still doing business with the Assad regime, while leaving room for meaningful negotiations to move forward.  It would also help ensure that down the road, anyone responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity is held accountable.”

Chairman Royce said, “The conditions in Syria are abysmal.  Millions of innocent civilians have been on the receiving end of Assad’s gruesome brutality—brutality the world has rightly recognized as war crimes.  At the same time, ISIS has been allowed to spread across the region—inspiring and plotting attacks against the United States.  Many have urged the Administration to use the tools it has to take action against these threats.  So today I am pleased to join the Committee’s Ranking Member in introducing legislation that works to cut off Assad’s access to the resources it uses to annihilate its own people by targeting key backers like Russia and Iran.”

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2016 is named in honor of the former Syrian military photographer, known as “Caesar,” who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2014 about the Assad regime’s torture of Syrian civilians. This legislation would impose new sanctions on Syrian human rights abusers and those who facilitate the regime’s atrocities.  It would also encourage negotiations to bring about a lasting political solution by suspending sanctions if parties are engaged in meaningful negotiations and the violence against civilians have ceased. Additionally, the bill would authorize the State Department to support entities that are collecting and preserving the chain of evidence for eventual prosecution of those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity in Syria from March 2011, a recommendation from the late Elie Wiesel.

In Depth: The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act

New Sanctions on Syria

The bill would require the President to impose new sanctions on anyone who

  • Does business with or provides financing to the Government of Syria, including Syrian intelligence and security services, or the Central Bank of Syria;
  • Provides aircraft or spare parts for aircraft to Syria’s airlines (including financing);
  • Does business with transportation or telecom sectors controlled by the Syrian government; or
  • Supports Syria’s energy industry.

Encouraging Negotiations

Under the bill, the President could waive sanctions on a case-by-case basis.  Also, sanctions could be suspended if the parties are engaged in meaningful negotiations and the violence against civilians has ceased.  Suspension would be renewable if the suspension is critical to the continuation of negotiations and attacks against civilians have ceased.

Gathering Evidence for War Crimes Investigations and Prosecutions

The bill would authorize the Secretary of State to support entities that are collecting and preserving evidence for the eventual prosecution of those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria from March 2011 to the present.

Name and Shame of Human Rights Violators  

The bill would require the President to report to Congress on the names of those who are responsible for or complicit in gross violations of human rights of the Syrian people.

Report on Monitoring and Evaluating Cross-border Assistance to Syria

In light of recent press reports about the abuse of cross-border assistance, this legislation would strengthen oversight on the monitoring and evaluation of such assistance.

Evaluation of a Potential No-Fly Zone

The bill would require the President to submit a report on the potential effectiveness, risks, and operational requirements of the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone or a safe zone over part or all of Syria.

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