‘Yes, Sanctions Kill in Iran’: UN Rapporteur


‘Yes, Sanctions Kill in Iran’: UN Rapporteur

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Alena Douhan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, denounced the foreign sanctions that have affected the daily lives of ordinary people in Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s website has released the English translation of an exclusive interview that the French weekly ‘Le Point’ conducted with Alena Douhan on June 4 about the impacts of the US sanctions in Iran.

Douhan traveled to Iran from May 7 to 18 to assess the US sanctions against the ountry. She is the first UN special rapporteur to visit Iran in 17 years.

During her 12-day visit to the country, Douhan met with Iranian government officials, as well as representatives of civil society organizations, health experts, and financial institutions.

What follows is the full text of the interview, entitled “Yes, sanctions kill in Iran”:

Question: What are the real impacts of sanctions on Iran?

Douhan: The impacts of these sanctions on Iran were different from other countries which are under sanctions such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela that I visited. Iran, for example, has a relatively developed health and educational system. As a result, it has not been as affected by sanctions as Venezuela. On the other hand, Iran is also food self-sufficient. That is why I have not seen in Iran the people who eat only once a day. However, sanctions have had a profound effect on the lives of Iranians in many ways.

Question: What are the impacts of sanctions on Iranians?

Douhan: The first impact is economic, because Iran is not able to do business. The economic situation of the country has deteriorated, especially for those working in the field of foreign trade. Therefore, all employees of foreign-invested companies have been affected by the sanctions. Thus, some industries have been forced to reduce the number of their employees up to ten times.

For example, in the handicrafts sector, which used to export many products abroad and has nothing to do with oil or the government. These jobs are mostly family-run, with five to twenty people but now only one person is hired. In the same way, many translators have lost their jobs because tourism and trade have stopped in this country.

Question: Have these sanctions affected people’s daily lives?

Douhan: Yes. I will give you a specific example in this regard. First of all, when we talk about people's lives, we have to keep in mind that a lot of people are affected by economic conditions. As a result, the poor people are falling below the poverty line, and the situation of many middle-class people has deteriorated. In the past, people had the opportunity to pay private institutions to receive better health and educational services for their children. But as the economic situation worsens, their wages have dropped to such an extent that they now use only public services. Subsequently, the workload of public hospitals has increased significantly and in addition, there are tens of thousands of additional refugees that Iran receives daily and thus you will find that an incredible pressure is imposed on Iran's hospitals and educational system, especially since the country does not receive any new income for building hospitals and hiring staff.

Question: Have the sanctions affected government aid and subsidies to the people?

Douhan: It is natural that since the government is not able to earn as much as in the past, all government aid paid to the people, such as food subsidies, essential goods or medicine, is now reduced. This means that the people who depend on the aid and subsidies and who are the poorest strata of the population, suffer the most.

It should be added that some patients with serious illnesses have been able to receive free medicines from the government. But because these patients have no income, they have resold these drugs on the black market.

Question: Is the uncontrollable inflation in Iran due to the sanctions or due to government mismanagement?

Douhan: The scope of sanctions imposed on Iran in 2018 is very wide and heavy. These measures have affected Iran's economy and intensified inflation. In any country, inflation is always caused by a certain set of elements. With regard to Iran, several significant reasons have increased this index. For example, we can mention the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the arrival of 5.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran.

It should also be noted that the sanctions did not start in 2018 in Iran. The country has experienced the first wave of sanctions since 2010 and 2015.

I spoke with a number of economists and agencies of public and private organizations, who gave me similar ideas: as soon as the country is under sanctions, it will face more problems. Therefore, if there is already mismanagement, the effects and consequences of these sanctions will worsen the situation, and with the imposition of more sanctions, inflation will be felt even more.

Again, it is not my intention to say that any bad thing that happens in a country is simply because of sanctions. Rather, my goal is to examine whether sanctions negatively affect existing economic trends or not. In this regard, I can answer yes.

Question: The Iranian government says the sanctions have increased the mortality rate during the COVID-19 epidemic in Iran. Is this true or is it just propaganda?

Douhan: Yes, the sanctions have killed people and there are several cases in my report. The most convincing reason is the lack of access to medicine. Yes, Iran produces more than 90% of its medicines, but unfortunately for doing so, they need to provide raw materials from abroad.

This is difficult because we know that it is very difficult for this country to obtain, pay for and receive these materials, especially since the quality of raw materials is not always good and these materials are very expensive.

The simplest example is insulin. There are many people with diabetes in Iran, and when I talked about this problem in Iran, I was told that this country was able to produce a standard product of insulin but with the significant difference because this drug does not cure certain types of diabetes, therefore certain patients cannot be treated in Iran and thus in Iran, the patients with this special diabetes die.

