UN representatives declared during a Thursday virtual event that economic sanctions have caused human rights violations by obstructing access to the updated health systems, technology and humanitarian aid needed to sustain global infrastructure.
The virtual event was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Iran to the United Nations (UN), and was geared towards addressing the impact of sanctions on international health systems, specifically the effects such measures have on certain countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many nations, including Russia, China and Iran, came together to urge the United States, United Kingdom, EU and other countries to end their enforcement of UCMs, which are shown to have a negative impact on the national health systems of targeted developing countries.
In particular, panelists from the Human Rights Council, Iran and Belarus cited the negative impact on the health and well-being of women, children, persons with disabilities and other individuals living in vulnerable situations.
The obstruction of humanitarian aid and medical supplies are marked as having a negative impact on the rights to development, access to health and rights to self-determination in violation of humanitarian rights and policies established by the UN Charter and Human Rights Council.
“The issue of health is a fundamental aspect of internationally-recognized human rights,” Zamir Akram, the chair rapporteur of the Human Rights Council, said during the virtual meeting, adding that some sanctions often resulted in retaliatory obstacles that impeded adequate help in situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Countries have the right to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating the obstacles of development,” he maintained, while suggesting means of combating the negative impact through the draft of Resolution 39/9, a binding instrument meant to legally address the impact that UCMs have on the right to development.
The virtual event was co-hosted by several missions to the UN, including Zimbabwe, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria, who have all repeatedly faced an increase in sanctions that resulted in unstable national infrastructure.
China’s UN Representative Declares ‘Unilateral Sanctions Are Illegal’
Many of the participating countries maintained that sanctions are illegal and are being used as a political tool to enforce restrictions on global trade, arguing that the financial restrictions also push forward a unilateral agenda, especially amid the pandemic, which has only exacerbated the negative impact of sanctions.
“Unilateral sanctions are illegal,” Zhang Jun, permanent representative of China to the UN said, adding that UCMs are “man-made.” The official also called for the lifting of sanctions in order to meet humanitarian needs and uphold multilateralism.
China has recently instilled their own restrictions on several international brands, all of which came from countries responsible for sanctions against China’s Xinjiang cotton, as it represents a high portion of the country’s trade revenue.
Samuel Moncada, the permanent representative of Venezuela to the UN, echoed Zhang’s sentiments, underscoring that sanctions were being deliberately used during the pandemic to further increase pressures of regime change within vulnerable governments.
“It is the next level of silent weapons of mass destruction in the field of public health,” Moncada added, backing recent calls from the head of the World Health Organization to create an international treaty on pandemic preparedness and response.
Additionally, Moncada called for immediate action to create a platform that would help coordinate commercial, economic and financial strategies geared towards breaking free of international channels that control the flow of legal transactions related to those within the UCMs.
“Belarus continues to support the mandate on the negative impact of UCMs. We fully support the initiative of Venezuela to form activities against UCMs,” Valentine Rybakov, the permanent representative of Belarus, to the UN commented, citing the negative impact of sanctions placed on the country following its August 2020 presidential elections.
Disagreements Emerge Over Human Rights Violation Claims
Two permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and the United Kingdom, disagreed on the intended purposes of the sanctions, with Russia maintaining that it was being used for political purposes in pushing a unilateral agenda. Representatives for the UK upheld that sanctions are tapped as part of an effort to deter human rights violations, especially during the pandemic.
“We use UCM as a targeted foreign policy tool to deter behavior,” said David Kinna, who serves as the first secretary of the UK to the UN, citing sanctions against Myanmar for the February 1 military coup.
Deputy Permanent Representative to Russia Dmitry Chumakov drew reference to sanctions placed on Cuban medical teams who attempted to provide assistance to countries with limited health systems during the pandemic.
The inability for some countries to receive updated medical and technological equipment during the pandemic due to sanctions have resulted in what Dr. Janet Blake, professor of international and human rights at the Shahid Beheshti University in Iran’s Tehran, deemed an “attack on peace and security, development and human rights” during the virtual meeting.
‘Unjust Reality’,Sanctions on Syria Cause Increased Concern over Negative Impact
Both the UK and EU agreed on the need for humanitarian assistance amid the pandemic, but upheld the notion that sanctions are targeted in a way meant to protect human rights.
“EU sanctions are not meant to impede humanitarian aid,” Simona Popan, who serves as a member of the legal department of the European External Action Service, added. However, she later agreed with the decision to place sanctions on Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons against vulnerable populations, such as women and children.
Syria has suffered crippling socio-economic impact due to sanctions that have impeded access to updated medical equipment. Although a formal representative to the US was not present to confirm, dozens of member states have sent a letter to US President Joe Biden urging a lifting of the sanctions in Syria, Chumakov remarked during the proceedings. Sanctions placed on Syria have been shown to have a negative impact on access to health.
“Any mention of the humanitarian exemption are [sic] an illusion created to divert public opinion from the unjust reality caused by these actions,” Bassam Sabbagh, permanent representative of Syria to the UN, maintained.
Dr. Alena Douhan, the special rapporteur on the negative impact of UCMs on the enjoyment of human rights, argued that facts were important in showing the increased negative impact sanctions had on already dire situations. She further suggested the establishment of a database to record the impacts of sanctions on vulnerable populations.