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COVID-19: Economic sanctions should be lifted to prevent hunger crises – UN expert

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GENEVA (31 March 2020) – A UN human rights expert called for the immediate lifting of international sanctions to prevent hunger crises in countries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The continued imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and, to a lesser degree, Zimbabwe, to name the most prominent instances, severely undermines the ordinary citizens' fundamental right to sufficient and adequate food," said Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

"These countries are already under stress and cannot handle the additional burden of sanctions. As the world exhibits new bonds of solidarity in response to the pandemic, it is now a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift unilateral economic sanctions immediately.

"With connectivity among States more apparent than ever, it is clearly in the interest of all States, even those imposing sanctions, to immediately terminate such aggressive policies that weaken our institutional capacity to cope with the spreading pandemic," Elver said.

The UN expert reminded that sanctions often cause significant societal disruptions that are exacerbated in the midst of this global health crisis. "History has shown that unilateral economic sanctions generally have dramatic and detrimental impacts on economic, social and cultural rights. As a result, the wellbeing of the civilian populations becomes severely compromised."

The Special Rapporteur also urged the international community to pay particular attention to the situation of civilians trapped in conflict settings, and notably those already experiencing acute violations of their rights to food, such as in Yemen, South Sudan, Gaza, Syria and in refugee camps worldwide.

"Food assistance must reach the population in conflict zones without discrimination and to the maximum available resources," Elver said.

"If the international community is serious about the fight against COVID-19 and the eradication of food and nutrition insecurity, States need to refrain at all times from direct and indirect interference with access to food," the expert concluded.

END

Ms Hilal Elver (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. She is a Research Professor, and co-director of the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy housed at the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies and global distinguished fellow at the University of California Los Angeles Law School (UCLA) Resnick Food Law and Policy Center. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of the "Special Procedures", the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, which brings together the investigative and monitoring mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council to address specific country situations or thematic issues around 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 act in their individual capacity.

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For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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