June 10, 2021

In Checking the President’s Sanctions Power, a June 2021 report published by the Brennan Center for Justice, Andrew Boyle addresses many of the problems stemming from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), the legal underpinning for a wide range of U.S. sanctions that have serious consequences for humanitarian organizations, peacebuilders and other nonprofits. Its recommendations to Congress include proposals the Charity & Security Network sent to the new Congress and Administration in early 2021 that would provide better safeguards for nonprofits working in global hot spots and improve the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s licensing system.

The report begins with a look at the origins and legislative history of IEEPA, tying it back to the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA) of 1917, which passed at the onset of WWI. In 1933, an amendment expanded the scope of TWEA beyond its wartime origins to include national emergencies declared by the president. Despite growing concern over the course of the 20th century around expansive emergency powers granted to the president, Congress has been hesitant to curb some of these powers.

After detailing this history, the report examines how sanctions are implemented under the law, and details specific problems associated with these sanctions, from the use of IEEPA in non-emergencies, to its use against U.S. persons and entities (including charities) and the accompanying infringements on constitutional protections. It describes the devastating impacts IEEPA sanctions often have on humanitarian programs, among other concerns.

Then it recommends legislative proposals to reform IEEPA. Specifically, it calls on Congress to:

  • Address licensing issues including a lack of transparency, significant delays, and curbs on legal representation for targets of sanctions
  • Protect the rights of U.S. persons and entities (including charities) by eliminating the power to freeze assets “pending investigation,” ensuring access to necessities, requiring warrants for seizures, protecting due process rights, and allowing for judicial review
  • Enhance humanitarian aid protections by strengthening the humanitarian exemption in IEEPA and ending the strict liability standard for humanitarian programs
  • Remove certain IEEPA powers that allow its use to impose tariffs, its use to sidestep congressional authority, and its use to sanction the United Nations or its programs
  • Address licensing issues including a lack of transparency, significant delays, and curbs on legal representation for targets of sanctions
  • Clarify the exemption for informational material to ensure that it only limits informational material specifically excluded from the exemption
  • Enhance oversight and transparency by establishing new reporting requirements and requiring notice-and-comment procedures so that stakeholders can raise any concerns that may have been overlooked
  • Remove IEEPA from the National Emergencies Act framework
  • Require congressional approval to invoke or renew IEEPA sanctions
  • Strengthen IEEPA’s focus on foreign persons and entities

The report concludes by acknowledging the good intentions of IEEPA, but highlighting the need for reform to ensure it lives up to those intentions, and to prevent the misuse or abuse of emergency economic powers enshrined in IEEPA.

Read the full report here.