Bachelet calls for a fundamental rethink of the impact of sanctions on human rights |


While there is a place for asset bans, visa restrictions and other punitive measures against individuals who commit serious human rights violations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights believes that sanctions that target entire countries or sectors of economic activity should be avoided.

“When sanctions target an entire country, or target entire economic sectors, it is the most vulnerable people in that country – those who are least protected – who are likely to be most affected,” said Michelle Bachelet.

In addition, those targeted “may perversely benefit from gambling sanctions regimes and take advantage of the economic distortions and incentives they introduce,” she added.

Rippling effect

Out of an excess of institutional prudence, punitive restrictions imposed on banks and financial institutions, including those based in third countries, regularly lead to excessive compliance, which can make it difficult to import basic foodstuffs, equipment health care and other forms of humanitarian assistance. aid – despite applicable exemptions – to sanctioned countries.

And, fearing sanctions, third-country banks often refuse to transfer funds, require onerous certification for each transfer, or create additional costs and delays that delay assistance and reduce efficiency.

“It has long been clear that obstacles to importing vital medical supplies into countries… create lasting damage to vulnerable communities,” said the UN chief of rights.

“The populations of these countries are in no way responsible for the policies targeted by the sanctions and already live, to varying degrees, in a precarious situation for prolonged periods, without being responsible for it.”

Penalize health

In March 2020, less than two weeks after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Bachelet called for sanctions that could affect the health sector be relaxed or suspended.

“It was vital, to ensure that millions of people in the countries targeted by the sanctions regimes could access essential medical equipment and treatment,” she said. “Continued sanctions risked causing more suffering and death and a wider contagion across the world ”.

Embargos on the rise

For a growing number of reasons, more and more countries are applying sanctions to an increasing number of targets.

But human rights cannot be adequately protected if the bans and their enforcement measures violate human rights, Ms. Bachelet said.

In examining the negative effects of sanctions, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded that “human rights should be fully taken into account when designing sanctions regimes, that effective monitoring should be undertaken. throughout the period in which the sanctions are in effect, and that the external entity imposing the sanctions has an obligation to take action ”.

To avoid negative impacts, Ms. Bachelet called on sanctioning countries to “Critically reassess and reassess” their use of unilateral coercive measures.

She also called on authorities in countries subject to sanctions to “provide transparent information, accept offers of necessary humanitarian aid and prioritize the needs and rights of vulnerable people.”


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