Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act Passes Out of House and Heads to Senate

June 6, 2017Shelby Friedman

On May 17, the House of Representatives passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (H.R. 1677) on a voice vote. If enacted, this bill would provide for the future investigation into possible war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011 and has caused over five million refugees to flee the country, making Syria the world’s largest source of refugees. Under the bill, individuals found guilty of war crimes could face sanctions, and evidence may be collected for the future prosecution of foreign governments or organizations who committed such crimes. The bill is named after Caesar, a pseudonymous military photographer who bravely defected and smuggled out over 55,000 photographs of torture victims that exposed the depravity of the Assad regime.

In September of 2016, during the 114th Congress, RAC Director, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, sent a letter urging House leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote so that there may be some justice for the victims of war crimes committed in Syria’s civil war. Among these crimes, particularly horrifying are chemical weapons attacks that have indiscriminately targeted civilians and children. In April 2017, one such attack in northern Syria killed at least 70 people and hospitalized at least 100 more. The Assad regime has allegedly used chemical weapons several times over the course of the war, resulting in some 1,100 deaths. The use of chemical weapons is defined as a war crime under several international treaties.

The current version of the Caesar Act, which has broad bipartisan support in the House with 108 cosponsors, is now under consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Ben Cardin, the Ranking Member, has expressed his support for the bill and his intention to work towards its passage.

Our tradition teaches that “Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is punished for the transgressions of the entire world,” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat, 54b). We know that if we are silent in the face of human suffering, we will be called to account for this inaction. That is why we must speak out in defense of Syrian civilians who have been subjected to incalculable anguish.

At a time when so many Syrians have been forced to flee violence and leave everything behind, the U.S. must take leadership in bringing this conflict to an end. Take action, and urge your Senators to bring the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act to the floor for an immediate vote. For more information on this and other international issues, visit the RAC’s issue page

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