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United States: Human rights violated by over-zealous IT companies adhering to US technology sanctions

30 May 2024

Ukraine version

GENEVA (30 May 2024) – Zero-risk policies and over-compliance by IT companies restricting access to online products and services because of U.S. Government unilateral sanctions expose vulnerable populations in targeted countries to human rights breaches and violate the basic principle of non-discrimination, UN independent experts* said today.

“The comprehensive character of the restrictions towards all individuals in the territory of the sanctioned countries and their direct extraterritorial effect produces a devastating impact on the enjoyment of human rights of the most vulnerable, including victims of conflict-related sexual violence,” the experts said.

“Such restrictions include limitations in accessing software for online communications and web resources, as well as blocking of access to web pages of international organisations from the territory of countries under sanctions, including web pages of UN organs and agencies.

“Rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, the right to development, as well as the rights to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, are all impacted,” they said.

Urging the United States to comply with its obligations under the UN Charter and international human rights treaties and conventions, the experts said that the growing scope of sanctions, tightened measures to enforce sanctions regulations via secondary sanctions, civil and criminal penalties for circumvention of sanctions regimes and consequent over-compliance effectively denied or limited access to web pages of international organisations, including the UN.

“One striking example is the non-accessibility of the UN Against Sexual Violence in Conflict platform for the victims of conflict-related sexual violence from Syria. This may lead to serious underreporting and significantly undermine any efforts towards accountability and effective remedies,” the experts said.

Impeding access to web resources of international organisations, as well as those preventing participation in their work -- including the work of the United Nations – violates core principles in the UN Charter, they said.

The experts have previously raised concerns on the negative impact of sanctions over-compliance. “Such practices may constitute manifest a violation of the basic human rights principle of non-discrimination,” they said.

“Huge civil penalties for alleged violations of U.S. export controls and sanctions laws alongside with technical difficulties in implementation of general licenses exceptions from the sanction regimes make IT companies suspend or completely terminate their operation in the sanctioned states, causing overcompliance,” the experts said.

*The experts: Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; Cecilia M. Bailliet, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

The Special Rapporteurs 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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