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[Editorial] Sanctioning the most vulnerable—a failed foreign policy

Tags: General

Over past months, US-led threats of, or implementation of, economic sanctions have multiplied. On Jan 4, the USA suspended assistance to Pakistan until it takes “decisive action” against Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups. From Jan 2, President Donald Trump indicated he would pull funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees saying Palestinians were “no longer willing to talk peace”. This followed the adoption by the UN security council, in December, 2017, of draconian US-drafted sanctions on North Korea in response to a ballistic missile test. In October, 2017, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the DR Congo will no longer receive US and international support, unless they carried out a long-delayed election by the end of 2018. As we went to press, Trump had also not said whether he would extend the US sanctions relief on Iran.

Economic sanctions can have a devastating impact on public health. Leveraging the economic stability of a country will hurt the most vulnerable in the population first—for instance, by limiting access to affordable food or hindering humanitarian aid. Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, reacting to the protests in Iran, stated that economic sanctions had only made life more difficult for people, not the government, of Iran. In North Korea, where an estimated 70% of the population are food insecure, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said that extended sanctions may be adversely affecting humanitarian assistance for 13 million people. Withdrawing international support could further precipitate the DR Congo's crisis, which the UN declared a level three emergency in October, 2017, while being the second lowest funded crisis in the world. WHO also warned that unless funding is secured, hospitals in the Gaza strip will face an almost total power blackout by end of February.

Economic sanctions should be implemented sparingly and always in complete understanding of who will suffer from them. The UN security council should carry out comprehensive assessments of the humanitarian cost of economic sanctions on a case-by-case basis before applying them, and, above all, always prioritise people's health and welfare, or risk threatening the lives of millions on the brink of preventable death.

Getty Images AFP/Stringer

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