February 15, 2022

Five Ways to Improve Sanctions Coordination Between the U.S. Government and Humanitarian Aid Groups

By Jason Bartlett

During its first year, the Biden administration has demonstrated to allies and adversaries that economic sanctions will remain an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy and economic statecraft. In 2021, the Treasury Department imposed more than 760 new sanctions designations, with roughly 49 percent of these pursuant to thematic sanctions programs targeting human rights abuses and corruption, global terrorism, cybercrime, drug trafficking and other illicit activity. However, the impact of sanctions, no matter how well intended or targeted, can often exacerbate ongoing humanitarian crises by restricting the logistical and financial activity of aid organizations operating inside sanctioned jurisdictions. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) recently concluded a year-long private roundtable series that brought together U.S. government officials, humanitarian aid organizations, financial institutions, regional experts, and representatives of the private sector to discuss possible solutions to reduce the negative impact of sanctions on humanitarian aid efforts in heavily sanctioned jurisdictions such as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and Syria.

While the Biden administration has pursued multilateral coordination with allies on sanctions to mitigate their potential impacts on humanitarian issues, current sanctions programs still pose significant obstacles to the facilitation of life-saving humanitarian aid in heavily sanctioned countries.

Despite numerous efforts under multiple presidents to address these obstacles, humanitarian aid organizations still cite frustrations about a lack of clarity in sanctions guidelines and policies, long logistical backlogs to process inquires and overcompliance from banks—meaning financial institutions refusing to facilitate financial transactions going into, or related to, certain countries for fear of violating U.S. sanctions. In response, the Treasury Department’s 2021 Sanctions Review outlined several steps to modernize sanctions to achieve clear policy objectives and committed to cooperating with allies and partners and to mitigating unintended economic, political and humanitarian consequences. This review, which came out in October 2021, is forward looking, and the administration has not yet taken significant steps to update existing legacy sanctions against heavily sanctioned jurisdictions. As the administration contemplates potential actions to do so, the following policy recommendations may support the U.S. government’s commitment to mitigating the negative effects of sanctions on humanitarian crises within sanctioned jurisdictions.

Read the full article from Lawfare.

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