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“Increases the cost to Assad and his backers,” says Foreign Affairs Chair

Washington, D.C. – Tonight the House of Representatives passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (H.R.1677).  The bipartisan bill, introduced by Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), seeks to impose sanctions on supporters of Syria’s Assad regime, encourage negotiations to end ongoing atrocities, and support prosecution of war criminals.

On the House floor prior to the vote, Chairman Royce delivered the following remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“I would like to start by commending the gentleman from New York, Mr. Engel – the Ranking Member – for his leadership in authoring this critical legislation. Mr. Engel has long been a prophetic voice on Syria policy.  I wish this body – and the previous Administration – had done more to heed his calls.

For six years, we have watched the Syrian regime launch wave after wave of unrelenting destruction on the people of Syria.  Airstrikes, chemical weapons attacks, forced starvation, industrial-scale torture, and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools and marketplaces with precision bombs and crude barrel bombs are what Syrians suffer every day.

Just last month we saw footage of entire families snuffed out by sarin gas – a chemical weapon that Assad supposedly gave up under a deal brokered by Russia and the Obama Administration.

The number of dead is estimated at close to 500,000.  Another 14 million have been driven from their homes.

And while ISIS plays a role in the violence in Syria, it is Bashar al-Assad and his backers – among them Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah – who are the main drivers of this death and destruction.  ISIS has no airplanes. No, it is Russian and Syrian fighter planes and helicopters that drop bombs on hospitals and schools.  It is Hezbollah and IRGC fighters who attack cities, burn crops and prevent food, water and medical supplies from reaching vulnerable civilians.

It is Assad’s secret police and intelligence groups who kidnap, torture and murder civilians from every ethnic group and political party.  Sunni, Shia, Christians, Alawite – none are safe.

One of the worst facilities is just 20 miles from Damascus — Sednaya Prison – a place so terrible that it is called “a human slaughterhouse”.  Thousands of people have been tortured, hung, shot, and left to starve to death within the prison.  The numbers are so high that in 2013, Assad began constructing a crematorium to dispose of the bodies.

Over the past 4 years, our Committee heard agonizing testimony from Syrians caught up in this horror – including the brave Syrian defector known to the world as “Caesar,” for whom this bill is named.  Caesar testified about the shocking scale of torture being carried out within the prisons of Syria.  We have also heard from doctors who treat victims of chemical attacks, volunteers who dig through rubble with their bare hands to rescue those trapped within, and survivors of torture in Assad’s prisons.

As the conflict in Syria drags on and on, vital U.S. national security interests are at stake.  Assad’s brutality is both a magnet for terrorist recruitment and a destabilizing force driving millions of refugees out of the country.  Yet we have taken no steps to apply the economic tools that are available to us.

Mr. Speaker – this legislation is designed to increase the cost to Assad and his outside backers by targeting the sectors of the economy that allow Assad to murder with impunity.  Under the bill, foreign companies and banks will have to choose between doing business with the regime or with the United States.  It would also sanction anyone who flies weapons or fighters into Syria to support the Assad regime.

This bill is about creating economic leverage to push the parties to negotiate; creating the conditions for a negotiated peace.  It is about finding a way forward – to be determined by the Syrian people – that does not allow Assad to exterminate his own people with impunity, does not guarantee ISIS a safe space from which to operate, and does not drive another 10 million people from their homes.

For there to be peace in Syria, the parties must come together.  And as long as Assad and his backers can slaughter the people of Syria with no consequences, there is no hope for peace.

As we speak – Russia and Iran have proclaimed themselves the “guarantors” of peace, and have promised to create “de-escalation zones” where military operations can be curtailed and civilians can seek safety.  But these zones would be policed by the Syrian army – supported by Russian military police, Hezbollah fighters, and IRGC commanders backed by Shia militias.  The very same people who have murdered thousands of Syrian civilians with impunity throughout this conflict – and who are actively engaged in fomenting sectarian-based violence throughout the region. With this scenario, peace does not have a chance.

Mister Speaker, this bill is long overdue. Last year, it passed unanimously; yet the other body did not take it up before we adjourned.  I urge all members to support this legislation as we seek to ease the suffering of the Syrian people.”

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