Report finds sanctioned Syrians benefit from UN contracts

Report finds sanctioned Syrians benefit from UN contracts

BEIRUT: According to a report by two non-governmental organizations, the UN has secured tens of millions of dollars in contracts with businesses tied to people supported by the Syrian government who have been sanctioned for violating human rights.

The 2011 revolt in Syria that descended into civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and uprooted half of the 23 million people who lived there before the war. More than 80% of Syrians currently live in poverty, making a large portion of the population dependent on aid.

Since then, Syrian President Bashar Assad has been able to retake a sizable portion of the nation with the aid of Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah. But Syria’s devastating economic catastrophe has only worsened. The scale of the problem was recently highlighted by a cholera outbreak that has affected about 20,000 individuals.

A report by the nonprofit Observatory of Political and Economic Networks and the nongovernmental organization Syrian Legal Affairs Program, which analyzed the top 100 UN suppliers in Syria in 2019 and 2020, found that nearly half of the suppliers included in these contracts engaged in or benefited from human rights violations with such a supplier two years ago. The report was published on Tuesday.

Nearly a quarter of the contracts secured by the United Nations in the last two years were to companies owned or partially owned by persons sanctioned for human rights violations by the United States, United Kingdom, or European Union, The total amount is approximately $68 million. Among them is Fadi Sakr, close to Assad and leading the Defense Forces in Damascus. The pro-government militia is known for blindfolding and burying dozens of prisoners in a mass grave near the Syrian capital in 2013.

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Pressure groups have accused the Syrian government and its affiliates of withholding or diverting aid to families in rebel-held areas and manipulating the exchange rate to boost the coffers.

Shaar said aid could in some cases only be through UN agencies, but that donors should direct funds specifically to international NGOs that comply with unilateral sanctions by the US and UK.

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