Broad sectoral sanctions should urgently be re-evaluated in countries facing the coronavirus pandemic, in light of their potentially debilitating impact on the health sector and human rights, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday (24 March).
Reading her statement in a virtual press conference in New York, the UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that “in a context of global pandemic impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us, calling humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures.”
Bachelet also noted that the countries under sanctions should provide transparent information, accept offers of necessary humanitarian assistance, and prioritize the needs and rights of vulnerable people. They should also adopt measures to guarantee national and international organizations can carry out their humanitarian work unhindered.
“For his part,” Dujarric continued, “the Secretary-General fully backs the High Commissioner’s sentiments. He has been in touch with a number of member states including those who have imposed sanctions.”
In Iran, where at least 1,800 people have died from COVID-19, human rights reports have repeatedly emphasized the impact of sectoral sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment – including respirators and protective equipment for health-care workers.
More than 50 Iranian medics have died since the first cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were detected five weeks ago. The epidemic in Iran is also spreading to neighbouring countries which will strain health services in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The Secretary-general received a call from Foreign Minister Javad Zarif earlier this week and discussed the matter,” said Dujarric. “The Secretary-General is very much aware of the shortage of medicine and medical equipment in Iran that it makes it much difficult to contain the outbreak. He appeals to all member states and all members of international community to facilitate and support Iran’s efforts at this critical time.”
A variety of sanctions may also impede medical efforts in Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, according to Bachelet.
In Venezuela, some hospitals regularly suffer water and electricity cutoffs and lack medicines, equipment, disinfectant and soap. While this situation pre-dates the imposition of sectoral sanctions, easing them could mean more resources could be allocated to treating and preventing the epidemic~UNIFEED
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