Hossein Pourahmadi (PhD), is an Associate Professor of the Department of Political Sciences of the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Iran. He was invited by The Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights and the Finnish Pugwash Committee to speak about Iran sanctions early June in Helsinki, but was denied an entry visa by the Finnish authorities.This is a part of the lecture that professor Pourahmadi prepared for his visit to Helsinki, which did not come to pass.

ALTHOUGH the use of sanctions as a tool to put pressure on Iran has existed throughout the post-revolution period, the involvement of the United Nations Security Council, and extensive efforts by the United States to expand the sanctions and encourage their allies to impose sanctions much more extensive against Iran than the Security Council’s, have totally changed the situation in the past year. One of the main features of the new conditions is their negative impact on the Iranian society and citizens who are bearing the brunt of the sanctions directly.

One way to categorise sanctions is to accept the current general division of “restrictive measures” or “economic sanctions” by countries imposing them into unilateral and multilateral sanctions, and sanctions within framework of the Security Council resolutions as well as sanctions outside of the framework of those resolutions. By that definition, there is no doubt that the restrictive measures which were approved against Iran by the European Union, for example, on 23 January 2012, are among multilateral sanctions which have been imposed out of the framework of the Security Council resolutions. The reason is that both in terms of decision-making authority and their legal basis, and from the viewpoint of the content of those sanctions, they go well beyond sanctions resolutions imposed against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United Nations Security Council. These sanctions were imposed to pursue a series of illegal goals, such as destabilising the Iranian political system in order to meet the illegitimate interests of sanctioning countries. They are also meant to pose a threat of the use of force against Iran. These are the undeclared goals of the sanctions.

“Anti-Iran sanctions do not cover medicines.” This sentence has been heard time and time again from supporters of international as well as Western unilateral sanctions against Iran. However, it would suffice to look into a number of pharmacies and hospitals in Tehran and other Iranian cities to know that the reality is totally different. At present, procurement of the most essential items of medicines for treatment purposes has become the greatest concern of the Iranian patients and their families.

A cursory review of sanctions imposed against Iran will reveal that, although no clear ban has been imposed on supplying medicines to the Islamic Republic, due to restriction of trade and financial transactions with Iran, the sanctions have practically left their mark on medical issues, including the supply of medicines, in the country.

Has the role of unilateral sanctions on the shortage of medicines in Iran been blown out of proportion? British weekly The Economist recently published a report in which it made references to allegations by the European and American authorities about the impact of the so-called “smart” sanctions on Iran. The report noted that it was the Iranian people who, in fact, are bearing the brunt of the sanctions by having to deal with rampant unemployment, high inflation rate, and the shortage of medicines and even food.

The Iranian people are bearing the brunt of thesanctions by having to eal with rampant unemployment,high inflation rate and the shortageof medicines and even food.

The Guardian also carried a report in which it has pointed out the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iranians are grappling with the consequences of international sanctions against their country. The report added that although some Western countries have issued permits for the export of medicines to Iran, those permits do not change the situation much because the problem has its root in banking sanctions as well as prohibition on the sales of “dual-use” substances to Iran. The newspaper noted that 85,000 Iranians are diagnosed with some kind of cancer every year, but facilities for providing them with chemotherapy or radiotherapy are scant. Moreover, 8,000 haemophiliacs and 8,000 patients with thalassaemia are also facing serious problems in purchasing the medicines that they need.

Meanwhile, Erich Ferrari, an American lawyer, has noted that permits issued by the US government for the export of some medicines to Iran have been practically “useless” as the main problem is with “foreign banks” that do not support the financial exchanges needed for the exports. Ferrari has also noted that, since the US government is escalating punishments for foreign banks doing business with Iran, the number of legal channels available for the import of medicines and foodstuff to Iran is constantly falling.

Under these circumstances, it seems that as long as banking and financial sanctions against Iran are in effect, foreign banks and other financial institutions will remain concerned about the economic and legal costs of possible financial interactions with the Islamic Republic. This situation will greatly reduce the opportunities for Iranian importers to purchase necessary medicines as well as raw materials that are needed for the production of medicines inside the country. The present state of affairs demonstrates the real meaning of humanitarian values and legal principles as perceived by those Western states which claim to be advocating human rights in the world.