UN experts said this week that US sanctions on Iran are causing more deaths of Iranians with thalassemia, a congenital blood disorder that requires specialized medicine.
“The lack of access to medication has resulted in many more deaths,” two UN experts, Alena Douhan and Obiora C. Okafor, said, according to a press release put out by the UN on Tuesday.
“Since the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran by the US in 2018, over-compliance with sanctions has escalated, affecting the import of life-saving iron-regulating medicines for Iranian thalassemia patients. This not only violates their right to health, but also results in increased complications and mortality rates,” Douhan and Okafor said.
The US insists that sanctions on Iran technically have exemptions for humanitarian goods. But history shows international banks and companies generally avoid doing business with heavily-sanctioned nations altogether due to fears of running afoul of the restrictions.
“The humanitarian exemptions for medical goods in US sanctions regulations are complex and unclear. In addition, recent US practices impose high fines on pharmaceutical companies selling medicine to Iran, triggering fear in medical, delivery, and insurance business sectors,” the experts said.
They said that a key medicine for thalassemia produced by the Swiss pharmaceutical group Novartis and ingredients for these medicines made by the French company Roquette Frères were denied to Iran due to sanctions. According to the UN press release, Iran has a “particularly high” number of thalassemia patients who require specialized medicines during blood transfusions.
Douhan and Okafor said the legality of US sanctions and their enforcement is “doubtful under international law.” They called for the US to “ensure that humanitarian exemptions for medicines are effectively implemented, that any obstacles in financial transactions for medical purposes are lifted, and that no secondary sanctions are imposed on those individuals or entities engaging with Iran and Iranian businesses in this regard.”
Douhan is a UN special rapporteur for the impact of unilateral coercive measures and has previously called for the lifting of all sanctions on Iran due to their impact on civilians. More recently, she has called for the US and other Western countries to lift sanctions on Syria in the wake of a devastating earthquake that has killed about 6,000 Syrians.
The US issued a 180-day exemption for its sanctions on Syria that applies to “all transactions related to earthquake relief efforts.” But Douhan and other UN experts say it’s not enough and are calling for the lifting of all sanctions, which are specifically designed to prevent Syria’s reconstruction.