Amid COVID-19 pandemic a group of nonprofit organizations sends letter to President Trump urging an overhaul in sanctions regimes
Washington, DC – Today, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, 70 organizations representing humanitarian, research, peacebuilding, faith-based, human rights, and other civil society groups with over 40 million supporters sent a letter to President Trump, Secretary Mnuchin, and Secretary Pompeo urging the administration to provide emergency sanctions relief for countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and other heavily-sanctioned locations. Emphasizing the need for a global approach in dealing with the pandemic, the letter points out the “critical state of health infrastructures and economies” in many of these places.
“The pandemic has illustrated that isolating populations for decades and continuously strangling national economies has left millions of people vulnerable to disasters such as a COVID-19,” said Daniel Jasper, Asia Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. “Denying people access to lifesaving resources now represents a risk to the entire world. The U.S. must rethink its approach to sanctions.”
The letter puts forth a framework for universal safeguards that include six specific categories. These include aid that is directly related to containing and providing treatment for COVID-19 (such as testing kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators, etc.). The letter also calls for safeguarding aid needed to address simultaneous challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, such as providing adequate water supply, food security, and urgent health services for other infectious diseases.
The 70 organizations, some of which have decades of experience operating in heavily-sanctioned contexts, highlight the fact that sanctions can prevent the delivery of medical supplies and goods needed for things like childcare or food security projects, as well as limiting communication and partnerships necessary to deliver the aid and monitor ongoing projects.
“In the first days of this pandemic, our international Catholic network was hearing directly from our partners that daily life for people in countries suffering under sanctions was already tenuous and had only become more difficult as a result of COVID-19,” stated Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA Executive Director. “At this precarious moment, it’s essential that the U.S. government suspend sanctions that negatively impact civilian populations and other restrictions that impair governments’ abilities to respond to the current pandemic.”
The signatories say that more is needed than just emergency safeguards, however. The letter notes that the effectiveness of sanctions regimes is not properly assessed by U.S. government agencies, referencing a report by the Government Accountability Office which called into question official monitoring procedures for sanctions as well as the impact of sanctions on human rights abroad. To understand these impacts, signatories to the letter recommend putting into place “reporting protocols that monitor the impact and human cost of sanctions.”
Citing a growing body of independent literature that shows the impacts of sanctions on civilians, the letter also urges the administration to suspend “broad-based and sectoral sanctions that cause significant economic damage and leave populations more exposed to sickness and disease, food insecurity, and other humanitarian emergencies.”