Activities of the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Ms. Alena Douhan

Shortly after assuming her mandate on 25 March 2020, and faced with the unfolding coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic emergency, the Special Rapporteur issued her first public statement on 3 April, in which she urged Governments to lift all unilateral sanctions obstructing the humanitarian responses of sanctioned States, in order to enable their health-care systems to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives. This was aligned with and echoed the 23 March statement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to ease or suspend sanctions and the 26 March appeal of the Secretary-General to waive sanctions that undermined countries' capacity to respond to the pandemic.

On 14 April, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA), which underscored her role in the promotion and protection of human rights in general and, in particular, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 17 April, the Special Rapporteur endorsed a joint statement by a number of special procedure mandate holders calling upon Governments to avoid the use of excessive force in implementing COVID-19 security measures.

Also on 17 April, the Special Rapporteur responded to the letter of welcome from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by sharing her plans and offering her expertise and technical or practical assistance in support of the High Commissioner's efforts to further prevent the adverse consequences of unilateral coercive measures for multilateralism, international law, the international rule of law, the Charter of the United Nations and human rights.

On 21 April, the Special Rapporteur, together with a group of other special rapporteurs and independent experts, transmitted an urgent appeal to the Government of the United States of America concerning the alleged ongoing severe impact of its unilateral economic coercive measures on Cuba and the citizens of Cuba in the context of the unprecedented global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Special Rapporteur held online meetings with the Permanent Representatives of the Syrian Arabic Republic, on 22 April, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, on 24 April and 22 May.

On 22 April, the Special Rapporteur participated in an online meeting of the United Nations special procedures and participated in the preparation of a COVID-19 survey.

On 30 April, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela confirmed its previous invitation to the Special Rapporteur to undertake an official visit to the country. The visit was planned to take place from 3 to 14 August 2020 but has been postponed due travel restrictions. Following the agreement with the Government, the new dates for the visit are from 11 to 22 January 2020.

On 30 April, the Special Rapporteur issued a joint public statement calling upon the United States to lift its economic and financial embargo on Cuba, as it was obstructing the humanitarian response to help the country's health-care system fight the COVID-19 pandemic. She urged the Government of the United States to withdraw measures aimed at establishing trade barriers and to ban tariffs, quotas and non-tariff measures, including those that prevent the purchase of medicines, medical equipment, food and other essential goods.

On 1 May, the Special Rapporteur issued a human rights guidance note on COVID-19, in which she called, inter alia, to lift or at least suspend any sanctions impeding trade in or delivery of essential humanitarian goods and commodities such as medicines, antiviral medication, medical equipment, its component parts and relevant software, and food. She added that the whole scope of unilateral sanctions should be reviewed and minimized in order to enable sanctioned States to ensure the effective protection of their population from COVID-19, to repair their economy and to guarantee the well-being of their people in the aftermath of the pandemic.

On 4 May, the Special Rapporteur sent a questionnaire to all Permanent Missions to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva and, on 6 May, she made a call for submissions for her study on the impact of unilateral sanctions on human rights during the state of emergency in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. The Special Rapporteur received responses from, Belarus, Cuba, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Namibia, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, the Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and the European Union. Responses were also received from international organizations and civil society actors. The Special Rapporteur expresses her gratitude to all respondents. The study fed into the Special Rapporteur's first thematic report to the General Assembly in October 2020.

On 28 May, the Special Rapporteur sent a letter to the President of the Human Rights Council expressing her deep concern about the fact that there was no reference in the current text of the President's statement on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic to the need to lift or at least suspend any sanctions impeding trade in or delivery of essential humanitarian goods and commodities, such as medicines, antiviral medication, medical equipment, its component parts and relevant software, personal protective equipment and food. Such an omission undermined, inter alia, the ability of sanctioned States to accomplish their responsibility to protect rights of their people.

On 2 June, the Special Rapporteur participated, as panellist, in a webinar on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the global fight against COVID-19 while upholding the Charter of the United Nations, promoting international cooperation and ensuring that no one is left behind in times of pandemics.

On 4 June, the Special Rapporteur wrote a letter to the Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism to propose cooperation with the Office of Counter-Terrorism. She noted that sanctions implemented to combat terrorism in support of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy might undermine certain goals of the Strategy by contributing to conditions that were conducive to the spread of terrorism and had a negative impact on human rights. On 25 June, the Special Rapporteur held an online meeting with the Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism. They discussed cooperation and the Special Rapporteur's role in implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

On 17 June, the Special Rapporteur sent a letter to the Chair of the Special Committee on the Charter of the UN and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization, and of its Working Group of the Whole, to propose cooperation in areas of mutual interest. These include the impact of sanctions regimes on third countries and the overall transparency of sanctions regimes.

