NIAC Hosts Congressional Panel on Sanctions with Iran Experts

“Maximum pressure hasn’t helped with opening political space in Iran but appears to have led to increased repression and closed space for human rights advocates on the ground,” according to Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher on Iran at the Human Rights Watch, speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). She went on to say that “this administration has been very open about its double standards on human rights,” which has discredited claims by the administration that they are standing with Iranian dissidents and the Iranian public. 

Ms. Sepehri Far, who authored a Human Rights Watch report on the effects of U.S. sanctions on humanitarian aid to Iran, highlighted how the current sanctions regime has hampered banking channels used for humanitarian aid, “making aid much more difficult this time around.” Moreover, the Trump sanctions have “contributed to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that basically pushes companies, mainly banks, away from doing trade that should be legal under [the] U.S. sanctions regimes.” 

Concerning the implications of maximum pressure on regional dynamics, Dina Esfandiary, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center who focuses on Iran’s foreign policy, said that “from Tehran’s perspective, it is unclear what the main goal of maximum pressure is. As a result, [the campaign] has changed Iranian behavior, but for the worse rather than for the better. You see an Iran that is now more daring in the region.”

Sina Toossi, NIAC’s Senior Research Analyst, went on to argue that the U.S. pressure campaign has decimated reformist and moderate factions in Iran and emboldened hardline forces within Iran’s political milieu. “Maximum pressure led to the collapse of moderate and reformist elements in Iran’s political elite. The notion of a Trump-Iran summit amid maximum pressure without sanctions relief up-front is untenable given Rouhani’s current political position.” 

According to Mr. Toossi, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s head of the judiciary and the former Presidential challenger to Rouhani, is “now overseeing an unprecedented corruption drive targeting all political spectrums. Hardliners hope it will remove moderates from power and strengthen their hand in a post-Khamenei era,” solidifying their control as the country begins its transition from old-guard political leaders to a new generation born after the revolution. 

Ms. Esfandiary also underscored that sanctions alone add little value provided they are never traded in. “Sanctions are useful only insofar as they can be lifted to obtain a change in behavior,” she said. “Iranians have been clear being able to sell oil is a big deal. Some kind of relief in the energy sector would help calm tensions and provide space for a diplomatic channel.”

The discussion concluded on comments from Ms. Sepehri Far on the Trump administration’s goal of instigating unrest in Iran that might topple the regime, stating that “it is hard to generalize how 80 million Iranians feel. Iranians have seen a revolution, an 8-year war and many years of sanctions over 40 years. Iranians are demanding greater social and political freedoms – but not calling for radical departures.”

Human Rights Watch Report on Impact of Sanctions on Iran

According to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), U.S. sanctions, reinstated after the United States pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal, have had a detrimental impact on the situation of human rights in Iran. The findings of this report are corroborated by the findings the United Nations Special Rapporteur, which also recently noted the negative impact of sanctions. Both reports indicate how sanctions have exacerbated economic hardship for Iranians, which in turn impede their access to vital resources such as medicines and food.

The report clearly shows how such impediments go against the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – ratified by Iran and signed by the United States – obliges states to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to ‘the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,’ as well as the right to an adequate “standard of living” that includes “adequate food.”

The HRW report notes that, despite stated exemptions for humanitarian goods by the United States, the nature of sanctions has prevented international banks from participating in any kind of financial transactions with Iran for fear of penalties due to secondary sanctions. The current sanctions system of the U.S. has thus made it nearly impossible for such humanitarian transactions to take place.

Contributing to this scenario is an atmosphere of hostile U.S. rhetoric, as the HRW report states, “US officials have indicated that the pain US sanctions are causing for ordinary Iranians is intentional, part of a strategy to compel Iranian citizens to demand their autocratic government to ‘change behavior’,” what HRW calls “a recipe for collective punishment that infringes on Iranians’ economic rights.” The aggressive language of some U.S. officials has created an environment of overcompliance, where companies and banks prefer not to risk U.S. punishment for facilitating even humanitarian transactions.

The HRW report discusses in detail the issue of medicine and medical supplies, a key human rights concern. While Iran manufactures 97% of its own medicines, critical life-saving medicines, especially for rare and complicated diseases are imported and now access to those medicines are affected by sanctions. In terms of medical supplies, 70% of supplies is reportedly imported, these imports are negatively impacted by sanctions and prevent the import of vital medical equipment such as MRI machines.

The full report from Human Rights Watch can be found here. While we continue to spotlight the issue of human rights in Iran and the reprehensible abuses of Iranian officials, we must also acknowledge abuses at the hands of foreign actors, especially when it is our government. It is incumbent upon us to call out these issues, particularly when we have the opportunity to make a real impact. As Americans, we can and must hold our government accountable when our policies violate human rights at home or abroad.

Yahoo Reinstates Email for Iranians

Yahoo
 
Washington, DC – Beginning late last week, Yahoo made good on its May promise to reinstate the ability for Iranians to create email accounts. 
 
Yahoo is the top email provider for Iranians; however, a policy change in late 2013 that required users to provide a phone number for new accounts barred numbers from countries that were sanctioned by the United States. As a result, Iranian users were unable to create new emails through Yahoo. 
 
Iranian Americans and human rights and technology organizations joined forces in petitioning for the reversal of Yahoo’s new policy. NIAC and Berim organized grassroots petition campaigns to call on Yahoo to stop blocking Iranians. Additionally, NIAC teamed up with groups including Berim, Access, United 4 Iran, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, ASL19, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, to send a letter to Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer to reverse the policy and allow email access to Iranians. 
 
In May, Yahoo pledged to resolve the issue by September in order to once again enable Iranians to create email accounts.
 
This limitation on communication services by Yahoo was not the first time that sanctions had prevented American tech companies from offering their services to Iranians. But beginning in 2009, a series of actions taken by the Obama Administration have exempted many communications technologies from sanctions. Many companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and GoDaddy had previously blocked access to Iranians but, over time, and with encouragement from civil society groups, have begun lifting those restrictions. 
 
Yahoo’s policy reversal is a welcome response to the public outcry and collaboration amongst different people and groups. Movements like this have been part of a longstanding effort by NIAC and others to lift sanctions on communications technology for Iranians. NIAC has actively worked with the Obama administration and Congress in lifting communications sanctions, supporting all actions made to stop the over-enforcement of sanctions and easing obstacles in personal communication for Iranians.
 
NIAC applauds Yahoo’s move, as well as all the organizations involved in this campaign, and looks forward to continuing these efforts.