Syrian Sanctions Hurting Ordinary Citizens and Syrian-Americans

There have been a number of recent news articles describing the impact sanctions against Syria are having both on ordinary Syrians living in Syria, as well as those, living abroad. Not surprising to those of us who work in this area, the sanctions are having a serious impact on the lives of those parties that they are not necessarily meant to harm. In a recent National Public Radio article it was written that “Western sanctions are designed to target the government and pressure President Bashar Assad, but every Syrian is grappling with the punishment. For the poor, eggs and meat are now out of reach. For the well-to-do, international banks have stopped processing personal credit cards. For merchants, there is a collapse in demand….”

Part of the U.S. economic sanction program against Syria, much like the sanctions against Iran, Cuba, and Sudan, contains country based sanctions. That means they prohibit U.S. persons, wherever located, from engaging in a number of transactions with Syria or where a benefit is derived in Syria. This includes the following types of transactions:

(a) new investment in Syria;

(b) the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply of any services to Syria;

(c) the importation into the United States of petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin;

(d) any transaction or dealing related to petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin; and

(e) Facilitating any of the aforementioned transactions.

The exportation of any services to Syria is the one that will likely put the most innocent Syrians and Syrian-Americans at risk. This is the reason why Syrian merchants can no longer use credit card processing machines, why foreign banks will shy away from providing services to Syrians, and why inflation will continue to increase as Syria’s economy suffers from difficulty in finding buyers for its petroleum exports.

While the executive order imposing this country wide band is fairly new–it was imposed on August 18, 2011–it seems to already have impacted average Syrians. Although the government agency tasked with enforcing U.S. sanctions, The United States Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), has promulgated some general licenses and provided some guidance which reduces the expansiveness of these country wide sanctions, there is still exposure for those who continue to deal with Syria particularly those ordinary U.S. persons who do not realize the extent of U.S. economic sanctions against Syria. For those parties it would be advisable to seek out counsel familiar with the new Syrian sanctions to ensure full compliance with the law.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in OFAC matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or

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