UN Secretary General urges to soften sanctions against countries fighting COVID-19

May 04, 2020 by Mark Dunn

Amidst global efforts to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, has called for a global truce, advocating a halt to all military actions in order to mitigate the impact of the novel virus on wartorn populations. In cooperation with EU’s Josep Borrell, the UN Chief urged the global community to ease sanctions against a number of countries, in particular for humanitarian operations and the delivery of vital equipment and supplies, such as medical masks, gloves and respirators, which are necessary to combat the Coronavirus.

Is your due diligence and risk monitoring process agile enough to keep up with shifting compliance requirements? Indeed, while COVID-19  tests the resilience of highly developed countries such as France, South Korea and the US, developing countries and less developed countries face an ever greater challenge. Countries, where availability of essential healthcare equipment is already at risk in ‘non-pandemic times’, face even more widespread scarcity now.

covid19 sanctions

Are sanctions missing the mark here?

Populations in economically and politically unstable regions, such as Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and Zimbabwe, now face a life-threatening double burden. As UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet noted¹ in March,  “The populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions , and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods.”

As a result, the UN suggests sanctions go far beyond their original objectives, jeopardising the often already frail health systems in these countries. According to recent numbers, Iran is buckling under the weight of more than 60.000 confirmed cases. While the causes for this dramatic outbreak also have to be identified domestically, international sanctions impede access to much needed medicines, respirators and protective gear for healthcare workers.

Sanctions and public health crises: No novel issue

The current outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt. But it is not the first time that international sanctions are affecting a country’s response to a public health crisis. Before the coronavirus began devastating  our global community, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized the disastrous affects a lack of supplies can have on the public’s health. Previous outbreaks of Ebola and Sars, as well as increased rates of malaria in North Korea and Venezuela, suggest that international sanctions regimesmay yield unintended consequences, such as shortages in medical supplies and other necessary resources for managing a pandemic.

In 2019, before the coronavirus struck, a Human Rights Watch report² noted that sanctions were indeed restricting Iran’s access to medicine and medical equipment. Therefore, the UN’s call for a global ceasefire and a reassessment of present international sanctions in the light of the current COVID-19 outbreak comes at no surprise.

Adapting sanctions to beat COVID-19

Amidst a staggering number of worldwide infections, recent developments have also pointed to the fact that the ongoing global pandemic can at least offer a rapprochement between some opposing sides. In late March, Time Magazine reported³ efforts between the US and Iran to temporarily put aside a number of political issues in order to combat the virus. While it is to be seen if this particular case of “crisis-collaboration” will be fruitful, necessity remains the mother of invention. France, Germany and the UK have since committed to sending medicine and food to Iran—while avoiding US sanctions—using a barter trade system known as "Instex". Perhaps the United Nations’ call for a limited suspension of international sanctions to avoid the collapse of any national healthcare system may even constitute a new stimulus for future negotiations.

Of course, an easing of sanctions now doesn’t mean there won’t be a tightening in the future. Having a robust sanctions risk management process helps ensure your company can keep up with shifting compliance requirements—during the pandemic and beyond

What’s Next?

1.  Read more about best practices for managing sanctions compliance risk in our ebook.
2.  Check out our COVID-19 & PESTLE risk tracker to see what topics are trending.


1.Ease sanctions against countries fighting COVID-19: UN human rights chief, UN News

2.Iran: Sanctions Threatening Health, Human Rights Watch

3.Trump's Iran Gamble: Will 'Maximum Pressure' and COVID-19 Bring Tehran to the Bargaining Table? Time