On 18 June, the Government of Qatar confirmed its invitation to the Special Rapporteur to undertake an official country visit. The visit is planned to take place from 1 to 12 November 2020.

On 23 June, the Special Rapporteur attended an online supplementary human dimension meeting organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on freedom of expression, the media and information. She gave a presentation on unilateral sanctions and access to information in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 24 June, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by the Eurasia Expert online news agency. The topic of the interview was about uncontrolled use of sanctions that threatens international relations.

On 5 July, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by ONT, the Second National TV channel in Belarus. During the interview, the Special Rapporteur spoke about the impact of sanctions on human rights that became more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such restrictions have a negative impact on the economic situation in different countries: unemployment occurs; there is not enough funds to ensure the functioning of medical infrastructure. "For example, according to Human Rights Watch, today when entering hospitals in Venezuela, you need to bring water, not only for drinking, but also for hygiene needs. In Syria, it is not possible to purchase medical equipment or tests, as sanctions are imposed. Under the terms of the sanctions imposed by the United States, today they do only 100 tests a day, which we understand is very small in the context of the pandemic," Ms. Douhan said. "Humanitarian organizations have faced the fact that it is difficult to obtain a license. But even if there is a license to deliver a particular type of product, it does not mean that by delivering the goods, for example, to Syria, they can refuel the car to get the aid to their destination. Sanctions still prohibit them from buying any petroleum products, including gasoline to refuel one tank of the car to deliver humanitarian aid," the Special Rapporteur explained. (at 48:42 min of the broadcast).

On 12 July 2020, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by the @AlMayadeenNews, a twitter based TV channel. During the interview, the Special Rapporteur spoke about the impact of sanctions on human rights and her mandate.

On 17 July 2020, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow based non-profit academic and diplomatic think tank. During the interview, the Special Rapporteur spoke about the impact of sanctions on human rights, in particular about the US sanctions against the judges and employees of the International Criminal Court.

On 27 July, the Special Rapporteur attended an International experts webinar on migration in Europe in the context of Covid-19 pandemic. Her presentation referred to the impact of Unilateral sanction to the migration processes in the course of pandemic, in particular from Venezuela, Yemen, and Iran. She also spoke about impediments to bring their national back home in the course of pandemic, because of the sanctions imposed over airline companies and ships.

On 12 August 2020, the Special Rapporteur held online meeting with the Permanent Representatives of the Russian Federation.

On 18 August 2020, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by the Truthside tv YouTube channel. During the interview, the Special Rapporteur spoke about the impact of sanctions on human rights and her mandate, in particular she spoke about sanctions, which, under certain conditions and if they do not comply with international law, can bring suffering and death.

On 20 August, the Special Rapporteur responded to a request for comment made by National Review, America's magazine for conservative news, commentary, and opinion, to inform the readers of its article "Will a U.N. Human-Rights Expert Defend Belarus's Dictator?", about the UN Special Procedures mandate addressing sanctions. In her comments, the Special Rapporteur explained that the application of unilateral sanctions should reflect the principles of legality, legitimacy, necessity, proportionality and protection of human rights, especially the rights of women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable categories of the population. Regardless of the grounds and purposes for introducing unilateral sanctions, humanitarian concerns should always be taken into account. Sanctions, even when implemented for legitimate purposes, must comply with human rights standards, including the rights to life, to due process and the presumption of innocence, and shall include relevant humanitarian exemptions and procedural safeguards. A common reason for unilateral sanctions is to promote more respect for human rights in other countries, but human rights cannot be protected by the violation of human rights. This is precisely the kind of problem that she focuses on through my mandate.

On 1 September, the Special Rapporteur held online meeting with the UN Country Team in Minsk, Belarus. During the meeting, Ms. Douhan briefed the members of the Country Team about the mandate, its activities, outreach and plans.

On 1 September, the Special Rapporteur held online meeting with the Permanent Representatives of the Republic of Azerbaijan. During the meeting, Ms. Douhan was invited to attend the upcoming meeting of NAM representatives in Geneva, which is scheduled to take place in the mid of September.

On 7 September, the Special Rapporteur held online meeting with the President of the National Human Rights Committee. During the meeting, Ms. Douhan discussed the modalities of her visit to Qatar in November 2020, provided the restriction are lifted.

