Date: May 13, 2022
Washington, D.C. – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the United States Department of the Treasury’s release today of a general license authorizing wider forms of private economic activity in areas of northeast and northwest Syria outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and liberated from the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS). Since 2020, USCIRF has called on the U.S. government to grant such a license—which allows certain activities in specified areas to avoid the restrictions of existing sanctions on Syria—for the northeast, an autonomous region of the country that is uniquely supportive of religious freedom.
“USCIRF commends the U.S. government for granting a general license to allow certain economic activities in non-regime held areas of Syria including those led by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. “Since 2020, USCIRF has urged this action to recognize and protect the religious and ethnic pluralism intentionally cultivated by the AANES and the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have allied with the United States and international partners to liberate the area from ISIS.”
The United States maintains a comprehensive sanctions program against the Syrian regime, an egregious violator of human rights including the right of freedom of religion or belief. The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which went into effect on June 17, 2020, promotes accountability for the Assad regime’s abuses. In select cases, the Treasury Department issues general licenses to authorize private U.S. investment and other economic activities otherwise prohibited by U.S. sanctions against foreign governments.
“Northeastern Syria under the AANES has become a place in which diverse ethnic and religious groups, such as Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Yazidis, can cooperate on civic projects,” USCIRF Commissioner Sharon Kleinbaum said. “This general license will allow for critical economic development in a region—outside the Assad regime’s control—that uniquely fosters an environment in which religious freedom can flourish.”
On May 10, 2022, USCIRF held a hearing on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Syria, at which witnesses gave evidence supporting USCIRF’s recommendation since 2020 that the U.S. government grant a general license covering northeastern Syria. In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the U.S. Department of State designate Syria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a commissioner, please contact USCIRF at