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Human Rights Watch blasts US refusal to lift Iran sanctions amid coronavirus

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly criticized the United States for its refusal to lift sanctions on Iran amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

The report was published by the New York-based organization on Monday asserted that international law obliges any country imposing sanctions on another to “consider the impact on the human rights of the affected population, especially regarding their access to goods essential to life, including medicines and food.”

The broad bans “are negatively affecting the Iranian government’s ability to adequately respond to the mounting health consequences of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” said the HRW.

Washington “should take immediate action to ease US sanctions and expand licensing of sanctions-exempt items to ensure Iran’s access to essential humanitarian resources during the pandemic,” the group added. 

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The virus can lead to a potentially fatal respiratory disease, called Covid-19. HRW cited figures released by Iran’s Health Ministry on March 19 that showed almost 50 people contracted the virus every hour and one person died of it every 10 minutes in Iran.

While the Islamic Republic is battling the fast-spreading outbreak, the Trump administration refuses to ease up its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s wrote to the United Nations and his counterparts last month, urging them to ignore the coercive measures.

HRW’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth called it “wrong and callous” for the Trump administration to retain the measures.

Detailing the fallout from the bans, the body said severe international banking restrictions have adversely affected Iran’s ability to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines and medical equipment. These include Washington’s sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank that “seriously threatened the flow of exempted humanitarian trade to Iran.”

Although, the US claims that it has exempted humanitarian supplies from the sanctions, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has cut the number of its so-called “general licenses” for Iran-headed exports from more than 50 percent to 10 percent, HRW said.

It also refuses to expand the licenses so they could include more items, it added.

“This means that equipment crucial to fighting the virus, including ventilators, CT scanners, decontamination equipment, and full-mask respirators, require a special license,” the body wrote.

International banks and companies balk at engaging in business with Iran for fear of being punished by the bans, the organization warned.

The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak has reached 3,739, including 136 people who had lost their lives over the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on Monday.

The total number of people infected by coronavirus in the country has reached 60,500, he said. So far, 24,236 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital, he added.

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