The corona pandemic helped to raise awareness of the harmful effects of a policy that is usually ignored: the more or less severe “sanctions” imposed by the US– partly together with the EU states-on a total of 39 countries. Some, such as the economic blockades against Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and Russia are well known. However, the devastating consequences of the measures against already completely impoverished countries such as Nicaragua, Mali, Zimbabwe or Laos do not even have human rights groups on their Radar.
Sanctions: A misleading term
However, the term “sanctions” is completely misleading here. Because nothing and no one gives the US or the EU the right to self-gloriously impose punitive measures. Only the UN Security Council is legitimised for this purpose. In fact, these are arbitrary coercive measures that violate international law and international agreements in many ways. Although they are usually justified on humanitarian, human rights and similar grounds, they are acts of arbitrariness that can only be imposed per se by dominant major powers and are also imposed almost exclusively by the United States and its allies. At the same time, they can be sure that even in the worst crimes, such as the wars against Yugoslavia, Iraq or Libya, they will not become the target of such measures themselves.
To prevent misunderstandings: in this context, it is not about limited measures, such as the exclusion of sporting events or even civil society boycott campaigns, which are often cited as positive examples in the debate on “sanctions”. Arms embargoes are also a completely different issue, since arms deliveries are not covered by normal trade, but by military support. Rather, it is about the extensive restrictions on trade, finance, financial transactions, Transport, etc.that are imposed on more and more countries and in many cases take on the character of economic wars.
The goal: subordination and " Regime Change”
Regardless of whether the accusations against affected states are partially justified, and also regardless of how much it is asserted that the measures are only directed against the respective government, the respective Regime, as soon as they effectively restrict Export, Import and financial transactions, they always primarily affect the population. This is by no means an undesirable side effect, since they are aimed directly at sensitively disrupting or even strangling the opponent’s economy.
Economic blockades are a form of blackmail intended to force the governments of the affected countries to submit to the policies of the Western powers. Often, as in the case of Cuba, Syria, Iran or Venezuela, they also openly strive for “Regime Changes” by trying to force the population to revolt through a drastic deterioration of living conditions. All citizens of the affected countries are thus taken hostage.
Insidious Form of modern warfare
According to Alfred de Zayas, the former Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council for Latin America, “economic sanctions” are basically comparable to “medieval sieges of cities”, which should be forced to surrender. “However, the sanctions of the 21st century are trying to bring not only a city but sovereign countries to their knees.“In contrast to the Middle Ages, the blockades of the 21st century would not have been possible. In the first half of the 20th century, “the Manipulation of public opinion by ‘Fake News’, aggressive PR work, and Pseudo-human rights rhetoric are accompanied to give the impression that the ‘goal’ of human rights justifies criminal means.”
Meanwhile, this insidious form of Modern Warfare is also the most commonly used. It hardly attracts attention and can thus be used largely unchallenged, it is also openly praised by US politicians as a cheaper Alternative to military interventions, since they entail significantly lower risks and side effects for the attackers. But these wars are also destructive and are destroying decades of progress in the affected countries in the areas of health care, sanitation, housing, basic infrastructure and industrial development.
Potential Weapons Of Mass Destruction
Even if so-called humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine, are officially excluded from the blockades, supply bottlenecks are inevitable. Due to the general threat of sanctions against all companies that continue to trade with them, the countries concerned have enormous problems even in finding suppliers and transport options. The exclusion of their banks from international payments and banking deprives them of the usual ways of financing imports, the restriction of exports deprives them of the necessary foreign exchange. By blocking the supply of ordinary goods because they can also play a role in the production of weapons and other unwanted products as so-called “Dual Use"goods, the in-house production of machines, spare parts, plant fertilizers and medicines is severely impaired.
Modern industrial societies are based on a fragile network of essential infrastructure and technologies. When pumps, generators or sewage systems no longer function due to a lack of simple spare parts, entire districts can sink into the swamp and Cholera and typhoid epidemics can spread. If farmers are deprived of seeds, fertilizers, tools and machines, or if food, medicines and vital equipment cannot be imported adequately due to financial blockades, life-threatening emergencies arise.
Economic wars can therefore claim more casualties than military ones, especially if the US and its allies seek to strangle their adversaries through complete blockades, while threatening third countries with so-called” secondary” or “extraterritorial sanctions” force yourself to join them.
Severe economic blockades can become weapons of mass destruction. According to a study by the United Nations Children’s fund UNICEF, the comprehensive Embargo on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 cost the lives of around 500,000 children. In total, more than one Million Iraqis died as a result. Scientists therefore spoke of “mass destruction sanctions”.
