Despite release of guidance for delivery of Covid-19 relief in areas impacted by U.S. sanctions, humanitarian and medical relief organizations are having difficulty getting supplies where they need to go, due to sanctions restrictions. With the pandemic continuing to spread globally, Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led 73 members of Congress in sending a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Secretary of State Pompeo asking for a worldwide temporary general license (TGL) for Covid-19 related trade, to last for the duration of the pandemic. The letter was endorsed by 31 civil society organizations, including the Charity & Security Network.

The Nov. 17, 2020 letter asks that the TGL “cover items such as testing kits, respiratory devices personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizer, and medicine, which are critical for slowing the spread of the coronavirus globally.”  The letter says the TGL is needed because “The pandemic has laid bare the ways in which our broad application of sanctions is undermining public health systems.” It notes that despite Treasury’s April guidance, “current Administration policies have also impeded normal commerce in material that countries need to combat the pandemic. Existing humanitarian exceptions are insufficient to encourage risk-averse banks and businesses to conduct entirely allowable transactions.”

The letter notes that both Republican and Democratic administrations have issued TGLs in prior humanitarian disasters, citing President George W. Bush’s 2003 action in response to a devastating earthquake in Iraq. To address the current pandemic the letter says, “A temporary general license would give exporters, banks, and humanitarian organizations confidence that they would not be penalized for sending supplies critical to coronavirus relief…”

In a press release Rep. Garcia said, “Our country’s policies should not cause needless suffering to vulnerable communities in sanctioned countries.” Sen. Warren said, “Countries all around the globe are on the frontlines of the fight against this pandemic. We shouldn’t keep them from the critical supplies they need to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The press release quoted C&SN Director Paul Carroll, who said, “Although current rules allow for some exemption for humanitarian purposes, they are too narrow and burdensome to provide for the huge demands that the COVID-19 pandemic requires. A temporary general license will provide the needed flexibility for NGOs to provide necessary medical, sanitary and food aid so that public health will be protected. This is in the U.S. interest as well as the world. Such a general license would be in keeping with President-elect Biden’ statement to recommit to human rights around the world.”