Interviewed for ABC’s This Week Sunday morning, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif repeated Iran’s claim that the U.S. sanctions were ‘illegal’. FM Zarif noted the harm the sanctions were doing to Iran’s population, thus harking back to President Rouhani’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the week when the President had condemned the sanctions for violating the human rights of Iranians.
What of this claim? Do the U.S.-European sanctions on Iran run afoul of international law, and more specifically, human rights norms? Since this is a topic of both personal and scholarly interest to me (I have drafted a paper looking at the issue that I am preparing for publication), I will write in more detail about it later this week.
For now, though, I want to leave you with this. Long ago when I was still a law student, I was involved with a group intent on creating a climate of awareness on campus concerning the effects U.S. sanctions have and were having on Iran. Most of what we did was educational, as knowledge on the nature of the U.S. sanctions regime and historical U.S.-Iran relations was in short supply on campus. We hosted expert speakers, tabled, leafletted — all the normal activities of a campus group.
Not surprisingly, after discovering our activities, the Students for Israel chapter on campus became likewise involved, though for the purpose of challenging our narrative concerning the U.S. sanctions. Eventually, having drawn enough campus interest, we decided to hold a campus debate.
That debate took place this past January. You can find video of the debate on YouTube here. But I’m publishing the opening and closing statements (appropriately labelled) below for readers. Some of this is, undoubtedly, dated, but nonetheless I think it remains relevant and pressing for those interested in both seeing thru this new promise of U.S.-Iran dialogue and ensuring that Iranians remained unharmed by the political difference between the two.
In light of moral and efficacy concerns, are the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran an appropriate and legitimate tool of statecraft?
In regards to the question before us tonight, we answer in the negative: the U.S. sanctions on Iran are neither appropriate nor legitimate, but are instead in stark violation of international legal norms, including human rights norms and the principle of proportionality, and are counterproductive to both resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran and achieving ultimate reconciliation with the Islamic Republic.
We hold this position for three reasons:
First, the U.S. (and European) sanctions on Iran will have (and are plainly intended to have) harsh effects on Iran’s civilian population. Writing in The Hill, the Congressional newsletter, Democratic House Representative Brad Sherman, outed the animating principle behind the sanctions: “Critics argue that [the sanctions] will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.” Sherman’s honest appraisal of the intent behind the U.S. sanctions regime should be cause for serious cognitive dissonance for those still ascribing to the nomenclature of ‘targeted sanctions’: the U.S. sanctions on Iran are, in fact, targeted, but quite deliberately, targeted at Iran’s civilian population.
To be clear, too, the humanitarian effects of the U.S. sanctions regime no longer remain hypothetical. Last October, the United Nations noted that the sanctions were having “significant effects on the [civilian] population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine.” This last item, too – the shortages in medicines – is cause for deep concern. In September, the Washington Post published a report on the toll the sanctions were having on the poor and sick in Iran, as “deliveries of medicines and raw materials for Iranian pharmaceuticals [were] either stopped or delayed.” Those bearing the brunt of the sanctions, the Post continued, were “cancer patients and those being treated for complex disorders such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, and thalassemia.” The Post highlighted the story of an 8-year Iranian boy, Milad, who was diagnosed with severe hemophilia and was reliant on a U.S.-based drug for treatment and, quite literally, survival. Since the sanctions took effect, most especially the broad-based financial ones last summer, Milad’s access to medical treatment has proved infrequent. He will soon lose the use of his right leg as a result.