We Need Solidarity, Not Sanctions

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Above photo: Banners on the Venezuelan Embassy in Spring 2019.

Sanctions Are both Illegal and Immoral.

According to the United Nations Charter, only the Security Council may impose sanctions. No individual nation may do so. Nevertheless, the United States currently imposes economic sanctions on Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

Besides violating the United Nations Charter, these unilaterally imposed sanctions also violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, under which collective punishment is a war crime. Article 33 states that

“No protected person may be punished for an offence that he or she did not personally commit.”

The sanctions that are currently being imposed on Iran are also an example of collective punishment. They are damaging the health of ordinary Iranian citizens, who can in no way be blamed for the policies of their government. According to Wikipedia:

“Pharmaceuticals and medical equipment do not fall under the international sanctions, but the country is facing shortages of drugs for the treatment of 30 illnesses, including cancer, heart and breathing problems, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis, because Iran is not allowed to use International payment systems…. In addition, there are 40,000 hemophiliacs who can’t get anti-clotting medicines… An estimated 23,000 Iranians with HIV/Aids have had their access to the drugs they need to keep alive severely restricted.”

During the present COVID-19 pandemic, economic sanctions are particularly cruel and inhuman. They deprive the affected nations of desperately-needed face masks, respirators, and medicines. During this terrible emergency, humanity must unite. We need solidarity, not sanctions!

Gestures of Solidarity during the Pandemic

Here are a few stories of global solidarity during the COVID-18 crisis:

According to an article by Shannon Llao, published by CNN Business on March 14, 2020,

“Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma said he will donate 500,000 coronavirus testing kits and one million face masks to the United States… Ma has donated one million masks to Japan as of March 2 and had been attempting to ship one million masks to Iran as of March 6, according to his Weibo posts. In a March 11 post, he wrote that 1.8 million masks and 100,000 testing kits would go to Europe, with the first batch arriving in Belgium this week. He shared plans to donate to Italy and Spain, two other countries hard-hit by the virus, as well.”

Cuba has sent medical doctors and nurses to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. Cuba has also deployed doctors to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname, and Grenada.

On 3 April 2020, the World Health Organization and UNESCO

“announced an agreement to work together on COVID-19 response, through the historic COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund powered by the United Nations Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund has been set up to facilitate an unprecedented global response by supporting the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. As part of the agreement, an initial portion of the money from the Fund – which currently stands at more than $127 million – will flow to UNICEF for its work with vulnerable children and communities all over the world.”

Antonio Guterres Proposes a Global Ceasefire

On 23 March 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said:

Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly. Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world. The most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced – pay the highest price. They are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19. Let’s not forget that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed. Health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted. Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable. The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

We Can Learn from the Pandemic

Terrible as it is, the COVID-19 pandemic may be able to teach us something. We, humanity, must work together to solve our common problems. We must abandon the folly of war, and use the vast sums of money now wasted (or worse than wasted) on armaments for constructive purposes, for example public health programs. We must work together to rebuild the world after the pandemic. The new world that we build must be sustainable, and it must have both an environmental conscience and a social conscience.

John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).

  • Günther Rückl

    I am a German citizen who has lived in this country for 32 years. There is a lot I like about America, in particular the friendliness and helpfulness of its people. Quite the opposite is the case in view of the country’s belligerent attitude to other nations, its bullying, coercing trough sanctions and outright war, its arrogance and disregard of international law and conventions. That discrepancy between my personal liking of Americans and my rejection of their political leaders’ policies created in my heart and mind a painfully schizophrenic condition I have tremendous problems to live with. Most of all I have to control my increasingly chronic anger over Americans’ tolerance of their brutally unjust if not inhumane system, a psychologically exhausting task. I’ll be 74 soon and worry about the likelihood that that split mind may follow me to my grave…