Sanctions: Peacetime weapon that violates human rights

13/09/2015


Sanctions remain an inherent contradiction in the international political system. It is certainly to be regretted that, as the primary global organization, the United Nations has demonstrated limited concern over the use of sanctions for political purposes. At the behest of the United States and other members of the UN Security Council, the United Nations imposes sanctions which adversely affect the lives of millions of people. There are obvious injustices in this complex terrain, and a need to rethink the entire concept of sanctions.
One of the most used sanctions is economic sanction. Economic sanction can be defined as “coercive economic measures taken against one or more countries to force a change in policies, or at least to demonstrate a country’s opinion about the other’s policies”. Economic sanctions help a state or group of states to further their foreign policy objectives by imposing harsh and punitive measures against an offending state.
Economic sanctions have been referred to as a blunt instrument that the international community has often wielded without full consideration of the impact that these measures will have on the population of the targeted countries, particularly the weakest elements of society. Case studies of sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, and Yugoslavia have demonstrated the impact that sanctions can have on the availability of food, clean water, and medicine, causing many to conclude that all sanctions have extensive public health consequences.
Sanctions and human rights are inherently at odds, and it is myopic in the extreme to imagine that sanctions necessarily promote improvements in human rights in the targeted countries. Instead, they are more likely to lead to deterioration in the lived experience of the vast majority of sanctioned peoples. Economic sanctions run contrary to the spirit of human rights because they explicitly and implicitly expose the ordinary people of the sanctioned country to considerable suffering. At times this amounts to a form of economic coercion. How far, from case to case, the imposition of sanctions actually constitutes illegal behaviour has been a highly contentious point in international law. “Economic coercion” as a practical concept is notoriously difficult to define. Be that as it may, economic sanctions have certainly been among the most unevenly, if not hypocritically, applied of international measures. In fact, which countries actually get targeted for such legislation depends far more upon the current political agenda than it does upon international law.
Sadly, economic sanctions have been blatantly used as a form of political coercion by the north against the south, and in this the United States has been the key player. Any force for change will have to confront US neo-imperialism and a worldview which is apparently too rigid to adapt to new possibilities. Certainly, the United States has rejected alternatives to the unequal international system it upholds. It has bullied independent leaderships and covertly challenged regional economic co-operation where it cuts against American interests.
Whilst the last decade has seen an unprecedented rise in wars waged openly by the US and NATO against various countries, governments and regimes, arguably another tool of war has been strengthened, that is equally devastating in its impact.  Economic sanctions are not new, however they have become a ‘peacetime’ weapon which has resulted and may possibly result in hundreds of thousands if not millions of deaths and suffering on a larger scale.
The interplay between human rights and economic sanctions is fraught with tension. The United States is the most frequent user of international economic sanctions in the world. U.S. sanctions programs often involve broad prohibitions against trade and financial transactions between persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and particular target states or their nationals. When implemented effectively, such programs can have a dramatic impact on the basic human rights of subsistence and security. This presents the question whether policy makers should adjust sanctions programs to ameliorate such possible effects.
Does economic coercion increase or decrease government respect for human rights in countries targeted with economic sanctions? If economic sanctions weaken the target regime's coercive capacity, human rights violations by the government should be less likely. If, on the contrary, sanctions fail to attenuate the coercive capacity of the target elites and create more economic difficulties and political violence among ordinary citizens, the government will likely commit more human rights violations.
Economic sanctions and human rights are essentially at odds, and it is extremely misguided to believe that sanctions will help improvements in human rights in the targeted countries. Instead, they are more likely to lead to deterioration in the lived experience of the vast majority of sanctioned peoples.
Economic sanctions run contrary to the spirit of human rights because they explicitly and implicitly expose the ordinary citizen of the sanctioned country to considerable suffering. The scale and gravity of the suffering amounts to collective punishment
Collective punishment is the punishment of a group of people for the actions of one or more other individuals or groups. The punished group may have no connection to or control over the actions of the individuals or groups whose actions have led to them being punished.
Human rights are a contested concept but the Universal Declaration of 1948 argues that all human beings are to be treated fairly, without discriminating them on the grounds of race, nationality, sexual orientation or gender. The application of economic sanctions targets certain nationalities who are bundled under one umbrella over the mistakes of unscrupulous leaders who have the wealth to survive a closed economy. To generalize a group of people together can be seen as a violation of human rights because most citizens of the aggrieved country are innocent of their leaders’ policies towards other states.
These actions have put into question the legitimacy and credibility of the West and undermined its positions around the world. Unfortunately, mainstream media in the EU and the US are controlling public opinion, and there is no democracy on foreign policy issues. As the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq proved, it may be possible to win a war by economic sanctions and military intervention but not the peace. To win the peace the US and the EU need to practice human rights and democracy, not preach them.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointted an official whose job is to examine Western sanctions, viewed as constituting human rights violations against the targeted countries. The resolution condemned “the continued unilateral application and enforcement by certain powers of such measures as tools of political or economic pressure against any country, particularly against developing countries, with a view to preventing these countries from exercising their right to decide, of their own free will, their own political, economic and social systems.”./.
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All comments [ 12 ]


Gentle Moon 13/9/15 19:17

Economic sanctions have been referred to as a blunt instrument that the international community has often wielded without full consideration of the impact.

Deck Hero14 13/9/15 19:18

Utilizing time-series, cross-national data for the period 1981—2000, the findings suggest that economic sanctions worsen government respect for physical integrity rights, including freedom from disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture, and political imprisonment.

MaskOf Zero 13/9/15 19:19

Economic sanction is a speciality of the US.

Only Solidar 13/9/15 19:21

Economic coercion remains a counterproductive policy tool, even when sanctions are specifically imposed with the goal of improving human rights.

yobro yobro 13/9/15 19:26

I think sanction is enemy of human rights and democracy.

John Smith 13/9/15 19:28

Multilateral sanctions have a greater overall negative impact on human rights than unilateral sanctions, like what US, EU have done with Russia, Iran,...

Love Peace 13/9/15 19:30

Economic sanction imposed during peacetime may infringe following human rights: the right to life, health, an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and freedom from hunger.

LawrenceSamuels 13/9/15 19:31

Sadly, economic sanctions have been blatantly used as a form of political coercion, and United States has been the key player.

Jane smartnic 13/9/15 19:34

Apparently, sanctions have negative impacts on human rights and democracy, but the West have move against their self-proclaimed values.

Pack Cassiopian 13/9/15 19:35

It makes no sense that something illegal during war is not only legal but a preferred tool to pursue aggressive foreign policy agendas in peace-time.

Gentle Moon 13/9/15 19:40

The sanctions against Iraq are the most comprehensive, total sanctions that have ever been imposed on a country.

MaskOf Zero 13/9/15 19:41

Economic sanctions seriously undermine freedom, democracy, justice and peace both inside the targeted country and at an international level.

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