The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday urged the international community to urgently re-evaluate any sanctions imposed on countries such as Iran, to prevent their healthcare systems from collapse.
"At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended," Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
"In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us," she said and insisted that humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorization for essential medical equipment and supplies.
Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has struck Iran the hardest in the Middle East. The death toll officially announced by Iran has now risen to 1,934 and 24,000 have been diagnosed and tested positive for the virus.
Various news sources have challenged the official figures. According to an exclusive report, data gathered by Radio Farda from various national and local media in Iran quoting local authorities and Health Ministry officials indicate that the coronavirus (COVID-19) death toll in the country is much more than the officially announced tally.
Even before the pandemic, Bachelet had pointed out that human rights reports had repeatedly emphasized the impact of sectorial sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment in Iran, including respirators and protective gear for healthcare workers.
She warned that Iran's epidemic was also spreading to neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, putting a strain on their fragile health systems as well.
"Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems -- but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities," she said.
The UN rights chief stressed that "the populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions, and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods."
The United States has declared that sanctions do not apply to humanitarian items including food and medicine but Iranian officials consistently say due to U.S. sanctions, European manufacturers of medical equipment do no maintain trade with Iran because of banking restrictions.