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UN Experts: Sanctions Proving Deadly During COVID Pandemic, Humanitarian Exemptions Not Working

People in countries under sanctions cannot protect themselves against COVID-19 or get life-saving treatment if they fall ill because humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions are not working, UN human rights experts* said today.

“Sanctions are bringing suffering and death in countries like Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen,” said Alena Douhan, special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. “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.”

Nothing has improved, she said, since she called in April for lifting of all unilateral sanctions that prevent sanctioned states from adequately fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, or since the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies made a similar appeal.

“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,” said Douhan and other UN experts. Water, soap, and electricity needed by hospitals, fuel for delivering vital goods, and food are all in short supply because of the sanctions.

“We renew our call for sanctioning countries to urgently lift, suspend or minimize their sanctions so that medicine, medical equipment, food and fuel can get through,” the experts said.

They welcomed efforts by many states, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations to try to help sanctioned countries fight COVID-19. “We particularly welcome the willingness of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russia, China, the United States and other donors to ship much needed medical supplies.”

However, in place of time-consuming and often costly procedures for getting humanitarian exemptions to sanctions, the UN experts said exemptions should be granted on the presumption that the stated purpose is actually humanitarian, with a burden of proof on others to show it is not.

“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,” Douhan said. “Individuals and humanitarian organizations involved in the delivery of such aid should in no way be subjected to secondary sanctions.”

*The experts: Ms Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; Mr. Obiora Okafor, the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ms Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

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