8 countries under unilateral sanctions ask UN chief for help

March 26, 2020 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Eight countries under unilateral sanctions, mainly from the United States and European Union, urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to request the immediate and complete lifting of those measures to enable the nations to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint letter obtained by The Associated Press, the ambassadors from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria and Venezuela urged the U.N. chief to “reject the politicization of such a pandemic.”

The ambassadors, who said they were under instructions from their foreign ministers, did not name any countries responsible for what they called “illegal, coercive measures of economic pressure.” But the United States has imposed sanctions on all of the nations except China and the European Union has imposed sanctions on all but Cuba.

In a speech to the Group of 20 major industrialized nations on Thursday, Secretary-General Guterres appealed “for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.”

The ambassadors said their governments have “the political and moral will” to gear up to fight the pandemic, but they said “this is a hard — if not impossible — deed” for countries facing sanctions.

The eight countries said efforts to combat COVID-19 are hindered by “the destructive impact” of sanctions nationally, “plus their extraterritorial implications, together with the phenomena of over-compliance and the fear for `secondary sanctions,’” which impede governments from regularly accessing the international financial system or trading freely to procure medical equipment and supplies including testing kits for the virus.

The ambassadors noted that U.N. independent experts have concluded that unilateral sanctions affect over a third of the world’s population.

Iran is one of the countries hardest-hit by the new virus, representing eight of 10 cases of the virus in the Mideast, and those leaving the Islamic Republic have carried the virus to other countries. U.S. sanctions have made it more difficult for Iran to access the global market and international firms remain leery of deals with Tehran, even those for humanitarian purposes.

On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader refused U.S. assistance to fight the new coronavirus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory claiming the virus could be man-made by America.