The Circular Logic of Sanctions

by Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas, Geneva School of Diplomacy

The international community contends that it is genuinely interested in advancing the enjoyment of all human rights by all persons in all countries. 
  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has shown that its Advisory Services and Technical Assistance are effective in strengthening the rule of law and state institutions that promote and protect human rights. The opening of an OHCHR bureau in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2019 is a significant step in coordinating the assistance of UN agencies including UNDP, UNHCR, WHO and FAO.
  On the other hand, when a country is subjected to economic sanctions and financial blockades, the result is not an expansion of human rights, but exactly the opposite. Experience shows that when a country suffers a national emergency, when its economy is being asphyxiated, when it is suffering from a siege or non-conventional hybrid warfare, it usually closes ranks and tries to regain stability through the temporary restriction of certain civil and political rights – for the duration of the crisis.
  Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does allow for certain temporary restrictions, e.g. the derogation from Art. 9 (detention), Art. 14 (fair trial proceedings), Art. 19 (freedom of expression), Art. 21 (freedom of peaceful assembly), Art. 25 (periodic elections).
  No one wants these derogations, nor do we think derogations are a good thing, but every state has a certain margin of discretion in determining the level of risk to law and order posed by military incursions, paramilitary activities, sabotage – or by non-conventional hostile methods such as sanctions, blockades, embargoes, which have been condemned both by the General Assembly and by the Human Rights Council on repeated occasions.
  Thus, instead of facilitating the improvement of the human rights situation in a given country, sanctions result in emergency domestic measures that aim at reestablishment stability and public order. In other words, sanctions are counter-productive.
  If the international community really wants to help a country improve its human rights performance, it should endeavor to lift all foreign threats, sabre rattling, sanctions and blockades – because they constitute significant obstacles to the proper functioning of any state under a democratic constitution and under the rule of law.
  In the light of the continuing threats by Trump and Pompeo, it would seem that an old French adage has perfect application – la bête est très méchante, lorsqu’on l’attaque, elle se défend.
  The beast ist very nasty – when you attack it, it defends itself.

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