NLG International Statement on Economic Sanctions/Unilateral Coercive Measures

“Hands Off Venezuela” march held in Washington DC on March 16. (Sofia D. / Liberation)

The National Lawyers Guild International Committee condemns the U.S. government’s illegal use of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs) to force regime change by undermining the economies of countries whose governments it opposes. The recent financial and secondary sanctions imposed by the Trump administration against Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran are openly intended to destroy their economies and immiserate their people by making it impossible to engage in normal trade and tourism and even to import medicine and food. These sanctions are in clear violation of both UN and OAS charters, as outlined by UN Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures Idriss Jazairy, and meet the status of crimes against humanity.

The humanitarian effect of the recent sanctions against Venezuela has been described in reports by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and UN independent expert Alfredo de Zayas. As de Zayas stated in his report, “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockages are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender.” When the country imposing that siege controls the international financial system such that it can punish third countries for defying its sanctions (as is the case with the United States and its unilateral primary and secondary sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba and Iran), the international guarantees of national sovereignty and human rights contained in the UN and OAS Charters, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and countless international declarations and conventions, become dead letters.

Accordingly, we support the position of the Venezuelan government, in its complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC), that U.S. UCMs constitute “crimes against humanity” under the Rome Statute. We agree that U.S. government officials responsible for imposing these illegal and devastating sanctions should be subject to prosecution by the ICC. Due to the increased use of financial primary and secondary sanctions throughout the world by U.S. executive order, the Venezuelan referral deserves investigation on its own merits and apart from any other complaint against the Venezuelan or any other target government.

Moreover, we oppose the complicity of the current OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro (whose likely re-election is supported by the United States) for his blatant violation of the OAS Charter in promoting sanctions that punish the civilian population of Venezuela and his ongoing promotion of unelected parallel governments in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Finally, we urge Congress members, in recognition of their Article I responsibility under the U.S. constitution to regulate commerce with foreign nations and their Article VI responsibility to respect international treaties and charters ratified by the United States, to:

  • support Rep. Ilhan Omar’s H.R. 5879, the Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act; while noting, however, that this bill takes only a domestic constitutional approach and does not address the profound harms caused by violations of international law inherent in U.S. unilateral coercive measures that have been approved by Congress; and

  • repeal the Helms-Burton law and all other legislation that authorizes or provides for the economic blockade of Cuba.

At the very least, funding for the Treasury Department’s OFAC unit should be conditioned on enforcement of only those sanctions authorized under international law.

The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest progressive bar association in the United States. Through our International Committee, we advocate for U.S. compliance with international law and social justice in this increasingly interconnected world.

This statement is issued in advance of the Sanctions Kill weekend of action, 13-15 March 2020.

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