US sanctions: collective punishment in the time of COVID-19
Despite widespread outcry to alter U.S. foreign policy in recent weeks, including letters on Iran and Gaza in the House and Senate, the Trump administration has largely stayed its course. Among other policy flaws, the coronavirus outbreak exposes the fundamental inhumanity of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
The US continues to utilize or support policies of collective punishment, now only exacerbated by the pandemic. Debilitating sanctions on Iran that ignore the outcry of multiple human rights and humanitarian groups is just one example of what must change.
The US has also suspended all humanitarian aid to Palestine and Palestine refugees over the past two years, while maintaining complicity with human rights abuses by Israel, with some legislators even working to subvert a case against Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as continuing to subsidize the Israeli military to the tune of three billion dollars a year despite Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Sanctions already face critique as an inhumane tactic of international bullying between countries with dramatic asymmetries in power and resources, implemented often exclusively against countries of the Global South. Regarding Iran, a 2018 Human Rights Watch report found that US sanctions were “severely limiting Iranian companies and hospitals from purchasing essential medicines and medical equipment.” Today, in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the sanctions’ effects are catastrophic.
An Iranian health official announced last month that every ten minutes, COVID-19 had killed another Iranian, and within an hour, infected 50 more people. Activists called for a 120-day freeze on sanctions to allow Iran to fight COVID-19 with full force. While the sanctions will continue to hurt Iranian civilians beyond this time period, a foreign policy that cannot adjust to this global pandemic threatens any semblance of adherence to international law and human rights, as defined by either the Geneva Conventions or the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Such concerns have prompted some US policymakers to attempt a change to US foreign policy at this critical time.