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COVID-19: Trump Weaponizing Virus by Intensifying Sanctions on Iran & Venezuela

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From Consortium News

As the entire world grapples with the most devastating pandemic of the modern era, the United States is pouring kerosene on the fire in Iran and Venezuela. The U.S. government has maintained punishing sanctions against the people of Iran and Venezuela to engineer regime change. But instead of ending the sanctions to help Iranians and Venezuelans fight the coronavirus, the Trump administration has expanded them and exacerbated the danger they pose.

"The world is facing the risk of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster," the International Association of Democratic Lawyers wrote in a statement calling on the U.S. government to immediately lift all sanctions against Iran and Venezuela.

Sanctions (unilateral coercive measures), collective punishment and forcible regime change are illegal under U.S. and international law. Donald Trump's intensification of sanctions against Venezuela and Iran during the pandemic constitutes a crime against humanity.

Iran Sanctions Add to Death Toll

Iran "has emerged as an epicenter of the virus globally and regionally," 34 members of Congress wrote in a March 31 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, urging them to "substantially suspend" sanctions against Iran during this worldwide health emergency. The letter was endorsed by 13 groups.

As of April 13, Iran had suffered 73,303 cases of COVID-19 and 4,585 deaths. Trump's sanctions are a primary cause of these extremely high casualties. "There can also be no question that the sanctions have affected Iran's ability to contain the outbreak, leading in turn to more infections, and possibly to the virus' spread beyond Iran's borders," Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said in a statement.

Adding insult to injury by "keeping up its economic pressure campaign," the U.S. government has imposed additional sanctions on Iran in the middle of the deadly pandemic, according to Reuters. The Trump administration is "literally weaponizing the coronavirus," human rights lawyer Arjun Sethi said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the sanctions "economic terrorism."

Congress members who signed the March 31 letter called Trump's March 18 sanctions "callous and short-sighted," warning that the virus is reportedly spreading from Iran to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are stationed.

The United States had already maintained "an effective economic blockade" of Iran's energy, banking and finance sectors, as well as its foreign investment and the targeting of basic foodstuffs and medicines, Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi wrote in December 2019.

In 2018, after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was working to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he reimposed heavy economic sanctions. The U.S. government's stated goal was to eliminate all Iranian oil exportation. It blacklisted 50 Iranian banks, individuals and ships, and Iran's national airline and fleet of aircraft. Pompeo said the United States would "crush" Iran with new sanctions so severe they could lead to regime change.

As a result of the reimposition of sanctions, oil exports plummeted, Iran's currency has been substantially devalued and the country is in a severe recession.

In October 2018, the International Court of Justice ordered the United States to lift its sanctions against Iran on food, medicine, humanitarian trade and civil aviation. The U.S. government refused to abide by the court's decision.

An October 2019 Human Rights Watch report concluded that the U.S.'s "maximum pressure" campaign "drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment."

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)
 

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