Over the last year, a religious antipoverty organization has met with U.S. Treasury and White House officials to encourage them to declare the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad an illegitimate government. This action would impose restrictions on lending to Syria that supports its military or the needs of the Assad regime. When governments or financial institutions make this declaration it lets lenders know that if they lend to Syria they may not receive a return on their investment. Types of lending and financing that could be affected are arms contracts with Russia and oil investment from Iran.
“The President would be getting a twofer by declaring Syria illegitimate. Not only would a clear message be sent to the Syrian government, but we’d start to expose firms and governments that are keeping this regime in guns and bullets,” noted Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the faith-based Jubilee USA Network. “This is immediate executive action that the President can take that will degrade the Syrian military.”
More than 100,000 people have been killed in this brutal conflict since the Syrian government cracked down on peaceful protests. More than 2 million people are displaced outside Syria. Religious leaders on the front lines of protecting poor and vulnerable people have been killed or kidnapped in the conflict.
“We’re praying for peace and we’re also praying that governments will take action by declaring Syria an illegitimate government,” stated LeCompte.
The proposal differs from traditional trade sanctions that can propel profits for some companies and hurt ordinary Syrians. Preemptive sanctions on lending is a focused approach that would let firms and governments know that if they lend, they may not have a recourse of collecting their debts.
“Secretary Kerry rightly acknowledged that we are a war weary nation,” reflected LeCompte. “This is a way of holding Syria accountable without the human and economic costs that are part of military action.”
A declaration of illegitimacy can be made by Presidential executive order or Congressional legislation. Additional bodies such as the Paris Club or the International Monetary Fund could also take meaningful action that would send a powerful message to Syria. In addition to governments and international financial institutions, conceivably the Governor of New York or its state legislature could declare Syria illegitimate.
“Since so much of the world’s global debt market is contracted under New York State law, even the governor of New York can declare Syria illegitimate by executive order and send a human rights message to Syria,” said LeCompte.