US amends Syria sanctions to expand NGO authorizations
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US amends Syria sanctions to expand NGO authorizations

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Wednesday expanded authorizations for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to engage in certain transactions and activities in Syria. The department amended some of its sanctions against the country in an effort to allow continued humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. 

In July, OFAC 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. 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.

In September, both a UN report and an Amnesty International report revealed that Syria is unsafe for refugees to return home following a decade of armed conflict and war. In October, the Rights and Security International (RSI), a human rights advocacy group, published the second of two reports calling for the immediate repatriation of women and children held in the al Hol and Roj detention camps in northeast Syria.

On Wednesday, OFAC amended the Syrian Sanctions Regulations to allow NGOs to engage in new investment in Syria, to purchase refined petroleum products of Syrian origin for use in Syria, and to engage in certain transactions with parts of the Syrian government. These activities are authorized only in support of not-for-profit activities already authorized under the NGO general license, which includes humanitarian projects meeting basic human needs.

The regulations were further amended to authorize US financial institutions to process fund transfers in support of those authorized transactions and activities.

OFAC Director Andrea M. Gacki stated:

The U.S. government prioritizes expanding humanitarian access throughout Syria to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, who continue to face armed conflict, food insecurity, and the COVID-19 pandemic.  The U.S. remains committed to ensuring that humanitarian assistance from the international community, including early-recovery-related humanitarian activities, reaches Syrian civilians.

The amendment takes effect on Friday.