September 1, 2021

On August 25, 2021, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the bureau within the Treasury Department responsible for issuing licenses for allowing humanitarian aid in conflict zones and areas where sanctioned entities operate, issued a “specific license” to authorize some organizations to continue to operate and interact with the Taliban where necessary.

Announcing the license, OFAC stated:

The United States is committed to ensuring that humanitarian assistance continues to reach at-risk populations in jurisdictions subject to U.S. sanctions regulations. The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has a long-standing practice of authorizing the flow of assistance related to humanitarian activities under existing laws and regulations. In light of urgent humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, on August 25, 2021, OFAC issued a specific license that authorizes the United States government, including its employees, grantees, and contractors, to facilitate humanitarian-related activity in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country. We have licenses in place for at-risk areas around the world, from Syria to Venezuela. This is targeted humanitarian assistance designed to help the people of Afghanistan. This follows past precedent, from administrations of both parties, in which the United States has taken steps to address urgent humanitarian needs in jurisdictions subject to U.S. sanctions regulations.

This license will allow the U.S government and its implementing partners to continue to support the delivery of food, medicine, medical services (including COVID-19-assistance), and other critical humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. OFAC will continue to support the continuity of the U.S. government’s important humanitarian-related work in the region. As we maintain our commitment to the Afghan people, we have not reduced sanctions pressure on Taliban leaders or the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system.

Such a limited license – which only covers US government employees, contractors and grantees, is wholly inadequate to meet the massive scale of needs in Afghanistan. According to the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s most recent newsletter, “This license will require U.S.-based and funded NGOs to apply individually for the license,” and “does not extend to local Afghan organizations that may not otherwise qualify as U.S. government implementing partners.”

By singling out a narrow set of organizations and requiring them to apply individually, this limited license fails to protect the continuity of aid for countless programs, and will cause delays even for organizations that do qualify for the license. The license also fails to protect peacebuilding activities, which are as important as ever in situations like these.

In announcing the license, Treasury stated that “The United States is committed to ensuring that humanitarian assistance continues to reach at-risk populations in jurisdictions subject to U.S. sanctions regulations.” But only a General License that stipulates a clear and broad scope of activities and humanitarian supplies will suffice to meet such a goal.

C&SN and many of our colleagues in the humanitarian, peacebuilding and human rights arena have been calling for such a General License for weeks as the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated.

C&SN urges the administration to quickly and unequivocally support all legitimate humanitarian and peacebuilding programs in Afghanistan and issue a General License to allow for such life-saving assistance to continue uninterrupted.