The “silent death”
Even if the current trade and financial blockades against countries such as Syria, Iran, Venezuela or Cuba have not yet been as devastating as the Iraq embargo, they are undoubtedly killing too. According to estimates by the Washington - based research institute Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the US and EU sanctions against Venezuela have already claimed about 40,000 lives between 2017 and 2018.
In Iran, too, the US blockade measures, which were tightened again from 2018, had already led to massive supply shortages with essential goods, including medicine, at the end of 2019. According to Human Rights Watch, the Trump Administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” on the Islamic Republic “poses a serious threat to Iranians’ right to health and their access to Essential Medicines.”
For many cancer patients, for example, it is fatal, as the renowned US journal Foreign Policy reported last August.
The situation in Syria is even more dramatic. According to the research of the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative consequences of unilateral coercive measures, Idriss Jazairy, the effects of the economic blockades of the USA and the EU on the population are now worse than those of the war. Their victims only die “a silent death”. The recently deceased Algerian human rights expert therefore strongly contradicted the justification often put forward by supporters that “sanctions” are a “nonviolent Alternative to war”.
Economic coercive measures to enforce political goals, as in the case of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, are also in flagrant contradiction to human rights and norms of international diplomatic relations.
“When a great power uses its dominant position in the international financial system even against its own allies to cause economic difficulties to sovereign states,” he declared, referring to the US “Helms-Burton law” against Cuba, “it violates international law and inevitably undermines human rights.”
It is also “difficult to understand how measures that destroy Venezuela’s economy” could be “aimed at helping the Venezuelan people,” the UN expert pointed out the absurdity of Western justification for its blockade policy against Venezuela. Sanctions lead to Hunger, and medical supply” could not be “the answer to the crisis in Venezuela”.
Western policy against UN majority
While they are nevertheless hardly criticised in the West, the overwhelming majority of UN member states have long condemned the unilateral coercive measures in principle. As early as 1991, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution calling on the international community to “take urgent and effective measures to prevent the use of unilateral economic coercive measures by some developed countries against developing countries” aimed at influencing the sovereign decisions of the affected countries. Most recently, in November 2019, the second committee of the UN General Assembly again adopted a Resolution to this effect.
According to the Tenor of all resolutions, such unilateral economic measures are not authorized by UN bodies, violate international law and the Charter of the United Nations. They contradict the norms and principles for peaceful relations between states and the basic principles of the multilateral trading system.
By blocking the foreign trade of a country that is dependent on it for its survival, according to the common verdict of international lawyers, the lives of the civilian population as a whole are threatened. Comprehensive economic blockades are therefore, regardless of their justification, serious human rights violations. They include, in particular, disregard for the right to life, as well as adequate nutrition and health care. They are also a form of collective punishment that is in complete contrast to the basic principles of law.
Blockades in times of Corona-a crime against humanity
The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has more clearly than ever brought the practice of unilateral economic blockades, which is contrary to international law and immoral, to the light of public opinion. The countries confronted with it, especially Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and Yemen, have been made massively difficult by them to take protective measures and to prepare their health systems for the increase of diseases.
Numerous countries, international institutions and personalities, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet and Jazairy’s successor, the Belarusian international lawyer Alena Douhan,, demand that the “sanctions” be suspended at least during the pandemic and immediately stop all measures that prevent the financing of the purchase of medicines, medical equipment, food and other vital goods.
“Now is the time for solidarity, not exclusion”, UN Secretary General António Guterres concluded his appeal to Washington and the EU.
But despite these appeals and all their own expressions of international solidarity in the Corona era, the governments of the US and EU states are steadfastly sticking to their blockade measures.
While Cuba sent medical teams to 27 countries to assist in the fight against the Coronavirus, the Trump Administration is further exacerbating the 60-year-long Blockade against the country. The coercive measures against Syria are also being extended with the” Caesar law for the protection of the Syrian population”. In this regard, the country needs nothing more urgently than extensive international support for the reconstruction of the infrastructure and the health system as well as the care of the population.
Parliamentary majority with greens for blockades
Already in normal circumstances inhumane, the economic blockades in this Situation clearly constitute a crime against humanity. A motion by the left-wing group in the Bundestag, which called on the federal government to “work at international level and in the EU for the immediate end of all unilateral economic sanctions that affect the respective population and thus enable the affected states to effectively fight against the corona pandemic,” was defeated by the governing parties together with the greens without much debate.
“The world after the pandemic should be a world of international solidarity – without unilateral coercive measures,” says human rights expert De Zayas. “Now is the right time for the international community to reaffirm the principles of multilateralism contained in the UN Charter and to demand that unilateral coercive measures causing death and suffering be condemned by the International Criminal Court as crimes against humanity.