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Civil Society Groups Urge Congress to Reform Sanctions Law

Dear Members of Congress,

We are writing to urge you to support the Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act (COSA), a newly introduced bill designed to ensure congressional approval and oversight of presidential sanctions on foreign entities. 

This legislation could not come at a more critical moment. Over the last few years, the White House has implemented broad sanctions targeting Iran, Venezuela and North Korea, with negative health and economic consequences for millions of the inhabitants of these three countries. 

Many of these sanctions were imposed by the White House using emergency powers under the 1977 International Economic Emergency Powers Act (IEEPA) and the 1976 National Emergencies Act (NEA) without the explicit approval by Congress.  The power to impose sanctions - which can have unintended and harmful effects on civilians - should not be in the hands of a single individual.  Too many lives are at stake and there is too much potential for abuse or overuse which can damage U.S. credibility abroad, undermine stated U.S. foreign policy goals, and disrupt the U.S. domestic economy as well. 

Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act (COSA) aims to secure effective congressional control and oversight over sanctions policy as well as restore the legislative branch’s constitutional power over foreign commerce. It achieves this, first, by requiring a joint resolution to extend any national emergency declaration after 60 days, and additional Congressional approval to renew emergency powers every six months thereafter.

Additionally, Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act (COSA) reasserts that economic sanctions should never come at the cost of harming civilian populations. This legislation seeks to strengthen existing humanitarian safeguards by specifying that sanctions under IEEPA and NEA should not affect trade related to civilian healthcare facilities, water infrastructure, civilian energy infrastructure, primary or secondary educational facilities, and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

A growing body of research, including testimonies from humanitarian, human rights and peacebuilding organizations, has demonstrated the harmful consequences of sanctions on civilian populations in targeted countries. A recent Human Rights Watch report, for example, has documented how U.S. economic sanctions against Iran have resulted in shortages of life-saving medicine, while also blocking the implementation of humanitarian programs from international NGOs operating in Iran. Reports from other countries targeted by sanctions ordered under IEEPA, such as Venezuela and North Korea, have estimated thousands of excess deaths due to broad financial and sectoral sanctions.

The gendered impacts of sanctions have also been increasingly documented. Those responsible for collective caretaking -- disproportionately women and girls -- confront increased hardship in feeding, clothing and caring for their families and communities. Sanctions have also targeted economic sectors in which women are disproportionately represented, including North Korea and Iran’s textile industries. Further, declining access to health services have particular impacts on maternal health care, resulting in higher levels of maternal and child mortality.

In order to expand transparency, monitor the efficacy of U.S. policies, and limit the human suffering caused by sanctions, Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act (COSA) also requires mandatory impact studies to be conducted before and after the implementation of sanctions and additional reporting on whether or not sanctions regimes are helping achieve goals and benchmarks set by our government.

Congressional oversight over sanctions policy is essential to ensure that our foreign policy tools respect the humanity and livelihoods of innocent civilian populations, protecting them from the most severe impacts of sanctions and facilitating the diplomatic resolution of conflicts and crises abroad.  We urge you to support increasing congressional authority over U.S. sanctions policy by co-sponsoring Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act (COSA).

Sincerely,

American Friends Service Committee

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Win Without War

Just Foreign Policy

MADRE

National Iranian American Council Action

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

Peace Action

Friends Committee on National Legislation 

CODEPINK

Women Cross DMZ

Center for International Policy

Chicago Religious Leadership Network

The Church of the Brethren, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism program

Grassroots Global Justice Alliance 

Grassroots International 

Demand Progress

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Veterans for Peace

Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

TLtC Justice & Peace Committee (NYC)

Unitarian Universalist Association

Center on Conscience & War.

Pax Christi USA

Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Channing and Popai Liem Education Foundation

United for Peace and Justice

Korea Policy Institute

Presbyterian Peace Network for Korea

Peace Action Maine

World Beyond War

Veterans for Peace, chapter #69, San Francisco

Korea Peace Now

Korea Peace Network