The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of Treasury on Wednesday imposed sanctions on eight prisons run by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence unit for human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees. Additionally, OFAC also sanctioned Syrian armed group Ahrar al-Sharqiya and two of its leaders for abuses against civilians and added five other senior security officials of al-Assad’s regime who control the detention facilities to the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.
According to OFAC, the Assad regime has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Syrians during the war, of whom at least 14,000 have been tortured to death and 130,000 remain missing or are arbitrarily detained to this day with no communication with family or access to legal counsel.
OFAC also added that Ahrar al-Sharqiya committed numerous crimes against Syrian civilians, especially those of Kurdish origin, that included unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property. The group has allegedly recruited former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members into its ranks.
One of the prisons sanctioned by the OFAC and operated by Syrian Military Intelligence was the Saydnaya Military Prison, which according to OFAC, has a well-documented history of serious human rights abuses. The OFAC stated that just two buildings at this prison could contain as many as 10,000 to 20,000 detainees between them and that many prisoners have been denied food and water for prolonged periods of time while being subjected to extensive beatings.
Thousands of the al-Assad regime dissidents have allegedly been extrajudicially executed through mass hangings at the prison and buried in mass graves. The OFAC pointed to several NGO reports estimating between 5,000 and 13,000 executions at Saydnaya Military Prison between 2011 and 2015. The reports also indicate an acceleration in the rate of extrajudicial killings since then.
The sanctions against the noted individuals and entities effectively block all their property and interests in property (“property”) that are in the US or in the possession or control of US persons (i.e. US citizens or residents). Additionally, such property are required to be reported to the OFAC.
Also, OFAC regulations generally prohibit all US persons from engaging in transactions involving any property of the blocked persons The prohibitions include contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services to or the receipt thereof from a blocked person.
These sanctions were imposed under the authority of Executive Orders 13572 and 13894, which themselves impose sanctions on those “responsible for, complicit in, or have engaged in” commission of serious human rights abuses in Syria and on senior officials of or entities owned or controlled by the blocked persons.
OFAC Director, Andrea Gacki, said: “Today’s designations promote accountability for abuses committed against the Syrian people and deny rogue actors access to the international financial system. … This action demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to targeting human rights abuses in Syria, regardless of the perpetrator.”