DeFazio’s Disregard for International Law

At DeFazio’s Eugene town hall last Thursday I informed him that the UN World Court has ordered the US to ease sanctions against Iran, sanctions which trace back to him, and asked, “will you commit to only supporting sanctions that have prior UN Security Council approval?”  I thought this such a reasonable request that he, or anyone else, would simply acknowledge the World Court ruling, say he would consider my request, and just move on to the next question. Regrettably, DeFazio chose another path.

He begins by attempting to correct me by saying, “Well actually the sanctions that were imposed under the Obama administration did have United Nations approval.” It appears my entire point went over DeFazio’s head. Of course the sanctions prior to the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015 were approved by multiple UNSC resolutions, and of course when the UNSC endorsed the deal with Resolution 2231, it discontinued all of them by directing, “the termination of the provisions of previous Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue.” This was the whole point of the deal, to exchange discontinuing sanctions for certain controls on Iran’s nuclear program. 

DeFazio, who supported these sanctions when they had UNSC approval and opposes them now when they do not, fails to understand that provisions which require UN approval in order for sanctions to be implemented would have allowed the sanctions when he wanted them and blocked them when he doesn’t. Not only would such provisions in US sanctions prevent someone like Trump from just turning around and reimposing sanctions as he has done, but they would prevent the US from violating international law. Former UN sanctions expert, Alfred de Zayas explains, “that only those sanctions that are imposed by the Security Council under Chapter VII can be considered legal.” 

DeFazio goes on to explain why he supported the sanctions and then says, “but those were not the punitive sanctions of today.” What DeFazio calls “not punitive sanctions,” UN News calls “economic warfare.” How do we know that UN News was referring to the same sanctions that DeFazio supported? The World Court ruling says exactly that – the case that Iran brought to the court and the ruling of the court were specifically concerning the sanctions announced in the May 8, 2018 White House memorandum. The memorandum announced the US is “restoring” sanctions and “taking steps to re-impose all United States sanctions lifted or waived in connection with the [deal].” It goes on to specifically list The Iran Sanctions Act and the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act as the sanctions to be re-imposed. DeFazio voted for both. That DeFazio would claim “but those were not the punitive sanctions of today,” shows that it is unlikely he has ever looked at the World Court ruling yet has the hardheadedness to argue about what it says.

DeFazio then says, “unfortunately Trump has voided that agreement and imposed even more onerous sanctions than before. I have opposed that and the House has opposed that.” Before Trump withdrew from the deal by re-imposing sanctions in 2018, DeFazio and the House voted for the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act in 2017 which “directs the President to impose sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction programs,” among other sanctions. 

This seems a clear violation of article 26 of the Iran Nuclear Deal which states:

“The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such… an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

So, while he is claiming that he and the House opposed Trump voiding of the agreement by imposing more sanctions, DeFazio and the House voted for a bill that directed Trump to void the agreement by imposing more sanctions. Even John Kerry was warning Congress against adding these sanctions and the obvious consequences.

DeFazio also cosponsored a resolution which was agreed to in the House two months after the World Court ruling. This resolution may not be a direct violation of the Iran Nuclear Deal but it goes a long way towards showing DeFazio’s disregard for international law. Neither this resolution or the 2017 bill were approved by the UNSC and therefore illegal under international law. 

Hopefully DeFazio will simply listen to his constituents next time rather than make such a defensive and inaccurate display.

DeFazio The Dove?

Representative DeFazio recently defended his record of opposing war in his Eugene Weekly letter to the editor, “DeFazio The Dove.” DeFazio presents a selective review of his record being “a consistent opponent of war” that he claims “even the least bit of research into my career would clearly show.” Let’s see what else the least bit of research shows.

DeFazio points out that he voted against the Iraq War but ignores that he voted “to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq” with his vote for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Voting for regime change instead of war hardly qualifies one as “a consistent opponent of war.” How did DeFazio envision this regime change would happen if not militarily?  Perhaps sanctions? DeFazio voted for sanctions against Iraq in 1990. Six years later Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had said “the price is worth it” when responding to claims that 500,000 children had died from the sanctions.

