Providing COVID-19 Humanitarian Aid to Sanctioned countries – EU Commission Guidance

16 November 2020

On 16 November 2020, the European Commission published a Guidance Note on the provision of COVID-19 - related humanitarian aid to certain countries subject to EU sanctions.

The Guidance Note provides useful practical guidance, in the form of Q&A, on compliance with EU sanctions when providing humanitarian aid to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, with the focus on four specific sanctioned countries: Iran, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela. It replaces the previous Commission guidance note, dedicated to COVID-19 aid to Syria only, which was published by the Commission in May 2020.

The document provides some very valuable clarifications for the national competent authorities, as well as  for private and public operators involved in providing humanitarian aid, such as donors, international organisations, banks, and other financial institutions, NGOs and the non-profit sector.

While the chapters of the note, dedicated to the individual sanctioned countries, contain specific nuances for each specific country, the following are the main takeaways, which apply to all the sanctions regimes discussed in the document:

  • EU sanctions in principle should not impede the supply of humanitarian aid.
  • Importantly, the Commission acknowledges the problem of over-compliance with EU sanctions, and stresses that it should not undermine the provision of humanitarian aid.
  • While EU sanctions regulations often contain exceptions from sanctions restrictions and prohibitions for the provision of humanitarian aid, in the context of COVID-19 pandemic, restricted activities can be exceptionally allowed by the national competent authorities, even in the absence of explicit exceptions in the text of the relevant regulation, if this is necessary in order to provide humanitarian aid.
  • When a derogation is requested, the national competent authorities should deal with the request expeditiously and provide necessary guidance.
  • The Commission has requested all EU Member States to create a contact point for humanitarian derogations in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission is planning to further update the Guidance Note in the future, to include guidance on additional sanctions regimes. However, even before such updates are published, the guidance contained in the Guidance Note could largely be applied (with necessary adjustments) also to humanitarian aid provided to other sanctioned countries that are not explicitly mentioned in the document, and, could be relevant to humanitarian aid also beyond the COVID-19 - related assistance.