Sanctions are bringing suffering and death
The US and its allies have put Iranian society under enormous pressure. Economic sanctions, which goes back not years but decades, have crippled the economy of the country, reduced purchasing power of citizens and hit the healthcare system.
The United States frequently reiterates that the sanctions exempt the sale of medicine and medical devices. However, American secondary sanctions on financial institutions and companies that do business with Iran have made it nearly impossible for Iran to buy items like ventilators to treat coronavirus patients.
Since the early phases of Covid-19 pandemic, many civil society activists, experts, defenders, and politicians across the world called for easing Unilateral Coercive Measures on targeted countries. “People in countries under sanctions cannot protect themselves against the disease or get life-saving treatment if they fall ill because humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions are not working.” said Alena Douhan, special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, in her statement on 7 August.
"Sanctions are bringing suffering and death in countries like Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. Sanctions should be lifted – or at a minimum eased – so people can get basics like soap and disinfectants to stay healthy, and so that hospitals can get ventilators and other equipment to keep people alive."
"Sanctions that were imposed in the name of delivering human rights are in fact killing people and depriving them of fundamental rights, including the rights to health, to food and to life itself." Water, soap, and electricity needed by hospitals, fuel for delivering vital goods, and food, are all in short supply because of the sanctions. The experts urged sanctioning countries “to urgently lift, suspend or minimize their sanctions so that medicine, medical equipment, food and fuel can get through.”
Also, on 3 April 2020, Ms. Douhan called for the lifting of all unilateral sanctions that obstruct the humanitarian responses of sanctioned States, in order to enable their health care systems to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives.
In March, during a Virtual Summit on the COVID-19 Pandemic, the UN secretary general appealed for the waving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Broad US-imposed economic sanctions are negatively affecting the Iranian government’s ability to adequately respond to the mounting health consequences of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The US should take immediate action to ease US sanctions and expand licensing of sanctions-exempt items to ensure Iran’s access to essential humanitarian resources during the pandemic.”
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, tweeted that the US has moved from "economic terrorism" to "medical terror" by declining to lift the sanctions after the beginning of the outbreak in Iran in mid-February.
In the United States, two dozen Democratic members of Congress led by prominent progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar in the House of Representatives, have signed a letter calling on the Trump administration to halt sanctions on Iran so the country can fight the deadly virus. Former Vice President Joe Biden has also asked the US government to clear humanitarian channels to Iran, and to assure companies and organizations that they will not be subject to US sanctions if they help Iran’s COVID-19 response.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan pleaded to President Donald Trump via Twitter, and several European governments requested the US to consider reducing economic pressure on Iran. The New York Times Editorial Board wrote that “easing the maximum pressure would be a wise diplomatic move.”
Dozens of prominent academics across the US and Canada, such as Noam Chomsky, have signed a petition saying it is “unjust” to leave Iranians alone in this global crisis and how it violates their rights to health and access to medical care.
The coronavirus knows no borders or politics. It spreads fast and wide across borders and country lines. Helping Iran contain it is not only in the interest of 80 million Iranians, but also millions of their neighbors in countries where wars and violence have destroyed health systems and reduced the ability to fight catastrophes of this magnitude. "To guarantee human rights and solidarity in the course of the pandemic, licenses for delivery of humanitarian aid should be provided in the easiest way – preferably automatically upon request," Ms. Douhan said. "Individuals and humanitarian organizations involved in the delivery of such aid should in no way be subjected to secondary sanctions."
However, the Trump administration has not yet shown much interest in easing the pressure on Iran. In fact, there have also been calls within the US for the sanctions to not only remain in place, but also to be tightened during this time of crisis. A cluster of right-wing think tanks in Washington, led by The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and American Enterprise (AEI), for example, have been aggressively lobbying the Trump administration to escalate militarily towards Iran and tighten sanctions amid the pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, published an editorial claiming it is "no time to end Iran sanctions" We have seen similar think pieces published in other reputable American media organisations, such as Foreign Policy and Bloomberg. Trump appears to be eager to please Saudi Arabia and Israel, the primary supporters of his administration in the Middle East, by increasing pressure on Iran during this global crisis.