Iran and “medical terrorism” in the time of pandemic

Dear Friends,

As we all do everything we can here at home to slow down the progress of the coronavirus and safeguard our loved ones and our communities, let us not forget those most in need at the global level. We are all in this together and international solidarity has never been more important than it is now.

In Iran Covid-19 is killing one person every 10 minutes….

Right now one of the hardest hit countries in the world is Iran with the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpassing 23,048, and where the death toll from the disease is fast approaching 1,500, according to Johns Hopkins University data. On Friday 20 March Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said that the virus was killing one person in the country every 10 minutes, while 50 new infections were detected each hour.

Yet, unbelievably, even for Trump, the USA has tightened sanctions. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif called the American actions “economic terrorism” but later, in a tweet, he coined an even more chillingly accurate term: “medical terrorism”. In turn, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General stated:

…the U.N. chief is also very aware of the shortage of medicine and medical equipment that makes it much more difficult to contain the outbreak in Iran, and he appeals to all member states to facilitate and support Iran’s efforts in this critical moment…..

It is crucial to bear in mind that the coronavirus is hitting an Iranian health care system already devastated by U.S. sanctions. On October 29, 2019 Human Rights Watch published a report documenting how broad restrictions on financial transactions, coupled with aggressive rhetoric from US officials, has drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment. Human Rights Watch went on to say:

The US government had built exemptions for humanitarian imports into its sanctions regime. But Human Rights Watch found that these exemptions have not offset US and European companies’ and banks’ strong reluctance to risk sanctions and legal action by exporting or financing the exempted humanitarian goods.

In our ceasefire.ca blog of 28 February, we reported that the USA had “slightly eased” sanctions to allow humanitarian goods to flow to Iran through a mechanism entitled the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement. While this is promising, Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch was quick to comment:

This ‘trial’ transaction shouldn’t obscure the need for a comprehensive system to monitor the negative impact of US sanctions on human rights, and to take steps for a remedy.

Most mainstream media have been derelict in their reporting on this grotesque action by the USA, typically content to note they provide a humanitarian exemption but failing to acknowledge its total inadequacy.

Alternative media has stepped up. See: U.S. Sanctions on Iran Are Increasing Coronavirus Deaths. They Need to Be Stopped Now. (Sarah Lazare, inthesetimes.com, 17 Mar 2020). See also: The Coronoavirus is Killing Iranians. So Are Trump’s Brutal Sanctions. (Medi Hasan, theintercept.com, 17 Mar 2020).

Sarah Lazare writes:

In Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, a complex web of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration… is choking off critical medical supplies to a country desperately in need.

An article in the UK Independent recalls that both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama provided sanctions relief to Iran in the wake of devastating earthquakes in 2004 and 2012 respectively.

But, as noted above, the Trump administration is tightening, not loosening sanctions, even leading to Google removing from its App store an interactive Android app released by the Iranian government to help people self-diagnose for the coronavirus and so avoid overwhelming hospitals with every mild symptom. And now, unbelievably, the John Hopkins site is reporting that the U.S. sanctions are blocking Iran from accessing its coronavirus map.

The stark contrast with past presidential actions prompted Intercept journalist Mehdi Hasan to conclude:

Imagine being both so cruel and so unreasonable that you make George W. Bush and Dick Cheney look compassionate and reasonable in comparison.

For those searching for an explanation, Sarah Lazare writes:

This large-scale human suffering is not incidental to the U.S. sanctions, but part of the strategy….The goal… is to collectively punish the population based on the unproven theory that this will make the people rise up against their government.

China and Russia were the first to call for the USA to lift sanctions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic but recently the UK quietly added its voice. The countries now providing financial and material assistance directly to Iran in its battle against coronavirus include China, Turkey, Uzbekistan, the UAE, Germany, France, the UK, Japan, Qatar, Azerbaijan and Russia. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are also assisting.

Progressive American Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has made his views known via tweet:

U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster. As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions.

Journalist Sarah Lazare has a message for all of us:

Right now, in the grips of an emergency, anyone who claims to care about human life and solidarity needs to fiercely fight to shut Iran sanctions down.

Whither Canada?

In the name of our basic humanity, we call on the government of Canada to add its diplomatic voice to those already urging the USA to lift its sanctions for the duration of the pandemic and we further call on the government of Canada to join others in the provision of direct humanitarian assistance.

Rideau Institute President, Peggy Mason

Photo credit: Frank Hebbert

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