On Feb. 9, 2023 the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License 23, to authorize transactions in support of aid and relief to Syria in the wake of the deadly earthquake that hit the country on Feb. 6 2023. 

General License (GL) 23 authorizes “all transactions related to earthquake relief efforts in Syria that would otherwise be prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 CFR part 542 (SySR).” The Treasury Department’s Press Release noted that while humanitarian exceptions already exist under United States (U.S.) sanctions regimes, GL 23 serves as a “blanket General License to authorize earthquake relief efforts.” It states that GL 23 expands on existing GLs authorizing humanitarian aid and transactions under the SySR for international organizations (IOs), the U.S. government (USG), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These existing authorizations under the SySR can be found in 31 C.F.R. Part 569 at § 569.510. Contrary to common practice when issuing new GL’s, the Treasury Department did not issue an accompanying Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document.

Notably, the Press Release states that “U.S. and intermediary financial institutions should have what they need in GL 23 to immediately process all earthquake relief transactions” and that “OFAC’s GL 23 provides the broad authorization necessary to support immediate disaster relief efforts in Syria.”  This language is vital to help assure financial institutions that transactions are permitted to support relief efforts in Syria. Such financial transactions are often avoided by banks which creates severe delays and impediments to NGOs seeking to provide aid. 

The two items GL 23 does not authorize include:

“(1) Any transactions prohibited by section 542.208 of the SySR (prohibiting importation into the United States of petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin); or 

(2) Any transactions involving any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the SySR, other than persons who meet the definition of the term Government of Syria, as defined in section 542.305(a) of the SySR, unless separately authorized.”

Item two indicates that transactions with blocked entities or persons who are on OFAC’s Specially Designated Persons (SDN) List continue to be prohibited, however, transactions with the Syrian Government are authorized under GL 23. 

Effective immediately, this GL authorizes transactions for a period of six months, through Aug. 8, 2023.

The Charity & Security Network commends the Treasury Department’s breadth of authorization and transactions covered under this GL, and calls for future GLs focused on similar relief efforts to be released within the first 24 hours after disaster strikes, to ensure aid can be delivered within the immediate 72-hour window that is critical to saving lives