Washington, DC – Today, 24 organizations representing American diaspora communities impacted by U.S. sanctions, as well as humanitarian relief, human rights, and pro-peace organizations, called on the Biden administration to reassess U.S. sanctions and economic policies that carry a heavy human cost, worsened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter states, “Whether country-wide sanctions or blockade, U.S. policies have hurt civilian populations in targeted countries in what amounts to unjust collective punishment…”
“The United States must lead by example, overhaul U.S. sanctions, and ensure that sanctions are targeted, proportional, connected to discrete policy goals and reversible. This would necessarily result in an end to unjust collective punishment of civilian populations around the globe who have little control over governmental decision making. Only by grappling with the full impact of sanctions can the U.S. ensure that sanctions don’t exacerbate the plight of ordinary citizens and serve, rather than undermine, U.S. interests.”
Including examples from a broad range of countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Cuba, the letter shows the magnitude of impact on civilians in targeted countries who often have little control over the policy making of their respective governments.
“Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, stated, “Those of us from communities who have seen firsthand how broad sanctions hurt ordinary people were grateful for Biden’s commitment to review and reform U.S. sanctions policy to avoid humanitarian harm, particularly amidst a global pandemic. But two years in and there’s been little action from Biden and, if anything, the fervor for sanctions has increased while concerns about humanitarian consequences have receded into the background.”
Arash Azizzada, Co-founder of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, said, “It’s beyond time that America is held accountable for its policy of economic strangulation around the world, one that is slowly erasing thousands of promising Afghan lives by the day. While our community ensures delivery of critical aid to countless Afghans who are starving, America’s sanctions and theft of Afghan reserves is ensuring misery and pain that will be felt for generations to come unless it changes drastic course today.”
Colleen Moore, Advocacy Director of Women Cross DMZ, stated, “President Biden came into office promising to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale, and he must honor this promise by overhauling U.S. sanctions that have taken a significant humanitarian toll on struggling civilian populations. Particularly on North Korea, we call on the Biden administration to lift the travel restrictions and sanctions that have hindered urgently needed humanitarian aid and undermined efforts to achieve peace and security.”
Despite the Biden administration’s stated goals to combat the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale and review U.S. sanctions policy, little concrete action has taken place to address these issues and most of the sanctions devastating civilian populations across the world remain in place. The tragedy of the humanitarian impact is compounded when we reflect on the ineffectiveness of these policies. In order to mitigate the harm being done to millions of innocent people and implement policies that serve U.S. interests, we must address the reality of sanctions, including their efficacy and impact.”
Download a copy of the letter here or see the text below:
April 28, 2022
President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Dear President Biden,
We write as organizations and individuals who are deeply concerned by the human cost and impacts of broad-based national sanctions and economic coercion on civilians across the world. While overly-broad U.S. sanctions have long caused undue harm to innocent civilians in targeted countries, contradicting stated policy objectives, this damage has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge you to take swift and immediate action to minimize these harmful impacts on innocent civilians.
Particularly in light of the swift and severe sanctions response that met Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sanctions have increasingly become a tool of first resort for U.S. foreign policy. As a result, it is important not to lose sight of the considerable human cost and impacts of broad-based national sanctions and economic coercion on civilians across the world. Many of us know firsthand the damage caused by these policies, as we have watched helplessly while our families and loved ones struggle under the weight of economic pressure in our countries of heritage.
In Afghanistan, tens of millions of people face food insecurity due to the U.S. initially withholding billions of dollars of the nation’s central bank reserves and imposing restrictions on World Bank and IMF funds. The decision to block $3.5 billion of Afghanistan’s central bank reserves for potential allocation to 9/11 families will only worsen an already disastrous situation where millions of Afghans face starvation. Central bank reserves are critical to a functioning economy and needed to support urgent relief that can forestall widespread famine across the country. Given the 20-year long U.S. war in Afghanistan and the foreign aid dependency it helped build, the United States has a critical responsibility to address the oncoming humanitarian disaster that has been worsened by U.S. policies.
