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USA: Sanctions against individuals abroad violates due process rights

The United States Capitol Building, Washington, DC.
© Sarah Scaffidi
The United States Capitol Building, Washington, DC.

USA: Sanctions against individuals abroad violates due process rights

Human Rights

A UN independent human rights expert criticized the United States for using extraterritorial jurisdiction to impose sanctions on foreign individuals, in a statement issued on Thursday. 

UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan said the practice raises concerns about rights violations, including the right to due process, as enshrined under a decades-old international treaty. 

Longstanding practice 

"The United States has for years been imposing sanctions on individuals and entities without national criminal jurisdiction and in the absence of universal jurisdiction," she said.  

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"This is a clear violation of due process rights, including the presumption of innocence and fair trial.”  

She added that these rights are guaranteed under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights “which the United States has ratified and must fully implement.” 

The Convention is a core international human rights treaty that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and entered into force a decade later. 

Legal activities affected 

Ms. Douhan was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. 

She said the unilateral sanctions target individuals abroad for alleged activities outside the US, “including activities that are legal where they occur.”  

Secondary sanctions target foreign individuals and companies for alleged interaction with sanctioned parties or for evading sanction regimes. 

Over-complying out of fear 

As the sanctions typically prohibit entry into the US, and freeze assets with any connection to the country, they violate the right to freedom of movement, and the right to not be arbitrarily deprived of property. 

"Fear of US sanctions has led many foreign companies and financial institutions to over-comply in order to reduce their risks. This only exacerbates the impact of sanctions on human rights," she said. 

Furthermore, human rights are infringed when US trade bans against certain countries penalize foreign companies for conducting business there. 

“These policies affect labour rights, freedom of movement, and the rights of foreign individuals who may be associated with these companies," she said, pointing to the harm caused to the human rights of ordinary citizens who rely on the goods or services these companies provide, such as medicines and medical equipment

In questioning “the compatibility of this type of imposition of extraterritorial jurisdiction with international human rights standards,” she called for reflecting on how it impacts the international principle of non-interference in domestic affairs. 

About UN Rapporteurs 

Ms. Douhan and all other UN Special Rapporteurs receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

These independent experts monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues. 

They operate in their individual capacity and are not UN staff, and do not receive a salary for their work.