Ordinary Iranians are struggling to access medicine, find jobs and are facing a worsening human rights situation in part thanks to the reimposition of biting sanctions by the United States on Tehran last year, a United Nations official said this week.
Speaking with reporters in New York, Javaid Rehman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said Washington’s sanctions on hundreds of Iranian banks and other institutions had strangled the national economy.
Iranian officials have frequently complained that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran was hurting ordinary Iranians, but confirmation of this by a UN official reinforces concerns over the US policy.
“Access to medicine has been a big concern and that impacts on the right to health issues,” Rehman, a British-Pakistani law professor at Brunel University London, said at UN headquarters in Manhattan on Tuesday.
“There are also issues, inflation, lack of employment, a restriction on economic development. So many of the labourers we’ve come across, ordinary people, are also being affected.”
President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 multi-nation nuclear deal with Iran last year, saying it did not do enough to deter Iran’s weapons testing and support for armed Middle Eastern groups. The US reimposed full sanctions on Tehran in November.
The trade curbs have seen Iranian oil exports collapse by 80 per cent and the Iranian economy contract by 6 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment rates and inflation have also soared.
The US says the sanctions are designed to change the behaviour of Iran’s hardline clerical elite — chiefly by stopping ballistic missile tests and backing Hezbollah and other proxy militias, but also by granting Iranians greater personal freedom.
While food and medical imports are exempt from sanctions, lack of access to global markets has led to shortages of some medical supplies. European nations have tried to create a barter system to skirt US sanctions, but it has so far failed to gain traction.
According to Rehman, US sanctions on 700 Iranian entities, including 50 banks and financial institutions, have made it harder for Iranian businesses to trade with the outside world. He did not specify which medicines were unavailable or how many Iranians were affected.
Sanctions have disproportionately hurt Iranians who already struggled against hardship and the country’s deteriorating human rights situation, particularly members of Iran’s marginalised ethnic and religious groups, said Rehman.
“Sanctions is one element of the human rights situation. I have several concerns, for example — death penalty, the execution of children, dual and foreign nationals, the situation of human rights defenders, ethnic and religious minorities,” said Rehman.
“This is a disturbing picture. We cannot say that sanctions are the only reason why we have human rights violations … There have been very serious human rights violations taking place before the sanctions being put in place.”
Speaking in Tehran earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and the reimposition of sanctions, saying that Iran’s healthcare system had been hit.
Rouhani reportedly told delegates to a regional World Health Organization meet that US sanctions were restricting trade in food, medicine and other humanitarian goods and were “economic terrorism” and a “crime against humanity”.
“However, it does not mean that the Iranian nation has been brought to its knees because our scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers have redoubled their efforts,” Rouhani told delegates, according to a government news agency.
Iran was moving “toward full self-sufficiency despite unprecedented economic pressure and unjust sanctions”, said Rouhani, with domestic Iranian firms making 95 per cent of medicines required by the Iranian market.
While Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran has sent the country into recession and devalued its national currency, Tehran remains defiant in the face of US efforts to deter its regional ambitions.
Iranian officials and businesspeople have devised a range of techniques to circumvent US sanctions, including by stepping up exports of non-oil goods, boosting tax revenues as well as smuggling, bartering and back-room deals.