UN rapporteur calls for an end to sanctions against Iran

A special United Nations rapporteur has called for the removal of unilateral sanctions on Iran in a report that details the effect of decades of embargos on the country.

In the report, published on Monday, Alena Douhan, whose role is focused on the negative result of the sanctions, said that they had affected nearly every aspect of life in the country, and called for them to be lifted.

According to Douhan, even as medicines and food are supposed to be exempt from sanctions, general licenses issued by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) aimed at ensuring exemptions “appeared to be ineffective and nearly non-existent”.

She said delivery of medicines and medical equipment to Iran was “severely undermined” by the effects of sanctions on finance, trade, shipping, insurance and over-compliance on the part of foreign businesses and suppliers.

“These constitute serious impediments to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health by all Iranians.”

Sanctions have been imposed on Iran since 1979, when the country’s Islamic revolution took place.

The overwhelming majority of the many layers of sanctions have been imposed by the United States, but others including the European Union, Australia and Canada also have a history of blacklisting Iran and are mentioned in the report.

Since 2018, when former US President Donald Trump unilaterally reneged on Iran’s UN-backed 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Washington has enforced a “maximum pressure” campaign of harsh sanctions that have been expanded by President Joe Biden, even as efforts continue to restore the accord.

The US has said that its sanctions are a response to alleged Iranian efforts to build a nuclear weapon, its actions in the wider Middle East, and repressive behavior against its citizens.

Iran’s nuclear program continues to be at the center of its dispute with the US, with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) saying on September 7 that it was “not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful”.

Tehran has maintained that is not the case, and that its nuclear program is focused on nuclear energy, and not weapons.

More recently, the US has imposed sanctions on Iranian companies for helping transfer Iranian drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, as well as an Iranian ministry accused of being involved in a cyberattack on Albania, an allegation Iran has called baseless.

Effect of sanctions

While Iran produces about 95 percent of its medicines and vaccines locally to mitigate the consequences of sanctions, it has had difficulty procuring raw materials and ingredients, the report said.

US sanctions have also led to the deaths of patients with rare diseases, as they have blocked the supply of life-saving medicines and medical equipment required to treat certain types of cancer, thalassemia, haemophilia, leukemia, multiple sclerosis and epidermolysis bullosa (EB) .

Citing data by the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, the report points out that US sanctions since 2018 jeopardised the country’s food security by disrupting the supply of at least 10 million tonnes of agricultural imports, constituting a “clear violation of the right to food in terms of access and adequacy”.

The report also focused on the effect of sanctions on the ability of Iranians to buy food.

Rampant inflation – currently at about 40 percent – ​​and currency devaluation have meant that food prices are contributing to huge increases in household costs.

“Food insecurity rates among the population have soared, reaching 60 percent in certain regions,” it said, pointing out that the cost of the average food basket has increased more than 3.4 times between 2018 and 2022.

The report also said that annual gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by an average of 1.7 percent between 2011 and 2015, as sanctions intensified. It grew by a record 13.6 percent in 2016 after the nuclear deal was implemented and registered 3.7 percent growth in the next year, but shrank by 6 percent and 6.8 percent respectively in the two years after, when new US sanctions were imposed.

Significantly, the report points out that Iran is home to more than five million immigrants and refugees, many of them Afghans in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

It argues that the sanctions have “adversely impacted the government’s capacity to protect and humanitarian actors’ ability to implement projects, including the provision of basic goods, and construction of schools and health centres”.

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