Congress orders possible sanctions against more countries

Congress orders possible sanctions against more countries

November 01, 1998

By Heléna Klumpp

Congress voted, shortly before adjourning for the November elections, to require US economic sanctions against countries that practice religious persecution. Congressional proponents said the bill could require sanctions against such countries as China, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. President Clinton said he will sign it.

Annual Reports

The new statute will require the US State Department to create an office on international religious freedom. This office will make annual reports to Congress describing the status of religious freedom in each country around the world and disclosing the nature and extent of any violations of such freedom. Countries that demonstrate significant improvement in the protection of religious rights will also be identified.

The first report is due next September.

The reports will also make recommendations in cases where sanctions should be imposed.


The president must take one of two actions where a foreign government “engages in or tolerates violations of religious freedom.” He must either impose one or more sanctions from a list of 15, or persuade the foreign government to enter into a binding agreement to stop the persecution in question.

The president will have fewer options in cases where there are “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” In these cases, his choices for sanctions include the following:

  • withdraw US foreign assistance;
  • direct the US Exim Bank, OPIC and the Trade and Development Agency (formerly AID) not to extend guarantees or insurance or make loans;
  • direct US representatives on the boards of international financial institutions, like the International Finance Corporation and Asian Development Bank, to vote against financial assistance to the country;
  • withhold US export licenses for goods destined for the country; and
  • prohibit US banks from making loans or extending credit totaling more than $10 million in any year to the foreign government.

Sanctions will not apply to products or services that were covered by a binding contract before the sanctions were announced. Sanctions will also not be imposed against a country that is already feeling the full brunt of US economic sanctions — for example, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.


The president will not be required to impose sanctions if he decides the sanctions would interfere with an “important national interest” or if a waiver would “further the purposes” of the sanctions statute. He may also waive if the foreign government has ceased the violations. The president must report to Congress on his reasons for any waivers.


The president decides how long sanctions will remain in effect in the first instance. There is a limit of two years. They can be renewed. He may terminate them sooner without the need for any action by Congress.

by Heléna Klumpp