Imposing sanctions is a war crime amid pandemic

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) calls for the immediate lifting of international sanctions, especially those that include food and agriculture trade to relieve vulnerable countries and enable them to effectively battle the coronavirus pandemic.

It is absolutely appalling that economic and political sanctions remain in place despite the worsening state of the global economy and health systems breaking down in every turn.

For sanctioned countries, such political and economic restrictions can mean life or death for their constituents. Throughout the years, sanctions shrunk policy spaces of these nations and crippled their healthcare systems that made them extremely vulnerable to be infected by the disease. Moreover, these restrictions have also placed their most vulnerable communities on the brink of starvation.

Sanctions contribute to conflict and instability of countries, which has been identified as among the top drivers of acute hunger in the world. In fact, Venezuela, South Sudan, and Syria belong to the top ten countries with the worst food crises.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to devastate these countries further, with global extreme hunger projected to double by the end of 2020 due to the global health crisis. If left unaddressed, sanctions will cause widespread starvation of “biblical proportions” in affected countries sooner than anticipated.

The United States plays a huge role in imposing sanctions. More than 93% of global trade, 61% of all foreign bank reserves, and nearly 40% of the world’s debt are denominated in US dollars. It does not shy away from wielding these to expand its hegemony at the expense of people’s rights.

The US recently renewed its sanctions in Syria, which hindered testing kits and humanitarian aid from reaching its people. US sanctions in Iran,which were intensified in January after the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, made it the only country in the world incapable of buying medicines and medical equipment from the global market to domestically address the pandemic. We slam these acts which are clearly war crimes in the context of today’s global crisis.

In this light, PCFS joins the group La Solidaridad Philippine Solidarity with the Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean in condemning the US for “weaponizing” these sanctions to stifle countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) that “refuse subservience to imperialist policies and are determined to struggle for their sovereign right to self-determination.”

Indeed, the Coalition echoes the sentiment of Hilal Elver, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, that these sanctions “[undermine] the ordinary citizens’ fundamental right to sufficient and adequate food” and that their immediate lifting is now a matter of “humanitarian and practical urgency” to prevent concerned countries from dwindling into a hunger crisis.

We urge the UN Security Council not to renew its sanctions to South Sudan and instead heed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for the rescinding of sanctions imposed by the US and other countries. Extreme hunger is most prevalent in South Sudan, where 61% of its population is experiencing acute hunger.

In addition, we call the G20 to urge its members in revoking unilateral sanctions imposed by its member countries, which has been absent in its COVID-19 Action Plan.

The lifting of sanctions, among the nine demands for food and rights promoted by PCFS, will save lives – be it from the pandemic or the looming global hunger crisis. It is a just and humanitarian action amid and beyond today’s global health crisis. ###

(Photo from WFP)

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