On Dec. 19, 2017 leadership in the House Foreign Affairs Committee proposed HR 4681, the “No Assistance for Assad Act,” that would bar U.S. government funded reconstruction assistance to Assad-controlled areas of Syria unless the President certifies that specific conditions are met. The bill exempts humanitarian assistance (with some conditions) and projects sponsored by local communities. It would apply from fiscal years 2018-2022.
The bill was initially sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), and co-sponsored by Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), and the co-chairs of the Friends of a Free, Stable and Democratic Syria Caucus, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA). Five additional sponsors signed onto the bill in January 2018. It has been assigned to the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees.
Section 4(d) of the bill exempts U.S. government funded “projects to meet humanitarian needs, including demining and needs for food, medicine, medical supplies and equipment, education and clothing” as well as projects run by “local organizations that reflect the aims, needs, and priorities of local communities in Syria.” Section 4(d)(2) requires the President to report on each exempted project, explaining how funds are used, the location of projects and the identity of implementing partners and their senior officials. This last requirement could create problems for projects and individuals so identified, including security and privacy issues.
A statement from Rep. Engel’s office says the bill is intended to “ensure that the security of the Syrian people is central to reconstruction and stabilization” and “condition American support for such efforts in Assad-controlled territories on Syrian commitments to human rights; a political transition; and the safe, unfettered and voluntary return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people.” The statement says aid will only be available if the Assad regime:
Ceases indiscriminate use of weapons and any attacks against civilians and civilian facilities;
Releases all political prisoners and provides full access to Syrian prisons for investigations by appropriate international human rights organizations;
Removes senior officials of the Government of Syria who are complicit in human rights abuses
Moves to organize free and fair elections for a new government to establish an independent judiciary;
Respects and compiles with internationally recognized human rights;
Fulfills its commitments under the chemical weapons convention;
Halts the development and deployment of ballistic and cruise missiles;
Removes human rights abusers from positions of authority within the military, intelligence, and security services;
Minimizes the Government of Syria’s reliance on Iran and Iranian proxy forces to act on behalf or in support of Syria; and
Commences a process to organize the safe, unfettered and voluntary return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.