US Sanctions: Illegal and Deadlier than War

April 30th, 2020 - by Carmen Esquivel / Prisma & Monthly Review Online & United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Blockade: A Weapon that Causes More Death than War

Carmen Esquivel / Prisma & Monthly Review Online

(February 12, 2020) — It is an enormous political challenge to expose this crime. With this objective, an International Conference on Action against the Economic War is currently being organized, which will take place from 13 to 15 March, with the slogan “Sanctions kill. Sanctions are war.”

According to the American writer and activist Sara Flounders, sanctions imposed by military and economically dominant powers now cause more deaths than bombs or weapons. In the case of Cuba, the damages accumulated across almost six decades of unfair economic, commercial and financial siege amount to over 922,630 million dollars, taking into account the depreciation of the dollar against the value of gold on the international market.

The aggressions have increased under the administration of US President Donald Trump, with the restriction of remittances, the reduction of visas, the prohibition of cruises, the suspension of charter flights to Cuban provinces, and penalties imposed on companies and ships to prevent the arrival of fuel to Cuba.

In the sphere of health, this economic war hinders the acquisition of technologies, raw materials, reagents, diagnostic means, equipment and spare parts, as well as medicines for the treatment of serious diseases such as cancer.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has cited several cases of how this siege affects health; for example, a Cuban child with severe heart failure cannot have the most advanced system of circulatory assistance for pediatric purposes because it is of American origin.

Another country that has faced the effects of hostile US policy in recent years is Venezuela.

Since Washington arbitrarily declared the South American country a threat to national security in 2015, more than 150 unilateral measures have been imposed on Venezuela with the purpose of overthrowing the constitutional government of Nicolás Maduro. The global damage caused to this nation is immeasurable. The United States government applied embargoes on oil exports that provide 95% of its revenues and prohibited Venezuela from using bank accounts to import medicines and execute its social protection programs.

A study carried out by the Center for Political and Economic Research, based in the United States, assures that the measures applied by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018 alone caused the deaths of around 40,000 people in Venezuela.

The report, entitled “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela,” states that these measures reduced the availability of food and medicine, and increased disease and mortality.

The sanctions caused a sharp decrease in oil production in Venezuela, the main source of foreign exchange income to the economy, which caused great damage to the population, the document said.

In his speech at the XVIII Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Baku last October, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, denounced that this form of economic terrorism affects a third of humanity, with more than eight thousand sanctions in 39 countries.

Since the end of World War II, Washington has used its economic and military power to try to repress countries that do not align with its interests. Some of the countries that suffer the most severe sanctions are Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. “This is such an omnipresent instrument that barely a week goes by without new sanctions, even against allies,” said US activist Sara Flounders.

The Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the US Department of the Treasury, contains more than 6,300 names.

Flounders emphasizes that this calculated attack is pushing back decades of progress in the areas of healthcare, sanitation systems, housing, essential infrastructure and industrial development worldwide.

As co-director of the International Action Center (IAC), she also noted the paradox of the United States declaring Iran and North Korea to be the biggest threats to world peace, given that the United States owns the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and 800 military bases and has waged wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.

Flounders believes that these countries should not have to defend themselves alone, and that it is “an enormous political challenge to break the media silence and expose this crime.”

Originally published as The Prisma by Carmen Esquivel (February 10, 2020). Translated by Lucy Daghorn.

US Sanctions Violate Human Rights and International Code of Conduct, UN Expert Says

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right

GENEVA (May 6, 2019) — An independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council has expressed deep concern at the recent imposition of unilateral coercive measures on Cuba, Venezuela and Iran by the United States, saying the use of economic sanctions for political purposes violates human rights and the norms of international behaviour.  Such action may precipitate man-made humanitarian catastrophes of unprecedented proportions.

“Regime change through economic measures likely to lead to the denial of basic human rights and indeed possibly to starvation has never been an accepted practice of international relations,” said Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur concerned with the negative impact of sanctions. “Real concerns and serious political differences between governments must never be resolved by precipitating economic and humanitarian disasters, making ordinary people pawns and hostages thereof.”

The implementation of Title III of the Helms Burton Act — allowing US citizens to file lawsuits against Cuban entities and foreign companies over property seized and used following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution — ignored protests by the European Union and Canada and was a direct attack on European and Canadian companies in Cuba, where they are the top foreign investors.

“The resort by a major power of its dominant position in the international financial arena against its own allies to cause economic hardship to the economy of sovereign States is contrary to international law, and inevitably undermines the human rights of their citizens,” the Special Rapporteur said.

On 17 April the United States banned the Central Bank of Venezuela from conducting transactions in US dollars after 17 May, and will cut off access to US personal remittances and credit cards by March 2020.

“It is hard to figure out how measures which have the effect of destroying Venezuela’s economy, and preventing Venezuelans from sending home money, can be aimed at ‘helping the Venezuelan people’, as claimed by the US Treasury,” the expert said.

His statements follow claims in a recent report published by the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research that 40,000 people may have died in Venezuela since 2017 because of US sanctions.

Jazairy also said he was concerned the US would not renew waivers for international buyers of Iranian oil, despite protests from NATO ally Turkey, among others. Washington has demanded that all remaining States, which benefited from waivers stop purchases on May 1, or face sanctions.

“The extraterritorial application of unilateral sanctions is clearly contrary to international law,” the expert said.  “I am deeply concerned that one State can use its dominant position in international finance to harm not only the Iranian people, who have followed their obligations under the UN-approved nuclear deal to this day, but also everyone in the world who trades with them. 

“The international community must come together to challenge what amounts to blockades ignoring a country’s sovereignty, the human rights of its people, and the rights of third countries trading with sanctioned States, all while constituting a threat to world peace and security.

“I call on the international community to engage in constructive dialogue with Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and the United States to find a peaceful resolution in compliance with the spirit and letter of the Charter of the United Nations before the arbitrary use of economic starvation becomes the new ‘normal’.”


UN Expert Mr. Idriss Jazairy (Algeria) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. He took office in May 2015. Mr. Jazairy has extensive experience in the fields of international relations and human rights with the Algerian Foreign Ministry, the UN human rights system and international NGOs. He holds a MA (Oxford) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and an MPA (Harvard). He also graduated from the Ecole nationale d’Administration (France). Mr. Jazairy is the author of books and many articles in the international press on development, human rights and current affairs. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

ACTION: Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

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