WEA calls on governments to “remove sanctions that prevent churches from operating”

The WEA organised a virtual event to evaluate the impact of unilateral sanctions on churches and aid organizations worldwide and gives recommendations on how to overcome it.

Evangelical Focus

WEA · GENEVA · 05 OCTOBER 2021 · 16:55 CET

Aleppo, Syria, one of the countries most affected by the sanctions. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="https://unsplash.com/@soriaty">aladdin hammami</a>, Unsplash, CC0,
Aleppo, Syria, one of the countries most affected by the sanctions. / Photo: aladdin hammami, Unsplash, CC0

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), along with Caritas Internationalis, organized a virtual side-event on 28 September, in the context of the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, to assess the humanitarian impact of unilateral sanctions.

The event aimed “to provide food for thought to develop recommendations to key stakeholders for a human rights-based framework and standards aligned with international law and principled humanitarian action”.

The speakers were Wissam Al Saliby, WEA Advocacy Officer; Dr. Michel Abs, Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches, and Dr. Joel Veldkamp, International Communications Officer of Christian Solidarity International.

It also featured remarks by Prof. Alena Douhan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights;and it was moderated by Mr. Karam Abi Yazbeck, Regional Coordinator of Caritas Middle East and North Africa.


“Sanctions have prevented churches to help those in need”

Al-Saliby stressed that although “evangelicals are among the first to move to action, serve the poor, help the displaced and the marginalized”, the WEA “received reports that their work and partnerships, are made difficult or impossible in some countries”.

He emphasized that the WEA is not against sanctions as a tool in international relations, but “today, in many countries, the humanitarian and human rights impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures (UCM) on civilians is disproportionate to their stated goals”.

Sanctions have, again and again, prevented churches all over the world from helping their local counterparts, and from helping those in need in countries like Cuba, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, or, previously, in Sudan, and now in Afghanistan, and in other countries”, denounced Al-Saliby.

He gave examples of evangelical churches and organizations who sought to provide humanitarian relief but “cannot overcome the financial and knowledge hurdles needed to apply for exemptions. Some big organizations have a dedicated staff or a law firm supporting, but this is not the case of most of our constituency”.

WEA calls on governments to “remove sanctions that prevent churches from operating”

The WEA organized a virtual event on the humanitarian impact of unilateral sanctions. / WEA


Bank over-compliance

“If a man is hungry and comes to the church for food, should the church push him away if he is on some government’s sanctions list? This delicate question is haunting many Christian organizations in Lebanon and Syria today”, pointed out Al-Saliby.

According to the WEA Advocacy Officer, “another dimension of the problem, which makes futile even the exemptions, is bank over-compliance”.

In Syria, for example, “essential life saving humanitarian aid, even with exemptions, either delayed or denied by the banking system”.

“In most countries, the impact of sanctions, whether unintended or not, whether direct or indirect, whether over-compliance or not, is not proportionate to their stated goal of bringing about a change in policy or activity by targeting countries, entities and individuals”, added Al-Saliby.


“Remove sanctions that prevent churches from operating”

Taking all these issues into account, the WEA called on governments to remove sanctions that prevent churches from operating, whether for humanitarian work or for the churches to serve and assist people in need which is at the heart of our mission”.

They also appealed for the removal of the sanctions “that prevent the population of a given country from accessing basic needs and services, and essential health supplies, including access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments”, and of those that “inhibit the reconstruction of basic infrastructure destroyed by the armed conflict”.


First recommendations

“Until this happens” al-Saliby said, the evangelical entity urged sanctioning governments to take ‘plan B’ recommendations “so that their sanction regimes are not impacting civilians and do not prevent our constituency from pursuing their vital work”:

- To exclude in law and in practice humanitarian work and the work of churches. “Christian and humanitarian organizations should not have to deal with exemptions”.

-To invest more resources, establish more accessible mechanisms, to assist churches and aid organizations, small and big. “Churches and aid organizations should not bear the financial costs for navigating the complex sanctions regimes”.

- To engage with their respective banking sector to ensure fund transfers for humanitarian goods and for churches can continue unimpeded, and to ensure that donor funds to support aid can reach countries under sanction quickly.

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