United Nations: US sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela violate human rights


Expressing deep concern over the recent imposition by the United States of unilateral coercive measures against Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, a UN rights expert has said that the use of economic sanctions for political purposes violates human rights and the norms of international behaviour.

In a statement issued on 6 May, Mr Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, cautioned that such action may precipitate man-made humanitarian catastrophes of unprecedented proportions.

“Regime change through economic measures, likely to lead to the denial of basic human rights and indeed possibly to starvation, has never been an accepted practice of international relations,” said the rights expert.

“Real concerns and serious political differences between governments must never be resolved by precipitating economic and humanitarian disasters, making ordinary people pawns and hostages thereof,” he added.

According to the statement by the rights expert, the recent implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (by the Trump administration), which allows US citizens to file lawsuits against Cuban entities and foreign companies over property seized and used following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, ignored protests by the European Union and Canada.

It was a direct attack on European and Canadian companies in Cuba, where they are the top foreign investors.

“The resort by a major power of its dominant position in the international financial arena against its own allies to cause economic hardship to the economy of sovereign States is contrary to international law, and inevitably undermines the human rights of their citizens,” said Mr Jazairy.

The statement noted that on 17 April, the United States banned the Central Bank of Venezuela from conducting transactions in US dollars after 17 May 2019, and will cut off access to US personal remittances and credit cards by March 20 20.

“It is hard to figure out how measures which have the effect of destroying Venezuela’s economy, and preventing Venezuelans from sending home money, can be aimed at “helping the Venezuelan people”, as claimed by the US Treasury,” said the independent expert.

The statement cited a recent report published by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that claimed that 40,000 people may have died in Venezuela since 2017 due to the US sanctions.

[The CEPR report on “Economic sanctions as collective punishment: The case of Venezuela” was authored by Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director at CEPR, and Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

[In examining some of the most important impacts of the economic sanctions imposed by the US government on Venezuela since August 2017, the authors found that most of the impact of these sanctions has not been on the government but on the civilian population.

[According to the CEPR report, the sanctions reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation.

[The sanctions also exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths.

[The impact of all of these disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans.

[According to the authors of the report, even more severe and destructive than the broad economic sanctions of August 2017 were the sanctions imposed by executive order on 28 January 2019 and subsequent executive orders this year.

[They also said the recognition of a parallel government created a whole new set of financial and trade sanctions that are even more constricting than the executive orders themselves.

[The authors found that the sanctions have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40, 000 deaths from 2017-2018.

[They argued that these sanctions would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory.

[They are also illegal under international law and treaties which the US ha s signed, and would appear to violate US law as well, the authors of the CEPR report said.]

Turning to Iran, Mr Jazairy also expressed concern that the US would not renew waivers for international buyers of Iranian oil, despite protests from NATO ally Turkey, among others.

Washington has demanded that all remaining States which benefited from waivers stop purchases on 1 May, or face sanctions.

“The extraterritorial application of unilateral sanctions is clearly contrary to international law,” the rights expert underlined.

“I am deeply concerned that one State can use its dominant position in international finance to harm not only the Iranian people, who have followed their obligations under the UN-approved nuclear deal to this day, but also everyone in the world who trades with them.”

“The international community must come together to challenge what amounts to blockades ignoring a country’s sovereignty, the human rights of its people, and the rights of third countries trading with sanctioned States, all while constituting a threat to world peace and security,” said Mr Jazairy.

The rights expert called on the international community to engage in constructive dialogue with Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and the United States to find a peaceful resolution in compliance with the spirit and letter of the Charter of the United Nations before the arbitrary use of economic starvation becomes the new “normal”.

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