Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement
Swiss authorities announced that they had processed a pilot transaction through the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), a new payment channel that intends to ease the sale of food and medicine to Iran by Swiss companies. Work on this channel began in late 2018 following the Trump administration’s reimposition of secondary sanctions on Iran.
According to Human Rights Watch, the completion of the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement to process financial transactions for lifesaving medicine to reach Iran is a step in the right direction. The arrangement can mitigate the harm United States sanctions pose to Iranians’ right to health.
On January 30, 2020, the US Department of Treasury and the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs announced that they had completed an initial payment for the shipment of medical treatments for “cancer and [organ] transplant patients” valued at approximately 2.3 million euros (US$2.5 million) as a “trial run.” The US Treasury had announced the establishment of a humanitarian channel on October 25 after its designation of Iran’s central bank under its counterterrorism authority on September 20, a move that had seriously threatened the flow of exempted humanitarian trade to Iran.
“Processing a transaction that will allow lifesaving drugs to reach people in Iran is an encouraging sign that the US government recognizes that its broad sanctions have a negative impact on Iranians’ health,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.“This ‘trial’ transaction shouldn’t obscure the need for a comprehensive system to monitor the negative impact of US sanctions on human rights, and to take steps for a remedy.”
On October 29, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting how broad restrictions on financial transactions coupled with aggressive rhetoric from US officials has drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment. The US government had built exemptions for humanitarian imports into its sanctions regime. But Human Rights Watch found that these exemptions have not offset US and European companies’ and banks’ strong reluctance to risk sanctions and legal action by exporting or financing the exempted humanitarian goods.
Open-ended and comprehensive sanctions such as those that the Trump administration has imposed on Iran have interfered with Iranians’ human rights and their ability to meet their basic needs.
The US Departments of State and Treasury should ensure a transparent channel of communications for nongovernmental organizations, aid groups, and others that carry out activities to support the rights of Iranian people, Human Rights Watch said. “The US congress should continue to demand an accounting from the administration about the impact of its policy on Iranians’ right to health.”
The launching of INSTEX was a small part of Europe’s commitment to compensate for the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was supposed to end anti-Iran sanctions in return for certain curbs in the country’s peaceful nuclear program.
Tens of millions of Iranians are grappling with the ravages of United States economic sanctions that have raised the price of food staples and led to shortages of medicines, including life-saving ones. After Iran suffered devastating floods last year that left an estimated two million people in need of humanitarian assistance, the Iranian Red Crescent Society said that US sanctions had impeded its relief efforts - including receiving foreign financial aid to help flood victims.
Deputy Minister of Health and Medical Education Karim Hemmati told a news conference at the Ministry of Health that The Ministry of Health welcomes and uses every channel that is open to provide medicines and medical equipment to patients, and any amount that this channel can provide, especially individuals suffering from cancer and malignant diseases, but this channel does not solve the fundamental problem of supplying patients with the necessary medicines and transfer of money to buy medicines and equipment.