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- As Delivered - 

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on his and Chairman Royce’s bill, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2016 (H.R.5732), on the House floor:

“Mr. Speaker, thank you.  I rise in support of my measure and I yield myself as much time as I might—may consume.  Thank you.

“First of all, as usual I, I want to thank our Chairman, Ed Royce, for his leadership on the Foreign Affairs Committee and for agreeing to bring this bill forward.  I’m proud to have him as my partner.  I’m proud to have him as the lead Republican cosponsor of the bill. 

“And more than 80 of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle have joined as cosponsors, putting their support behind this legislation.  This is what I said before.  This is what we do best on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Speaker: we advance meaningful legislation with broad-based support.

“Mr. Speaker, two years ago, as Mr. Royce just said, a man known as Caesar sat before the Foreign Affairs Committee and told his story through words and, horrifically, through pictures.  He was a photographer who worked for the Assad government in Syria.  The images he captured of the Assad regime’s brutality eventually pushed him to defect to the opposition.  His real name wasn’t Caesar.  He was in hiding.  He wore a mask.  We couldn’t see his face.

“These are the images he shared with members of our Committee.  Images of death, torture, unthinkable, inhuman cruelty.  I’ll never forget what he showed us.  We know that what we saw was the smallest fraction of what the Assad regime was inflicting on its own citizens.  And we know that violence has gone on unabated for at least two years since.  Those bodies, those dead bodies, lined up—unbelievable.  Never get it out of my mind.

“More is needed to jolt this crisis out of its bloody status quo.  I welcome the recent decision by the European Union to sanction members of the regime responsible for the brutal air campaign against civilians in Aleppo.  We need to look for more ways to work with partners to dial up pressure on Assad and his enablers.

“This bill would give the Administration more tools to do so.  It would impose new sanctions on any parties that continue to do business with the Assad regime.

“As Chairman Royce said, three, three and a half years ago, four years ago, I thought that we should have aided the Free Syrian Army.  They came to us in Washington and begged us for help.  They weren’t looking for American troops.  They were simply looking for weaponry. 

“And I really believe if we had given it to them, the situation in Syria would have been different today.  You can’t prove it because it didn’t happen.  But all I know is, we never would have imagined that now as we’re going into the new year of 2017, Assad still clings to power at the expense of killing millions of his citizens.

“So we need to look for more ways to work with partners, to dial up pressure on Assad and his enablers.  This bill would give the Administration, as I mentioned, more tools.  It would impose new sanctions on any parties that continue to do business with the Assad regime.

“We want to go after the things driving the war machine: money, airplanes, spare parts, oil.  The military supply chain.

“And yes, we want to go after Assad’s partners in violence.  Russia’s air campaign has enabled the Syrian regime along with Iranian and Hezbollah forces.  Russian planes have targeted schools, helicopters, and public spaces. 

“When Syrian helicopters would attack, at least the civilians would hear them coming and have a few minutes to run for cover.  President Putin’s planes don’t even give them that chance.

“Under this legislation, if you’re acting as a lifeline to the Assad regime, you risk getting caught up in the net of our sanctions.

“Mr. Speaker, we marked this bill up in Committee several months ago.  It was ready to come to the floor before we left for the election.  But at the time, a ceasefire showed a glimmer of hope, and we thought maybe we could wait.  Because maybe the ceasefire would come.  But it didn’t.  The glimmer has gone out.  It’s time now, finally, to take a different approach and try to move towards a resolution.

“When we are on that path, the bill will also help lay the groundwork for addressing the war crimes and the crimes against humanity that have marked this conflict.  This bill will guide efforts to put together evidence for an eventual prosecution, and would enable a report so that the world knows the names of those responsible for these brutal human-rights violations.

“Once again, I’m grateful to Chairman Royce for his leadership.  He’s been a strong and consistent voice on Syria, and I know he wants to see an end to the bloodshed as well.  So, I ask all Members to support my bill.  And I reserve the balance of my time.”