The Effects of Sanctions During COVID-19


SEATTLE, Washington — Sanctions are economic orders made by countries and multinational organizations against a country or a region to protect international peace, security and sometimes national interests through diplomatic efforts. These orders come in the form of economic restrictions. They affect the target country’s diplomacy, economy, trade and overall quality of life. The country or organization lifts the sanctions when the other country no longer presents a threat to international law. However, sanctions during COVID-19 can prove detrimental to countries trying to combat the pandemic.

Imposing Sanctions

As per the Charter of the United Nations, only the UN Security Council can impose sanctions and all UN member states must approve them (Article 41). Sanctions do not utilize military force. Rather, it is a powerful, peaceful diplomatic tool that the international community uses to prevent global threats. This type of sanction is known as a multilateral sanction.

Another type of sanction is the unilateral sanction. Individual nations, rather than the UN, impose unilateral sanctions in an effort to protect their own national interests. Measures under these sanctions are very powerful and range from coercion to economic warfare. The underlying principle of unilateral sanctions is that the economic sanctions imposed by one country lead to hardships in another. Thus, this causes drastic political effects, and the country subjected to the sanctions eventually accepts the demands of the first.

Types of Sanctions

There are several types of sanctions that different countries and the UN can impose:

  1. Trade embargo on the import and/or export of certain products. These usually cover economically valuable goods for the target country such as oil or timber. An example of a trade embargo is President Trump’s “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” against Russia, Iran and North Korea.

  2. Military sanctions can include an arms embargo, which is a ban on weapons, arms and military vehicles of the target country. It can also include extreme measures such as calculated missile strikes on the target country.

  3. Restrictions on loans and assets for certain people or organizations of the targeted country.

  4. Travel and visa ban on people from the target country. Countries can also impose sanctions on specific individuals, usually political leaders.

  5. Diplomatic sanctions reduce diplomatic ties through measures such as closing embassies.

  6. Sports sanctions prevent athletes and teams from the target country from participating in international sports events. An example of this is the “Gleneagles Agreement 1977” where Commonwealth nations prevented any interaction between their athletes/sports organizations and teams/athletes from South Africa.

Since 1966, the UN Security Council imposed a total of 30 sanctions, 14 of which are currently ongoing. These are legal as per international law since all member states of the council agreed upon them. Some of these sanctions support the governments of these countries and help them transition into a peaceful one, like those in Libya and Guinea Bissau.

Sanctions During COVID-19

Many claims have been made in opposition to sanctions imposed by individual countries. Some refer to these sanctions as ‘illegal’ since it hinders a country’s right to development and self-defense according to the Charter of the United Nations. The International Progress Organization (IPO) expressed concerns against state-imposed sanctions that affect the poor and needy of a country as well as the children, disabled and the elderly.

With the COVID-19 pandemic crippling the economy of many countries, an important question arises: Should we lift economic sanctions during COVID-19? Countries where sanctions already disadvantaged them are now suffering even more due to the pandemic. Many UN human rights experts advocate for easing economic sanctions to allow affected countries to get access to health supplies and other resources.

The Effects

Currently, sanctions imposed in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are preventing these countries from accessing vital resources. In developing countries under sanctions, medical equipment is usually obsolete. Sanctioned countries are the most disadvantaged during the COVID-19 pandemic. They cannot use their revenues or foreign exchange to purchase imports of protective equipment, medicines and food from the international market.

Dina Behzadi, a sophomore at the University of Tehran in Iran, shares her experience with the economic restrictions placed on her country. “Ever since Trump reimposed sanctions in my country, it has been very difficult for me and my family financially.” She recalls, “Food such as eggs and meat are very expensive. Sometimes, I have to stand hours in line at a subsidized grocery store for affordable meat rations.”

Hence, sanctions during COVID-19 indirectly lead to deaths in these countries, depriving communities of fundamental human rights. The International Red Cross, as well as the Red Crescent Societies, have made appeals to countries imposing unilateral sanctions like the United States. These unilateral sanctions prevent countries from properly dealing with the pandemic.

Granting exemptions to sanctions during COVID-19 based on humanitarian purposes is a long process. Behzadi states, “My country has been hit very hard due to the virus. I plead for these restrictions to be lifted for only a short time so that my country is able to access basic things like food and medicine.” Whether sanctions are an ethical way to settle diplomatic disputes remains a conversation for later. Right now, unilateral sanctions are preventing many different countries from properly dealing with COVID-19. Countries that imposed these sanctions must find a way to ease restrictions or provide humanitarian aid to affected countries to help combat the virus.

– Abbas Raza

Photo: Flickr


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