Sanctions Punish Children and the Most Vulnerable

– By Colin Moran (content from pamphlet handout for 2019 Eugene-Springfield Pride in the Park)


In 1996 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded to the accusation that 500,000 children had died in Iraq as a result of sanctions by saying “we think the price is worth it.” The sanctions she spoke of were led by the United States but approved of and overseen by the United Nations. Multiple UN officials supervising the sanctions resigned in protest calling the sanctions “a totally bankrupt concept” that “strengthens the leadership and further weakens the people” adding that “4-5,000 children are dying unnecessarily every month.” After 13 years of such sanctions, President Bush invaded Iraq with the same objectives that the sanctions did not achieve.

It seems the UN learned a lesson that Oregon congressmen have not. The UN Security Council has refused to approve US sanctions against Venezuela that economist Mark Weisbrot says “are even worse” than those in Iraq. The World Court even ruled against US sanctioning of Iran in Oct 2018 and ordered the US to ease sanctions in the first case of its kind against “economic warfare.” The UN Human Rights Council has voted for multiple resolutions condemning sanctions for “disproportionately affecting the poor and most vulnerable classes.” However, congressional support for such sanctions against Iran and Venezuela is bipartisan with even Merkley, Wyden, and DeFazio on board.


Mark Weisbrot and renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs released a report in April 2019 on the impact of US sanctions in Venezuela. As expected, they found the impact “has not been on the government but on the civilian population,” including “more than 40,000 deaths from 2017-2018” since sanctions cause food, medicine, and clean water shortages.

In 2017 the UN sent independent expert, Alfred De Zayas, on a fact-finding mission to investigate sanctions in Venezuela. He returned advising that the International Criminal Court investigate US sanctions as crimes against humanity under article 7 of the Rome Statute. “Sanctions kill,” he told reporters, as well as saying sanctions “are comparable to medieval sieges of towns.”

Former US State Department official, Thomas Shannon, said sanctions “cause enormous harm to the Venezuelan people… more, less like the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, we are seeing the destruction of Venezuela as a country and a society.”

Sanctions against Syria increased poverty from 28% to 80% in only 5 years according to a UN assessment which described US and EU sanctions as “the most complicated and far reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Over 50% of the population fell into poverty and Assad is still in power, as popular as ever among Syrians.

Professor of Russian Studies, Stephen Cohen, explains that a century of sanctions against Russia and USSR show “no evidence that any US sanctions ever significantly altered Moscow’s behavior in ways that were intended or adversely affected Russia’s ruling political or financial elites. Any pain inflicted fell on ordinary citizens who rallied around the Kremlin’s leadership and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sanctions as a weapon of regime change have failed in almost every case, especially in Cuba and North Korea. Studies show that governments often receive more support from their populations who perceive themselves as under attack from a foreign power and increasingly rely on the government to supply food, medicine and protection from foreign aggression.


A July 2019 UN resolution stresses that unilateral sanctions “are contrary to international law, international humanitarian law and the UN Charter” as well as urging “all states to stop adopting, maintaining, or implementing unilateral sanctions.”

Among the many international laws violated by sanctions include a UN Declaration of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States as well as Chapter IV articles 19 and 20 of the Charter of the Organization of American States: “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.”  and “No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind.”

The Vienna Declaration says that: “No state may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights.”

Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considers sanctions as crimes against humanity.

In July 2019, representatives to 120 countries gathered in Venezuela to support and recognize President Maduro and sign the Political Declaration of Caracas which reaffirms commitment to the UN Charter and international law as well as condemns unilateral sanctions and calls on sanctioned countries to utilize the World Court as Iran did in 2018, to rule on cases of “economic warfare.”


UN special expert in sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, explains

         “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state. The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.”

Compare that statement with that of Senator Merkley regarding Venezuelan President Maduro,

          “The US can and must… [use] economic pressure to hasten the day Maduro leaves power.”

May 16, 2019 brought good news that the Maduro government began negotiations in Norway with the opposition. Days later the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved a bill, including additional sanctions, they described as “the most robust effort to date to face the crisis in Venezuela” which would “accelerate the planning of financial institutions… after Maduro” including “international efforts to freeze, recover, and reuse the funds” of Venezuela which controls the largest oil reserves in the world.

Senator Merkley, who voted to approve the bill, sits on the Foreign Relations Committee giving him extra influence over US foreign policy. His vote and public statement add to his voting record that he shares with Wyden and DeFazio of supporting and voting for numerous sanctions such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017. These bills passed both the House and Senate with enormous bipartisan support. Notably, Bernie Sanders was one of the two senators who voted against both bills.

All three representatives showed to be poorly informed, if not misinformed, in their responses to inquiries regarding sanctions. We hold some responsibility for the policies supported by OUR representatives – especially when the policies are harmful and illegal. Please consider voicing your opposition to sanctions by calling your congresspeople today and send a message with your vote in 2020.

Sanctions are ineffective, illegal, and disastrous to civilian populations. They are not, as Albright claimed “worth it!”

  • Senator Merkley
  • Eugene (541) 465-6750
  • D.C. (202) 224-3753
  • next election 2020
  • Senator Wyden
  • Eugene (541) 421-0229
  • D.C. (202) 224-5244
  • next election 2022
  • Representative DeFazio
  • Eugene (541) 465-6732
  • D.C. (202) 225-6416
  • next election 2020