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UN experts urge States to consider humanitarian impacts when imposing or implementing sanctions

GENEVA (25 March 2022) - Access to food, water, sanitation, medicine, vaccines, and other necessary goods and services for maintenance of critical infrastructure and survival of the population should never be affected by unilateral sanctions, UN human rights experts* said today. They issue the following statement:

“Unilateral sanctions should never impede the ability of a population to obtain basic goods, services or affect critical infrastructure necessary for the well-being and basic living standards of all persons. They must also not undermine the ability of humanitarian organisations to exercise their humanitarian activities, including for implementation of development projects.

Development and maintenance of critical infrastructure including water, sanitation and electricity supply systems, and mechanisms allowing for communications and transportation, among other things, are essential for the population to enjoy the entire range of human rights and guarantees of health, food and transportation security.

Too often, unilateral sanctions prevent targeted countries from purchasing or attaining the equipment, spare parts, technical assistance or fuel they require to ensure that essential national infrastructure continues to function adequately.

Among the rights affected when a country’s infrastructure deteriorates are the right to health, the right to housing, rights to water and sanitation, right to life, right to education, and freedom of movement. The impact is often greatest for vulnerable groups such as women, children, older people and people with disabilities or those who have severe or chronic diseases.

All human rights are affected when sanctions are imposed. Without steady and adequate supplies of water and electricity, schools and hospitals cannot function, which harms the rights to education and to life. Workplaces cannot operate, which not only harms the right to work but also directly affects the rights of the families of those workers who can no longer provide for them. It becomes difficult for governments to ensure the right to a decent life for all people, and impedes a country’s development. These are rights that must be respected.

Sanctions that block a country from accessing equipment and materials necessary to build and maintain roads, bridges, railways and other transportation infrastructure, or that prevent shipments of fuel to a sanctioned country, make it difficult for essential goods to be transported and from reaching intended vulnerable populations.

Unilateral sanctions that target fiscal systems, including remittances as well as other international financial transactions and that are related to the basic needs of a population, are against the underpinning principle of human rights of ‘raising living standards’ and are actions that lower living standards, and take States backwards on their SDG commitments. They are unacceptable. 

A fuel embargo does more than apply pressure on an economy. It can prevent a country from generating sufficient electric power, which can affect its ability to operate pumps necessary to supply drinking water to its population, and to crucial services such as hospitals and schools.

Unavailability or the high cost of seeds and fertilizers caused by sanctions affects food insecurity all around the world, exacerbating the food crisis which has already led to around 800 million people being recognised to be food insecure, especially in the developing countries in Africa and Latin America.

Banks and businesses must not prevent nor be prevented from trade and delivery of food, water, medical equipment, life-saving drugs and vaccines, spare parts, equipment or reagents necessary for the maintenance of critical infrastructure, in the spirit of due diligence and corporate responsibility to protect human rights.”


* The experts: Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Mr. S. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; Ms Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights;

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Ms. Laura Pardo (Laura.pardo@un.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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