On 18 September, the Special Rapporteur attended an online meeting with the Permanent Missions and Permanent Observer Missions of Non-Aligned Movement's (NAM) Member States, organized by Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan, in its capacity of the Chair of the NAM Geneva Chapter. During the meeting, Ms. Douhan briefed the participants about her mandate, its activities, outreach and plans.

On 22 September, the Special Rapporteur had her first interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council, during which she presented to her first thematic report (A/HRC/45/7). She discussed current developments and challenges in the nature and application of unilateral sanctions, as well as spelled out the priorities and a road map for her approach to the mandate.

On 22 September, the Special Rapporteur attended as a panellist an online the side event on Unilateral Coercive Measures in the context of COVID-19 organized by the Association AIDHDES.

On 22 September, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by Al-Mayadeen Arabic news channel

On 22 September, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by CCTV news channel

On 7 October, the Special Rapporteur attended at the Research meeting organized by the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed conflict, Bochum, Germany, presenting the mandate's position on the humanitarian impact of the US sanctions against judges and officials of the International Criminal Court.

On 8 October, the Special Rapporteur participated at the UN Social Forum as one of the key speakers.

On 9 October, the Special Rapporteur gave live interview to the TV Press on the humanitarian impact of US sanctions against Iran introduced one day before the interview.

On 14 October, the Special Rapporteur was a main speaker and lecturer at the webinar on the protection of human rights by Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council in the context of unilateral sanctions organized by the Iranian Center for International Criminal Law. The lecture focused on the history and functions of Special Procedures, its current challenges in the context of application of an array of unilateral sanctions, including sectoral sanctions, targeted sanctions, sanctions against ICC judges and official, and cyber sanctions.

On 16 October, the Special Rapporteur participated in the workshop "International Law and the Internet", delivering a presentation on the issues concerning "Changing nature of sanctions in the cyber-age".

On 16 October, the Special Rapporteur had her first interactive dialogue (1:23:34) with the General Assembly's 3rd Committee, during which she presented to her first thematic report (A/75/209) to General Assembly that offers an overview and assessment of the impact of unilateral sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 19 – 23 October, the Special Rapporteur visited Geneva and had a series of meetings with the Permanent Missions in Geneva. She met bilaterally the Ambassadors and Deputy Permanent Representatives of Qatar, Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Switzerland, Russia, Belarus, China, Singapore, EU, France, Holy See and Australia. On 22 October, the Special Rapporteur had a meeting with the representatives of sixteen States of the Like Minded Group organized and chaired by the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations in Geneva.

On 21 - 22 October, the Special Rapporteur organized an expert consultation on unilateral sanctions as the serious obstacle to delivery of humanitarian aid. The event took place in Palais des Nations, Geneva. The event brought together 24 world leading humanitarian organizations, including faith based NGOs. They discussed humanitarian exemptions, which apparently continued to remain ineffective, inefficient and inadequate. Moreover, experts examined the multiple forms of humanitarian exemptions and practical impediments they create for delivery of aid to the most vulnerable people, including in the context of COVID-19.

On 28 October, the Special Rapporteur was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi for the Going Underground, Russia Today's TV show. Ms. Douhan spoke about the impact of US sanctions on countries such as Venezuela, Iran and Syria, how sanctions are preventing the purchase of vital medical equipment during Coronavirus in Iran, how unilateral sanctions are attacking fundamental human rights such as the right to health and the right to education, why the fear of sanctions violates human rights as sanctions themselves and much more. The Going Underground published also the full text of the comments received from the Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy European Commission about the matters and issues discussed in this interview.

On 1 November, the Special Rapporteur started her visit Qatar to assess the impact of unilateral sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights. She was in Qatar from 1 to 12 November at the invitation of the Government.

On 12 November, the Special Rapporteur completed her visit to Qatar and presented her end of mission statement to the media in Doha, as well as issued a press release announcing it.

On 25 November, the Special Rapporteur briefed the UN Security Council at the Virtual Arria meeting on "End Unilateral Coercive Measures Now" (watch UN Web TV here: (Part 1/2) and (Part 2/2)).

On 30 November, the Special Rapporteur participated as a keynote speaker, at the Virtual Seminar on unilateral coercive measures and their Impacts in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was held jointly by the Permanent Missions, based in Vienna, of the Republic of Cuba, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The event was attended by 60 participants from 37 countries.



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Ms. Alena Douhan
Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights
Palais des Nations CH-1211 Geneva 10
Email : ucm@ohchr.org

Sharof Azizov
Human Rights Officer
Office 5-05, Avenue Giuseppe Motta 48, 1202 Genève, Switzerland
Email : sazizov@ohchr.org