US Sanctions on Iran Contributor to Avoidable COVID Deaths

US Sanctions on Iran Contributor to Avoidable COVID Deaths


Paris – The coronavirus pandemic has hit the global stage confining over half the world’s population to their homes, severely curtailing peoples movements as well as bringing an economic downturn that is estimated to last for years to come. According to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) director, Kristalina Georgieva’s outlook for the year’s economic prospects for 2020 is “a negative- a recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis or worse.”

This outlook is bleaker for a country suffering from prolonged and extensive sanctions such as Iran. Not only is the Iranian economy in tatters but also the country’s ability to combat the corona pandemic is being severely compromised due to the US embargo. Iran’s erstwhile response to the outbreak was indeed lackluster and lacking in clarity, worsening the pandemic. The country’s insistence on maintaining celebrations for the Islamic revolution’s anniversary on 13 February went against the advice of its own Ministry of Health officials, and it was an evident error in judgment.

Though mismanagement and errors by the Iranian government certainly hindered the initial containment of the pandemic, the American sanctions are making combating the virus almost impossible; leading to an increasing number of avoidable deaths. The disease has so far killed 3,452 people and infected 55,743 others in Iran. A total of 19,736 people have also recovered (as of 5 April 2020).

Iran’s flagging economy is strained to breaking point, unlike other countries, it cannot yet afford to pay salaries to its quarantined citizens, who are under pressure to go out to work to provide basic necessities. The country has asked for a 5 billion dollar loan from the IMF, which is still pending consideration, and amongst the countries deciding the loan’s fate is the US.

US policy towards Iran to date is one of increased sanctions which they hope will force Iran to re-evaluate its opposition to US policy, and may force Teheran to come back to negotiations on its nuclear ambitions with a more flexible attitude. Though the US has stated that sanctions do not concern humanitarian aid to Iran at this time, many banks are hesitant to work with Teheran due to the complicated compliance process and being afraid of falling afoul with Washington’s draconian sanctions policy. 

Even before the outbreak, Human Rights Watch warned that sanctions had “drastically constrained the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines.”  

Though the US administration has said that it has offered to help the Iranian people by facilitating the delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance, Iran’s government who claims American duplicity and hypocrisy in offering medical help while maintaining sanctions has refused that offer. Iran’s president stated,” “Those who have deprived the people of even medicine and food through sanctions, who have done the most vicious things (…) they appear with a mask of sympathy and say that we want to help the nation of Iran.”

Rouhani further stated that if the US wanted to help, they should lift the drug sanctions on the country. Coinciding Rouhani’s statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Iranian government of misinformation concerning the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

It’s no surprise considering the war of words between the two countries that Iran is unwilling to compromise on any point with the US. But this is not only hampering Iran’s ability to control the corona pandemic but is also becoming a global security threat. If the pandemic is to be contained it must be done globally otherwise the risk of a second wave of infection will remain current and risk the rest of the world. Additionally, in terms of security, an Iranian government under extreme pressure is a government that may be more prone to extreme action and unwise foreign policy. According to the head of the US Central Command general Kenneth McKenzie, when addressing the corona situation in Iran earlier last month, he stated that the current situation “probably makes them, in terms of decision-making, more dangerous rather than less dangerous.”

The EU and even governments that are opposed to Teheran have already realized that helping the Iranian regime control the epidemic is in their best interest, that is why the UK is pushing for easing sanctions on the country and has already provided aid to Iran. Other countries have followed suit, amongst them are China, Turkey, Russia, France and many others including some of Iran’s immediate neighbors.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called a halt to all conflicts to combat the “common enemy.” In an op-ed titled “Sanctions are crippling Iran’s fight against coronavirus” published in The Guardian on Saturday 4 April, Tehran’s Mayor Pirouz Hanachi wrote of the US sanctions and their impact on Iran, “the ability of my colleagues and I to provide the health, logistical and other essential infrastructure necessary to combat the disease has been drastically reduced. We experience this loss every day, and it can be counted in people that would not have died.” 

Hanachi stressed that because “the sanctions are extra-territorial, all other countries and companies are also bullied into refraining from doing legitimate business with Iranians, even the selling of medicines.”

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis and only a collaborative and united global response will steer us away from the brink and help humanity surmount this pandemic.

The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) joins its voice with other NGOs and the UN in demanding an immediate lifting of sanctions to help Iran surpass this critical crisis. The current global health crisis has made it more apparent than ever before in our lifetimes that the need of the hour is for nations around the world to work together rather than putting their country first. Such a narrow-minded approach will only hurt global humanity. Therefore, this is not the time for business as usual and political power games, rather the world needs unity and cooperation and in this task, the developed nations of the world must lead the way, showing true leadership. 

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