During the recent decades, certain Western powers have resorted to unilateral or multilateral sanctions to put political and economic pressure against dissenting countries, with a view to preventing them from exercising their rights or decide about their own political, economic and social systems.
Continuation of this practice, which is contrary to international law, international humanitarian law, the Charter of the United Nations and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among states, has drawn the attention of different United Nations human rights bodies as well as credible international organizations as economic and financial sanctions adversely affect the enjoyment of human rights.
Analysis of the issue led the United Nations human rights body to say that economic sanctions almost always have a dramatic impact on the human rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They often cause significant disruption in the distribution of food, pharmaceuticals and sanitation supplies, jeopardize the quality of food and severely interfere with the functioning of basic health and education systems, and undermine the right to work.
The adverse effects of economic and financial sanctions on the people of targeted countries have come as an open challenge to those Western countries which are always the main initiators of sanctions. However, these countries claim to be champions of human rights. Exempting some humanitarian items from sanction regimes, certain Western powers tried to justify their clear violation of human rights when imposing illegal sanctions.
Research studies carried out by reliable organizations have concluded that humanitarian exemptions to sanctions regimes designed to permit the flow of essential goods and services do not have that effect, and the negative effects of sanctions inevitably fall most heavily on the ordinary people of the targeted country.
Furthermore, the UN has said such exemptions do not adequately address some basic needs such as food, medical supplies and other products vital to the health of the population.
It is surprising that, even superficially, the Western countries didn’t observe regulations regarding humanitarian exemptions. In the recent case, forcing SWIFT to discontinue service to the Iranian banks, these self-proclaimed champions of human rights practically blocked all transactions concerning medical and pharmaceutical supplies without caring about its negative effects on the daily life of civilians.
Imposition of sanctions against Islamic and independent states prompted international reactions namely by the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations. They, through resolutions or declarations, among other things, asserted that the human cost of sanctions is a cause for genuine concern. They have stated that the suffering caused by sanctions is a violation of human rights.
Condemning the selective and double standard approach of the Western countries toward the issue of human rights, they emphasized that economic and financial measures should not be used as tools for political coercion, and underlined that under no circumstances should people be deprived of their own means of subsistence and development.
Illegal economic and financial sanctions by some Western countries are illustrative examples of hypocrisy by the self-declared advocates of human rights. Feeling that their narrow political and economic interests are at stake, they obviously violate human rights to protect their own benefits. Those who believe in “egoistic utilitarianism” and maintain that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest are not entitled to call themselves “human rights defenders”. Morally, they are not even in a position to claim that they are seeking to promote and protect human rights.
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