The Caesar Act
The Caesar Act is one of several new sanctions bills that was enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which President Trump signed into law on December 20, 2019. It became effective, and was used for the first time, on June 17, 2020.
Named after the Syrian military photographer who collected and smuggled over 53,000 photographs evidencing atrocities committed by the Government of Syria in the country’s civil war 1, the Caesar Act expands the scope of sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters that are available to the U.S. president.
Existing sanctions authorities relating to Syria issued when the country’s civil war began blocked the property of the Government of Syria and its agencies and instrumentalities, and prohibited U.S. persons from investing in Syria, exporting goods and services to Syria, or transacting in petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin.
By contrast, the Caesar Act targets a wider range of actors and activities and requires the U.S. president to impose sanctions on foreign persons determined to have knowingly engaged in any of the following activities.
- Providing significant financial, material, or technological support to or engaging in a significant transaction with the Government of Syria or its senior leaders.
- Providing significant financial, material, or technological support to or engaging in a significant transaction with a foreign person who is a military contractor or mercenary in Syria for or on behalf of Syria, Iran, or Russia.
- Providing significant financial, material, or technological support to or engaging in a significant transaction with a foreign person subject to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act2 sanctions against Syria.
- Selling or providing significant goods, services, technology, information, or other support that significantly facilitates the maintenance or expansion of Syria’s domestic oil and gas production.
- Selling or providing aircraft or spare aircraft parts used for military purposes in Syria by the Government of Syria or foreign persons controlled by or associated with the Government of Syria.
- Selling or providing significant goods or services associated with aircraft operations for military purposes in Syria by the Government of Syria or foreign persons controlled by or associated with the Government of Syria.
- Providing significant construction or engineering services directly or indirectly to the Government of Syria.
Although the extent to which the Caesar Act will be used to target non-Syrian, non-U.S. persons remains to be seen, the Trump administration has not shied away from quickly sanctioning foreign persons engaged in activities it finds objectionable. The two individuals and seven companies sanctioned under the Caesar Act last week are involved in luxury tourist development and other real estate ventures. Including these persons in the first round of designations under the Caesar Act reflects U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s goal of pressuring the Assad regime and those who support it to “take irreversible steps toward a lasting political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 2254” rather than allow the Assad regime to simply rebuild the country on its own terms3.
Due to the widespread destruction of Syria’s cities from urban fighting, the construction sector is undoubtedly a crucial component to rebuilding the country. Many expect the Trump administration to use the authority provided by the Caesar Act to impose sanctions on a wider range of activities, due to how the legislation was drafted, as well as statements by the administration. Secretary Pompeo warned that the initial designations under the Caesar Act are only the “beginning of what will be a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime revenue and support,” with another State Department official reportedly stating that this will be a “summer of Caesar.4”
The Caesar Act, in addition to providing the administration with the authority to sanction a wider range of activities, also requires the Secretary of the Treasury to determine whether reasonable grounds exist for concluding that the Central Bank of Syria is a “primary money laundering concern.” If such determination is made, then enhanced due diligence and reporting requirements5 must be imposed on the Central Bank.
Standard exemptions and waivers, including for humanitarian aid, transactions to allow the United States to comply with diplomatic or other international obligations, or any other authorized intelligence activities of the United States, are included in the legislation.