UN Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy said Thursday that sanctions that seek to block a country’s trade completely are equivalent to economic warfare against civilians.
Economic sanctions are meant to burden states, but these often expose civilians to hardships, including impediments to humanitarian assistance. According to Jazairy, blocking necessities such as food and medicine “expos[e] innocent civilians to collective punishment,” which is contrary to peaceful resolutions advocated by the UN Charter.
While the toll to civilians is obvious during physical conflicts, Jazairy noted that the consequence of economic sanctions and warfare is the same–both result in the death of innocent civilians. Although the Geneva Conventions convey protections to people during war, no equivalent exists for people under economic sanction.
There are, however, means to alleviate and prevent humanitarian crises that stem from economic blockades. While sanctions are in force, Jazairy said states should be obliged to maintain humanitarian exemptions, which should include “blanket protections for the importation of food, medicine, and other necessities of life without first requiring lengthy and complex approval processes.”
According to the expert, a declaration that protects civilians from consequences of political coercion would improve modern human rights practices and would help alleviate unnecessary civilian suffering.