ACTION ALERT: Encourage the President to Lift Sanctions that Keep Life-saving Medicines from Iranian Civilians
March 23, 2014
Robert Naiman / The Huffington Post & National Iranian American Council
With international law is in the news because of Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea and the US and Europe issuing sanctions in response. This is a great time to talk about Washington's failure to comply with international humanitarian law -- by failing to exempt civilians access to medicine from US sanctions imposed on Iran. Rep. Jim Moran is trying to address this by circulating a letter urging the President Obama to assure that Iranian men, women and children have access to medicine.
US Tryst with International Law:
Could We Deepen the Romance?
Robert Naiman / The Huffington Post
I didn't join the chorus ridiculing the US for the hypocrisy of its new romance with international law following the Russian occupation of Crimea. Even prominent Democratic activist Markos Moulitsas mocked Secretary of State Kerry for lecturing Russia on international law after voting for the illegal Iraq war. The hypocrisy charge has gotten good play.
But we shouldn't be completely content with the hypocrisy charge. There's something too easy about the charge of hypocrisy, a reason the charge is so popular. You can denounce someone for being hypocritical without taking a stand on the underlying issue.
If Russia is allowed to violate international law the way that the US and Israel routinely do, it will not make the world more just. Russia may have legitimate grievances and legitimate interests in Ukraine, but as Secretary of State Kerry rightly argued -- even if he was a hypocrite while doing so -- that doesn't justify violating international law. We don't want to live in the world in which Russia is allowed to join the US-Israel club of international law violators.
We want to live in the world in which the US and Israel are held to the same standards of compliance with international law to which the US and Europe are now ostensibly trying to hold Russia.
So far, Europe has proven unable or unwilling to hold the US and Israel to these standards. No European sanctions were imposed on US officials when the US illegally invaded Iraq. No European sanctions have been imposed on Israeli officials for Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank.
In its drone strike policy, the US violates international law. In its Iran sanctions policy, the US violates international law. In its indefinite detention policy, the US violates international law. In its failure to account for the US use of torture during the Bush Administration, the US violates international law. In its arming of Syrian rebels, the US violates international law. There have been no European sanctions against US officials involved in these ongoing violations.
Yet there are things we Americans could do right now to push the US closer to compliance with international law. Right now, the Senate Intelligence Committee could move to declassify its report on the CIA's use of torture, which would be a step toward accountability.
Right now, members of Congress could call on the Obama administration to stop boycotting talks in the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution calling for greater transparency in the US drone strike policy.
And right now, Representatives in the House could sign Representative Jim Moran's letter to President Obama, urging him to protect Iranian civilians' access to medicine from US sanctions, consistent with stated US policy and US law, the interim agreement with Iran, and US obligations under international humanitarian law.
ACTION ALERT: You can ask your Representative to sign the Moran letter here.
Here is the alert we sent out a few days ago on the Moran letter
Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy
Tens of thousands of Iranian civilians with treatable illnesses have suffered unnecessarily and unjustly because of medicine shortages created in part by US sanctions. This has happened despite the fact that by law, US sanctions are supposed to protect trade in medicines. Moreover, sanctions that block civilians' access to medicines violate international humanitarian law. '
Now, Rep. Jim Moran [D-VA] is pressing the White House to ensure that US sanctions do not continue to block life-saving medicine for Iranian civilians.
Urge your Representative to sign Rep. Moran's letter pressing President Obama to address this issue so that sanctions do not continue blocking medicine for Iranian civilians. (Full text of the letter can be found here.)
ACTION ALERT: sign here.
Why Are Sanctions Blocking Medicine for
Iranians and How Can We Fix This?"
National Iranian American Council
(February 24, 2014) -- Beginning in 2012, there have been widespread reports that US and European sanctions on Iran, in addition to Iranian government mismanagement, have created shortages of life-saving medicine in Iran, including drugs needed to treat cancer, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, thalassemia and some other severe ailments.
While humanitarian trade is technically exempt from sanctions, in practice humanitarian transactions are deterred or blocked by far-reaching sanctions that have walled off necessary financial channels and heavily penalized sanctions violators.