DeFazio then explains his vote for the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force after 9/11, which he says has “disturbingly been used beyond its original intent to justify endless wars the US is still engaged in worldwide.” Should DeFazio be so surprised? DeFazio’s vote came after serving in Congress for 14 years, and after seeing what DeFazio calls “Bush’s original draft, which gave him limitless authorization to use US forces as he pleased.” Why is DeFazio then surprised that Bush “used US forces as he pleased?”  A “consistent opponent of war” might have predicted what Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were going to do or might have worried that the AUMF would be abused by ensuing administrations. Even in 2019 the White House is arguing that the 2001 AUMF authorizes war with Iran. 

A “consistent opponent of war” might have also understood that the “military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism,” a quote from Barbara Lee who voted against the 2001 AUMF. Not only has a State Department official just this month stated that Al Qaeda “is as strong as it has ever been,” but a 2016 Army War College study “indicates US efforts have been correlated with a worsening of the terror situation.” 

DeFazio ends by mentioning his War Powers Act which he introduced for the ninth time this year. It has died in Congress each time. It cannot be blamed on DeFazio that Congress appears to not want responsibility for authorizing war, but we can question whether trying to give Congress this power can be called “opposing war.” This is a Congress in which 70% voted for the Iraq War and 75% just signed a letter urging the White House “to remain militarily engaged in Syria” after it had announced a pullout. 

The problem with current war powers law, according to DeFazio at a Eugene town hall earlier this month, is that “the President can use force and then come after the fact to Congress for authorization. That’s a huge problem… once the bullets start flying and casualties start mounting.” DeFazio is right that it is difficult to avoid disastrous wars once we’ve crossed a certain threshold, but he is wrong about where that threshold is.

US wars begin long before “the bullets start flying and casualties start mounting.” The US was funding the French attack (pg 122) of Vietnam in 1950 and it wasn’t until 1959 that the first US soldiers were killed there. Iraq was under crippling sanctions for 12 years before the regime change that DeFazio voted for was achieved with a full invasion and occupation.   

More recently, DeFazio voted for the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act in 2017 which bundles sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea. In October, 2018 the World Court ordered the US to ease sanctions against Iran in its 1st case against “economic warfare.” Two months later the house passed a bill cosponsored by DeFazio which “imposes sanctions on Iranian officials.” 

Sanctions don’t just draw us closer to war, they are acts of war. Former State Department official, Thomas Shannon, compares sanctions in Venezuela to “the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo.” Put simply, to be a consistent opponent of war, one must be a consistent opponent of sanctions, therefore DeFazio is neither. Perhaps DeFazio is a dove relative to Congress, but with doves like DeFazio, it is easy to see why a 2013 Win/Gallup poll found the US to be the greatest threat to peace.

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DeFazio Directs Trump to Withdraw from Iran Nuclear Deal, Lies at Town Hall

At Representative DeFazio’s 8/22/19 Eugene town hall, speaking on the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), he said,

“Unfortunately Trump has voided that agreement and imposed even more onerous sanctions than before. I have opposed that and the House has opposed that.”

Trump formally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 by imposing sanctions. In 2017 both DeFazio and the House voted for the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act which

“directs the President to impose sanctions against: (1) Iran’s ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction programs.”

Article 26 of the JCPOA states,

“the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such… an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA.” 

It seems that rather than opposing Trump’s disastrous move, DeFazio voted to direct him to do it.

Recently the World Court ordered the US to ease these sanctions in what UN News called “economic warfare.” When asked to adhere to international law, DeFazio refused to answer. 

