On June 15, 2020, the Charity & Security Network (C&SN) partnered with the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to explain how U.S. sanctions impede human rights around the world, and specifically the ability of humanitarian organizations to respond effectively to the COVID pandemic. The comments responded to an information request from Alena Douhan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

In their submission, the three nonprofits urge the Special Rapporteur to consider “that unilateral coercive measures implemented by the U.S. have an unparalleled power due to the disproportionate influence of the U.S. over the global financial system and its various actors.” This is because U.S. banks act as a clearinghouse for most global financial transactions… giving the U.S. government, “substantial power to dictate who can participate in the global system simply by managing access to foreigner’s ability to clear and settle dollar transaction.” Numerous examples illustrate how U.S. sanctions and enforcement policy create roadblocks for cross-border transfers intended to support humanitarian and COVID-19 response.

The comments also stress that the impact of U.S. sanctions go beyond country-based sanctions, such as those imposed in Syria or North Korea, to include location where non-state armed groups on the U.S. terrorist list operate.

The comments explain how U.S. sanctions do not incorporate U.S. obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and produce results inconsistent with several international agreements supporting economic development rights and the right to health. Numerous examples are provided.

  • International humanitarian law: Although the primary sanctions law in the U.S. has a humanitarian exemption, since 9/11 this has been routinely cancelled by Executive Orders that put non-state armed groups on the terrorist list. Country based sanctions programs do not include adequate exemptions. In both cases, the licensing process at the Office of Foreign Assets Control does not function as a workable mechanism to safeguard and enable humanitarian assistance.
  • International human rights law: Speech and association rights pertaining to contact with sanctioned entities are limited by the broadly defined prohibition on material support of terrorism. After the Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project the prohibition applied to peacebuilding training and expert advice and assistance aimed at getting terrorist groups to use peaceful means of resolving their grievances.
  • Economic development rights and the right to health: A detailed examination of the impact sanctions has on the health and livelihoods of the general populations of Iran and Venezuela is presented, noting that “During the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession, these violations are exacerbated.”In the letter, the nonprofits provide several recommendations for creating new humanitarian safeguards that would allow effective response to the COVID pandemic in sanctions hit countries, ensuring that equipment, goods, training, communications and partnerships necessary to combat the pandemic are not impeded by sanctions restrictions.

Read the full comments here.