Press Releases

Joint Press Release: Treasury’s Sanctions Review Inadequate, Fails to Address Civilian Harm


Cavan Kharrazian, [email protected]; Alexander Main, [email protected]; Erik Sperling, [email protected]

WASHINGTON — Yesterday, the Treasury Department released a much anticipated review of US sanctions policy. Today, Deputy Treasury Secretary Adeyemo met with the Senate Banking Committee to present the findings of the review.

In response, the following statement can be attributed to Cavan Kharrazian, Progressive Foreign Policy Campaigner, Demand Progress; Alexander Main, Director of International Policy, the Center for Economic and Policy Research; and Erik Sperling, Executive Director, Just Foreign Policy:

“It is deeply disappointing that the Treasury Department sanctions review — which took nearly 10 months to complete — fails to address basic questions about the 176 sanctions authorities that are currently in place, namely: whether sanctions work, what economic or humanitarian effects they have on ordinary citizens, and their effort on efforts to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic.

This is troubling in light of the January 21 White House directive that Treasury and other agencies would assess whether US sanctions were “unduly hindering responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Yet the words “pandemic” and “COVID-19” aren’t mentioned once in this review, despite the fact that sanctions have widely been reported to impede the response to COVID-19 in countries including Iran, Cuba, and other countries prompting global leaders such as Pope Francis, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet to call for the lifting or easing of economic sanctions in light of the pandemic.

The review, which has only 7 pages of text, ignores these important issues and instead discusses how to strengthen or “modernize” sanctions and link them to a “policy objective.” The review authors claim to have interviewed “hundreds of sanctions stakeholders” yet they fail to acknowledge the concerns raised about the humanitarian impacts of sanctions by UN human rights experts and by prominent human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. While the review recommends that Treasury “expand sanctions exceptions to support the flow of legitimate humanitarian goods and assistance” it at no point considers how sanctions hurt millions of human beings as a result of the dire effect that these measures have on entire economies.

The review highlights a few purported “successful” sanctions regimes, but neglects the long list of failed sanctions regimes that have accomplished virtually nothing aside from harming tens of millions of innocent civilians. During today’s Senate Banking Committee hearing, Deputy Secretary Adeyemo failed to address these glaring gaps in the review, and provided no further details than those already in the review. When questioned by Senator Ossoff if he could list one specific example of a failure in sanctions policy, the Deputy Secretary repeatedly refused to answer the question.

Sadly this review suggests that the current administration, like the administration that preceded it, isn’t concerned about the humanitarian effects of sanctions and is prepared to carry on with the current sanctions policy, despite the harm it is doing to millions of innocent human beings, particularly those belonging to vulnerable and marginalized groups living in sanctioned countries.  We can only hope that this is merely a preliminary report that precedes a far more meaningful review that acknowledges the economic and humanitarian effects of sanctions on communities that bear no responsibility for the actions of their government.”