This problem has apparently persisted despite attempts to address it. As Financial Times reported in December, "torturous procedures . . . have constricted commercial transactions even for those western suppliers whose products -- such as drugs and food -- are exempt from sanctions on humanitarian grounds."
On January 28, CNN detailed how many Iranians have turned to the black market to obtain treatment for cancer due to shortages of vital American and European drugs.
Further, in recent weeks thousands of Iranians (including former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and prominent Iranian artists) have petitioned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon protesting the effect of sanctions in contributing to Iranian medical shortages.
Sanctions and Exemptions
There are several Executive Order sanctions under which Iran's international banks are sanctioned, notably Executive Order 13224 (terrorism) and Executive Order 13382 (proliferation). Any financial institution, foreign or domestic, risks being cut off from the US financial system if it does any business with these banks.
• While Congress has consistently exempted medicine from legislative sanctions, and the Treasury has issued a general license exempting the sale of medicine and medical devices from Iran trade sanctions, the exemption does not apply to financial transactions directly or indirectly involving banks designated under these executive orders.
• If a prohibited Iranian bank is indirectly involved in any permitted transaction, such as by providing foreign currency to the Iranian bank carrying out the transaction, there is a strong risk of incurring sanctions. Therefore, the general licenses for food and medicine are effectively superseded by the Executive Orders that block transactions with Iran's international banks.
• Additionally, if financial institutions facilitate any authorized transactions that involve Iran, these banks are now required to publicly report this to the US Securities and Exchange Commission -- incurring potential negative publicity related to perfectly legal, humanitarian transactions.
• The sanctions and reputational risks have deterred all US banks and nearly all foreign financial institutions from facilitating even authorized humanitarian transactions.
Additionally, Executive Order 13599 was implemented to enforce the 2012 National Defense Authorization (NDAA), which required the president to block transactions with all Iranian financial institutions. Accordingly, EO 13599 adds all Iranian financial institutions to the US Treasury Department's sanctions blacklist (the Specially Designated Nationals List, or "SDN" list).
• Humanitarian trade is still authorized with the small Iranian financial institutions that became sanctioned under Executive Order 13599. However, the inclusion of these institutions on the SDN list has led most international banks to cut all transactions with them anyway.
• The result is that, because all humanitarian trade with Iran carries risk for foreign financial institutions, only the biggest and most lucrative transactions are carried out. Even the banks most willing to facilitate humanitarian transactions simply view transactions that are not for tens of millions of dollars as inviting too much risk for too little potential reward.
Joint Plan of Action
The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) struck between the P5+1 and Iran includes an agreement to "establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran's domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad." Such a channel could ameliorate the pressing humanitarian needs of the Iranian people if fully implemented.
However, recent statements from the administration have signaled that a direct channel will not be established. Rather, efforts from the administration will largely consist of working with the Iranians to issue reassurances to banks, exporters and Iranian importers that humanitarian transactions are exempt from sanctions.
While the administration has pledged to redouble efforts, this approach has been tried before to negligible effect.
It is doubtful that additional assurances from the administration will be sufficient to overcome difficulties in identifying viable financial channels or the hesitancy of banks and exporters to conduct any trade with Iran. As a result, medical shortages and the Iranian people's suffering are likely to continue barring more aggressive action.
The agreement in the Joint Plan of Action to establish a financial channel for humanitarian trade would go a long way to resolving this problem if fully implemented.
However, the administration's efforts will apparently consist of assurances rather than a direct channel and may well prove insufficient to counter the deterrent effect and over-enforcement of financial sanctions. Additional steps will be needed to solve the crisis:
• The Administration should open banking channels for authorized transactions by providing domestic and third country banks a blanket waiver that they will not be sanctioned for facilitating legitimate humanitarian transactions.
• Alternatively, the Administration could heed the recommendation of a recent Atlantic Council report by "[d]esignating a small number of US and private Iranian financial institutions as channels for payment for humanitarian, educational, and public diplomacy-related transactions carefully licensed by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control."
This measure would completely cut out the need to use foreign banks as intermediaries and ensure a clear and legitimate financial channel to facilitate transactions.
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