26 countries urge lifting of western sanctions to tackle virus

China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela, among others, say 'coercive measures' hinder Covid-19 response

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 21, 2020 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference to announce the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, at the US State Department in Washington,DC.  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will cut short his trip to Asia this week, a department spokeswoman said on October 3, 2020, visiting Japan but skipping planned stops to South Korea and Mongolia. / AFP / POOL / Patrick Semansky

China and 25 other nations on Monday called for the immediate lifting of sanctions by the United States and western countries to ensure an effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking on behalf of the 26 countries at a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee, China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said “unilateral coercive measures” violate the UN Charter, multilateralism, and impede human rights by hindering “the well-being of the population in the affected countries” and undermining the right to health.

“Global solidarity and international co-operation are the most powerful weapons in fighting and overcoming Covid-19,” the joint statement said. “We seize this opportunity to call for the complete and immediate lifting of unilateral coercive measures, in order to ensure the full, effective and efficient response of all members of the international community to Covid-19.”

Among the countries that backed the statement were half a dozen that face sanctions by the US, European Union or other western nations including Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

The statement notes that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet have called for the waiving of sanctions that undermine a country’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.

There was no immediate response to an email seeking comment from the US Mission to the United Nations.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen addressed the sanctions issue at a Security Council meeting on Syria in May saying EU sanctions “do not affect the delivery of humanitarian aid or medical goods to limit the effects of Covid-19”, citing specific EU guidance on ensuring aid gets to the Syrian people.

The 26 countries also took aim at “chronic and deep-rooted racial discrimination, police brutality and social inequality”.

They cited the shooting by police of two Black Americans, George Floyd who died at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in May, and Jacob Blake, shot by a white police officer in August and left paralysed from the waist down.

“The Covid-19 mortality rate of minorities, in particular people of African descent, is disproportionately high in some countries,” their statement said.