Action/Reaction: People’s Campaign Claims a Win on Sanctions

June 23rd, 2021 - by Lift the Sanctions Campaign & RootsAction & World BEYOND War & Progressive Democrats of America

ACTION: Tell Biden to Lift Sanctions for COVID Relief

Lift the Sanctions Campaign & RootsAction, World BEYOND War & Progressive Democrats of America

To: President Biden; Vice President Kamala Harris; White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain; Sec. of State Antony Blinken; Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin; Sec. of the Treasury Janet Yellen; Sec. of Commerce Gina Raimondo

We urge the Biden administration to issue a worldwide temporary general license to allow all countries and locations sanctioned by the US to be able to easily import all related medicines, medical supplies, and vaccines, to facilitate international relief efforts related to COVID-19.

The US Treasury Department has the power to issue a worldwide, temporary general license authorizing the exportation and re-exportation of medical supplies and equipment and other essential goods that might otherwise be prohibited by sanctions.

The temporary general license would not require Congress to suspend or repeal sanctions and would only cover the listed types of supplies and equipment. By making it clear these types of financial transactions are allowable, this license would aid in the donation or sale of items such as test kits, respirators, sanitizers, personal protective equipment, and medicine, which are all critical for preventing and treating COVID-19.

US economic sanctions technically exempt humanitarian items — but banks, insurance companies, and other corporations are afraid that if they make loans, provide insurance for shipments or send goods the US government will accuse them of violating the sanctions, levy hefty fines and place them on a banned business list. 

As a result of broad US economic sanctions countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe struggle without adequate food, electricity, medicine, medical supplies, masks and respirators. Those who suffer most under sanctions include pregnant women, children, the chronically ill.

An April 2020 Human Rights Watch report explained that sanctions have had a particularly detrimental effect on Iran’s healthcare system, as the country lacks access to critical medical equipment and medicine despite existing exemptions.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet echoed this point when she called for an easing of sanctions for COVID-19 relief. Past Republican and Democratic Party administrations have issued temporary general licenses after earthquakes in Iran—so there is precedent for following through on this request.

REACTION: Authorizing Certain Activities to Respond to
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic

Associated Frequently Asked Questions:
•  Issuance of Syria General License 21
•  Venezuela General License 39, and
•  Iran General License N

US Department of the Treasury

WASHINGTON (June 17, 2021) — Today, in order to further aid the global fight against COVID-19, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued three general licenses (referred to as the COVID-19-related GLs) to build upon Treasury’s existing authorizations for COVID-19-related transactions and activities.  

The new COVID-19-related GLs expand upon longstanding humanitarian exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations to cover additional COVID-19-related transactions and activities. These include transactions and activities involving the delivery of face masks, ventilators and oxygen tanks, vaccines and the production of vaccines, COVID-19 tests, air filtration systems, and COVID-19-related field hospitals, among others.  

Today’s GL’s are part of the Administration’s efforts under National Security Memorandum – 1 which directed Treasury, Commerce, State, HHS, and USAID to promptly review existing United States and multilateral financial and economic sanctions to evaluate whether they are unduly hindering responses to the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide.

These new authorizations will further support the critical work of governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and private sector actors in providing COVID-19-related assistance to the people in certain sanctioned jurisdictions.   

Concurrent with this action, OFAC issued six Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that provide further clarity on what the COVID-19-related GLs authorize, OFAC’s due diligence expectations for US financial institutions facilitating activity authorized by the COVID-19-related GLs, and guidance for non-US persons engaging in activities authorized for US persons under the COVID-19-related GLs.  For more information, please see FAQs 906907908909910, and 911.  

OFAC encourages those interested in providing COVID-19-related relief to Iran, Syria, and Venezuela to avail themselves of the available exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations pertaining to humanitarian assistance, including the COVID-19-related GLs issued today (Iran GL NSyria GL 21, or Venezuela GL 39).  

In the event that individuals, governments, or entities have sanctions-related questions related to the provision of COVID-19-related relief or any other humanitarian assistance involving sanctioned jurisdictions or persons, or believe additional authorizations are needed, OFAC stands ready to provide guidance and respond to applications for specific licenses.

For transactions not otherwise authorized or exempt from sanctions, OFAC considers license requests on a case-by-case basis and prioritizes applications, compliance questions, and other requests related to COVID-19 relief and other humanitarian support.  

If you have additional questions regarding the scope of any sanctions programs’ requirements, or the applicability or scope of any humanitarian-related authorizations, please contact OFAC’s Sanctions Compliance and Evaluation Division at (800) 540-6322 or (202) 622-2490, or by email at


•  “OFAC Licensing Process” – Provides guidance on the OFAC licensing process.
•  “OFAC’s Fact Sheet: Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Trade to Combat COVID-19” – The Fact Sheet also outlines specific guidance under the Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related sanctions programs related to personal protective equipment and other COVID-19-related humanitarian assistance and trade.  (April 2020)
•  “Guidance Related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance by Not-For-Profit Non-Governmental Organizations” – Clarifies the reach of economic sanctions for the nongovernmental organizations involved in the provision of humanitarian assistance.  (October 2014)