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Over-compliance with unilateral sanctions a direct threat to peoples’ health and well-being: UN expert

15 September 2023

GENEVA (15 September 2023) – Unilateral sanctions and over-compliance have a detrimental impact on the enjoyment of all aspects of the right to health, a UN expert said today.

“Health systems around the world are highly vulnerable to the enforcement of unilateral sanctions and the growing cases of over-compliance and excessive de-risking policies,” said Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights.

In her report to the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, Douhan highlighted the compounded negative effects of over-compliance with unilateral sanctions by the business and financial sectors, which pose serious challenges to the procurement and delivery of medicines, medical equipment and other humanitarian goods, which are by default exempted from any restrictions.

“The world is facing a proliferation of different forms and types of unilateral sanctions,” the expert said. “The growing use of secondary sanctions, as well as civil and criminal penalties for alleged circumvention of sanctions regimes, has serious negative implications for the human rights of people living in sanctioned countries, including their right to adequate, appropriate and timely health care” she said.

The Special Rapporteur questioned the efficiency and effectiveness of existing humanitarian exemptions, exceptions and derogations due to the complex and overlapping nature of sanctions regimes, burdensome and unclear authorisation/licensing procedures, continued financial restrictions and fear of potential civil or criminal liability for alleged violations of sanctions regimes.

“The impact of sanctions extends to a wide range of health-related issues,” Douhan said, pointing to the development of adequate infrastructure and facilities, the shortage of health workers in sanctioned countries and limited opportunities for their training, barriers to access to scientific knowledge and research, as well as disease prevention and control, new technologies and software.

“It also affects all relevant underlying determinants of health, including access to safe water and sanitation, food safety, and clean, healthy and sustainable environment, among others,” she said.

The expert recalled that the imposition and enforcement of unilateral sanctions and zero-risk policies violate numerous international treaty and customary obligations of States, including obligations under the UN Charter and relevant international human rights treaties, as well as other international standards and conventions, including occupational safety and health standards.

“Claims about the unintentional character of the adverse humanitarian impact of unilateral sanctions on human rights, and in particular on the right to health, and references to good intentions should not be invoked to legitimise designing and implementing such unilateral measures,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Ms Alena Douhan (Belarus) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights by the Human Rights Council in March 2020. Ms. Douhan has extensive experience in the fields of international law and human rights as, a Professor of international law at the Belarusian State University (Minsk), a visiting Professor at the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed conflict, (Bochum, Germany) and the Director of the Peace Research Centre (Minsk). She received her PhD at the Belarusian State University in 2005 and obtained Dr. hab. in International Law and European Law in 2015 (Belarus). Ms. Douhan’s academic and research interests are in the fields of international law, sanctions and human rights law, international security law, law of international organizations, international dispute settlement, and international environmental law.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of 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 serve in their individual capacity.

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