In Cuba, U.S. sanctions have impoverished the population, leading Cubans to suffer from scarcity of food, essential medicines, and needed medical equipment. These policies continue despite a six-decade long embargo that the international community has urged the U.S. government to lift for almost 30 years.
In Gaza, an Israeli blockade backed by the U.S. government hinders imports of any medical supplies, with key essential drugs and medical disposables at “zero stock” levels. The only COVID-19 testing center in Gaza was badly damaged during bombing in 2021, while medical imaging devices used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients have been blocked from entering Gaza. The blockade exacts a grim toll on the besieged population.
In Iran, U.S. sanctions have devastated the economy and the livelihoods of millions of people, while slowing the response to COVID-19 in one of the world’s early epicenters for the virus. These sanctions have not abated, impoverishing the population and limiting access to goods, resources and medicine that could fight the disease. Moreover, a surge of refugees from Afghanistan has added to the economic and medical pressures facing civilians on the ground.
In North Korea, U.S. sanctions and travel restrictions have hindered urgently needed humanitarian aid and restricted the work of humanitarian assistance groups and private charities that provide a lifeline for some 13 million North Koreans. With North Korea potentially facing a major humanitarian crisis, U.S. sanctions will impede a timely response to urgent needs for the most vulnerable populations of the country when North Korea re-opens their borders.
In Venezuela, oil and financial sanctions initiated by the Trump administration contributed to a 72% collapse in per capita income, heightening food insecurity and worsening the health and economic crisis facing the civilian population. Sanctions against Venezuela have targeted the oil industry, which provided more than 95% of the country’s foreign currency revenue, and impeded the country from accessing international financial markets. U.S. foreign policy decisions have also barred Venezuela from accessing its funds in banks and multilateral financial institutions, obstructing its ability from deploying an effective response to the pandemic and helping fuel the greatest migration exodus in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. is the only country in the world to impose economic, instead of just individual, sanctions on Venezuela.
In Yemen, the U.S. government has continued to support the Saudi-led war, enabling them to impose a devastating blockade that blocks essential goods including fuel and medical supplies from entering the country. This has resulted in the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crisis, which includes a years-long famine and the largest cholera outbreak anywhere in history. The United States recently agreed to sell missiles to Saudi Arabia which are likely to be used to enforce the blockade, rewarding a government that is starving to death a Yemeni child every 75 seconds.
Whether country-wide sanctions or blockade, U.S. policies have hurt civilian populations in targeted countries in what amounts to unjust collective punishment. Despite the crucial goal of the Biden administration to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale, these policies ultimately worsen global public health and put at risk countless millions across the world, depriving them from their right to health, life-saving medical care and equitable access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
We recognize that the Biden administration initiated a comprehensive review of U.S. sanctions policies last year, setting out a general goal of minimizing humanitarian impacts and supporting humanitarian trade to heavily-sanctioned jurisdictions. However, this guidance has not been followed by concrete and comprehensive steps to deliver relief and open up humanitarian trade. As a result, the U.S. government has failed to significantly alter course and continues to enforce policies that fuel humanitarian and public health disasters.
The United States must lead by example, overhaul U.S. sanctions, and ensure that sanctions are targeted, proportional, connected to discrete policy goals and reversible. This would necessarily result in an end to unjust collective punishment of civilian populations around the globe who have little control over governmental decision making. Only by grappling with the full impact of sanctions can the U.S. ensure that sanctions don’t exacerbate the plight of ordinary citizens and serve, rather than undermine, U.S. interests.
Afghans for a Better Tomorrow
American Friends Service Committee
National Iranian American Council
Oil for Venezuela
Women Cross DMZ
Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
American Muslim Bar Association
Charity & Security Network
Demand Progress Education Fund
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ
Just Foreign Policy
Latin America Working Group
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
United Church of Christ, Justice and Local Church Ministries
The United Methodist Church — General Board of Church and Society
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