The organizations representing humanitarian, research, peacebuilding, faith-based, human rights, and other civil society groups with over 40 million supporters sent a letter to the US President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging the administration to provide emergency sanctions relief for countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and other heavily-sanctioned countries, according to Common dreams website.
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 US must rethink its approach to sanctions.”
The 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.
Concerns of financial institutions
The letter also urged authorities to address the concerns of financial institutions, which have been reluctant to work with humanitarian agencies.
“While sanctions contain exceptions for food, medical supplies, and other humanitarian goods, in practice these exceptions do not work. Banks often block purchases for these items out of fear of running afoul of sanctions, in what is known as over-compliance,” said Teri Mattson, the Latin America Campaign Coordinator for CODEPINK.
However, the US claims that medical equipment and medicines are technically exempt from the sanctions, but their purchases and imports are blocked by bank’s unwillingness to process payment over fears of heavy US penalties.
Sanctions only harming innocent civilians
Speaking to the US-based The Nation magazine in a report published on Thursday, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who serves on the Congress’s Foreign Affairs committee, said that the US sanctions are “only harming innocent civilians who bear the brunt of this crisis”, Press TV reported.
“Keeping sanctions in place on Iran during a global pandemic is unconscionable,” she said.
Earlier this month, a group of US lawmakers also urged the Trump administration to suspend the anti-Iran sanctions.
On Thursday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said the US “illegal and inhumane” sanctions against the Islamic Republic double the pressure on the people of Iran, which is among the worst-hit countries from the deadly virus.
Araqchi said that Washington’s sanctions have hampered the global action that is vital to curbing COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“Coronavirus has spread not only in Iran but also across almost all countries in the world and [therefore] stopping it calls for a resolute effort and collective action,” he said during a phone conversation with Dutch Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Matthijs van der Plas.
Europe’s opposition to sanctions
In Europe, the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell expressed regret that the US has refused European Union's call to ease its sanctions on Iran and has blocked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from assisting Iran in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported.
"We supported first to soften the sanctions and second, the request by Iran to the International Monetary Fund for financial help," Borrell told reporters after a video conference of EU foreign ministers.
Iran's Central Bank applied to the IMF on March 12 for an emergency $5 billion loan to combat coronavirus. It was the first time since 1962 that Iran asked the international organization for emergency funding.
"I regret that the Americans are, at this stage, opposing the International Monetary Fund from taking this decision. From a humanitarian point of view, this request should have been accepted," he said.