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News > World

Most Unilateral Sanctions Violate International Law: UN Expert

  • U.S. citizens demanding the end of the blockade against Cuba, June 26, 2022.

    U.S. citizens demanding the end of the blockade against Cuba, June 26, 2022. | Photo: Twitter/ @lianystr

Published 13 July 2022

The U.S. sanctions, imposed mostly in the name of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, undermine those very principles, values and norms, said Alena Douhan.

The majority of today's unilateral sanctions, imposed mainly by the U.S.-led western powers, do not fall within the scope of international law, according to Alena Douhan, special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs) on the enjoyment of human rights.


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"I would say that around 98 percent of the unilateral sanctions taken today violate the international obligations of states," said Douhan, who is also the director of the Peace Research Center at the Belarusian State University. 

During her recent visit to Zimbabwe, she was told that unilateral sanctions had forced some students there to change from continuous to periodic learning -- as if they were tourists. When these students came back for exams, they had to sleep on the streets.

"We have clearly observed that the use of unilateral sanctions and unilateral coercive measures is affecting the right to development and impeding the achievement of every single sustainable development goal," she said.

Among all the negative impacts of UCMs, Douhan mentioned that the right to health is severely affected, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as she has observed during her recent visits to Venezuela and other countries.

In Venezuela, due to the absence of gasoline, it is extremely difficult for women to get to hospital for basic medical assistance, as the transportation fee could be equal to their monthly salary. She said the mortality rate among women and newborn babies has kept growing as many hospitals -- due to sanctions -- lacked the facilities to take care of new moms and their babies.

The special rapporteur concluded that the targeted sanctions exacerbated the pre-existing economic and social crises and had a devastating effect on the entire population. She stressed that these sanctions, imposed mostly in the name of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, undermine those very principles, values and norms. She cited relevant survey findings as saying that due to the sharp increase in UCMs, the general mortality rate in Venezuela increased by 31 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Another special concern for the UN expert is extraterritorial secondary sanctions and threats of sanctions resulting in overcompliance with existing sanctions regimes, which prevent the sanctioned states and their people from purchasing essential goods.

According to one of her reports, the obstruction of the purchase of vaccines has exposed approximately 2.6 million children in Venezuela to the risks of meningitis, rotavirus infection, malaria, measles, yellow fever and influenza.

During a 12-day visit to Iran, she learned how unilateral sanctions had deprived patients who suffered rare diseases and disabilities of the medicine and assistive equipment they needed.

"I am gravely concerned about the life-threating consequences of the high costs and in certain cases complete absence of specialized medicines and medical equipment due to sanctions-induced trade and financial restrictions," she said.

She pointed out that even in situations when humanitarian exemptions are applicable, natural and legal entities like banks and ships are reluctant to be involved in transactions for fear of responsibilities, and this results in overcompliance with already massive sanctions regimes.

She cited the example of a Chinese businessman, who wanted to donate masks and other urgently needed medical protective materials in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started to wreak havoc across the globe. The shipment, however, could not reach its final destination as the carrier, a United States company, refused at the last minute to deliver the goods citing United States sanction regulations.

"We started to face a new tendency of secondary sanctions and overcompliance. ... The world starts to be ruled by fear," she said. 


Alena Douhan
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