In Iran, I also spoke with people with butterfly disease who suffer from Eepidermolysis Bullosa, a genetic skin disease. These patients were treated with special dressings and bandages purchased by the government from abroad. This treatment allowed 1002 Iranian patients to continue living despite the unbearable pain.

But it’s been almost a year that these bandages are no longer available in Iran, and this has caused the death of 15 butterfly patients, while the mortality rate from this disease is usually not more than one case per year. I talked to other patients who suffer from other diseases and their situation is the same.

We have collected figures on mortality rate changes in many groups of different diseases. For example, the mortality rate of children with thalassemia, an inherited type of anemia, has increased from 27 - 32 per year to 132.

Question: The US government’s response regarding the mortality rate is that the drugs are not on Washington’s sanctions list.

Douhan: Unfortunately, it is true. In theory, it is true that all documents related to the imposition of sanctions on Iran allow for a humanitarian exception concerning food and medicine. But in reality this does not happen and even the UN agencies cannot provide the necessary medical assistance.

The first reason is that the documents related to the imposition of sanctions are very simple. For example, in theory the foreign countries and banks could not be subject to secondary US sanctions if they received money from Iran. Therefore, if you buy medicine, the seller should be able to receive money from Iran. The problem is that these countries and these banks themselves do not want to be exposed to these sanctions, even if it is only about medicine.

The second reason is that it is not possible for a bank to transfer money to Iran even in the name of a UN agency or diplomatic activity. So if payment is not possible, no company will sell the goods, even if there is discussion of official exemption.

The third point is that the sanctions include the Iranian transport companies that are supposed to deliver the goods, or the companies that must insure the goods, and this will prevent the delivery of the product even if the fee has been paid.

These three issues are very sensitive and make humanitarian exceptions completely useless.

Finally, in order to send humanitarian aid to Iran, it is necessary to obtain a license from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which require a very complex and lengthy process with the intervention of specialized lawyers.

Question: Iranians who regularly protest over the high cost of living, more than anything else, condemn the government's negligence instead of US sanctions. How do you explain this?

Douhan: First of all, let me tell you that I cannot talk about protest and demonstrations that go beyond my duties. I can now tell you two things: The first is that when I was in Iran, the demonstrations took place after the reduction of basic food subsidies, and I asked the government about this decision that would most affect the deprived strata of the population. And the answer that was given to me is the answer that I have seen in other countries under sanctions, that is, with the reduction of government revenue due to sanctions, the government is no longer able to pursue its social programs for the people.

So when you make less money, you cannot keep commodity prices down. I was also told that a review of the government aid system would make it possible to provide direct assistance to the poorest strata of the population.

But reviewing and considering this issue is beyond my duties. My purpose of traveling to Iran was not to address political issues, but to observe the events in this country and examine the facts and transfer them.

Question: According to the United States and its allies in the Middle East, imposing sanctions on Iran will be the only way to force Iran to change its policy in the region.

Douhan: We must not forget that today there are no sanctions against Iran by UN Security Council. However, the UN Security Council is the only authority devoted to imposing sanctions, as was the case in 2010, when these measures were substantially reduced by the signing of an Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue (JCPOA).

I also would like to remind you that it was not Iran that withdraw from the nuclear deal in 2018, but it was United States that withdraw from nuclear agreement(JCPOA). As a professor of international law, I can add that if there are no more sanctions from the UN Security Council, the international law will not allow governments to impose unilateral sanctions, especially on financial and banking issues.

In my opinion, if you want to achieve positive results, you must act within the framework of international law. You cannot solve the problem by taking the illegal path, and today many of these sanctions are illegal.

In addition, when you look deeper into this case, you see that the effectiveness of sanctions is not so much. I personally have not seen any example of unilateral sanctions having a positive effect on a country. There are even academic studies that show that UN Security Council legal sanctions have not been very effective in achieving its goal. For this reason, this institution has changed its policy in this regard.

Question: Aren't you afraid that your words serve as propaganda for the Islamic Republic of Iran against the United States?

Douhan: I am an expert working for the UN Human Rights Council. My purpose of traveling to this country was not to address political issues, but to observe what was happening there and to examine the facts and transfer them.

Therefore, the initial report I submitted did not contain any political comments. This report was an assessment of the legal aspects, the status of the available statistics and facts, along with recommendations and summaries for all my audiences.

So I think the figures, statistics and the facts are important as evidence. This is the only mechanism that can help to protect human rights. Again, I emphasize that I do not do political work, but I do verification and make legal assessments.

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