Sanctions Punish Children and the Most Vulnerable

(content from pamphlet handout for 2019 Eugene-Springfield Pride in the Park)

SANCTIONS

In 1996 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded to the accusation that 500,000 children had died in Iraq as a result of sanctions by saying “we think the price is worth it.” The sanctions she spoke of were led by the United States but approved of and overseen by the United Nations. Multiple UN officials supervising the sanctions resigned in protest calling the sanctions “a totally bankrupt concept” that “strengthens the leadership and further weakens the people” adding that “4-5,000 children are dying unnecessarily every month.” After 13 years of such sanctions, President Bush invaded Iraq with the same objectives that the sanctions did not achieve.

It seems the UN learned a lesson that Oregon congressmen have not. The UN Security Council has refused to approve US sanctions against Venezuela that economist Mark Weisbrot says “are even worse” than those in Iraq. The World Court even ruled against US sanctioning of Iran in Oct 2018 and ordered the US to ease sanctions in the first case of its kind against “economic warfare.” The UN Human Rights Council has voted for multiple resolutions condemning sanctions for “disproportionately affecting the poor and most vulnerable classes.” However, congressional support for such sanctions against Iran and Venezuela is bipartisan with even Merkley, Wyden, and DeFazio on board. 

IMPACT

Mark Weisbrot and renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs released a report in April 2019 on the impact of US sanctions in Venezuela. As expected, they found the impact “has not been on the government but on the civilian population,” including “more than 40,000 deaths from 2017-2018” since sanctions cause food, medicine, and clean water shortages.

In 2017 the UN sent independent expert, Alfred De Zayas, on a fact-finding mission to investigate sanctions in Venezuela. He returned advising that the International Criminal Court investigate US sanctions as crimes against humanity under article 7 of the Rome Statute. “Sanctions kill,” he told reporters, as well as saying sanctions “are comparable to medieval sieges of towns.” 

Former US State Department official, Thomas Shannon, said sanctions “cause enormous harm to the Venezuelan people… more, less like the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, we are seeing the destruction of Venezuela as a country and a society.” 

Sanctions against Syria increased poverty from 28% to 80% in only 5 years according to a UN assessment which described US and EU sanctions as “the most complicated and far reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Over 50% of the population fell into poverty and Assad is still in power, as popular as ever among Syrians.

Professor of Russian Studies, Stephen Cohen, explains that a century of sanctions against Russia and USSR show “no evidence that any US sanctions ever significantly altered Moscow’s behavior in ways that were intended or adversely affected Russia’s ruling political or financial elites. Any pain inflicted fell on ordinary citizens who rallied around the Kremlin’s leadership and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sanctions as a weapon of regime change have failed in almost every case, especially in Cuba and North Korea. Studies show that governments often receive more support from their populations who perceive themselves as under attack from a foreign power and increasingly rely on the government to supply food, medicine and protection from foreign aggression.

LEGALITY

A July 2019 UN resolution stresses that unilateral sanctions “are contrary to international law, international humanitarian law and the UN Charter” as well as urging “all states to stop adopting, maintaining, or implementing unilateral sanctions.” 

Among the many international laws violated by sanctions include a UN Declaration of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States as well as Chapter IV articles 19 and 20 of the Charter of the Organization of American States: “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.”  and “No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind.”

The Vienna Declaration says that: “No state may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights.”

Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considers sanctions as crimes against humanity.

In July 2019, representatives to 120 countries gathered in Venezuela to support and recognize President Maduro and sign the Political Declaration of Caracas which reaffirms commitment to the UN Charter and international law as well as condemns unilateral sanctions and calls on sanctioned countries to utilize the World Court as Iran did in 2018, to rule on cases of “economic warfare.”

OUR RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR REPRESENTATIVES

UN special expert in sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, explains 

         “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state. The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.”

Compare that statement with that of Senator Merkley regarding Venezuelan President Maduro, 

          “The US can and must… [use] economic pressure to hasten the day Maduro leaves power.”

May 16, 2019 brought good news that the Maduro government began negotiations in Norway with the opposition. Days later the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved a bill, including additional sanctions, they described as “the most robust effort to date to face the crisis in Venezuela” which would “accelerate the planning of financial institutions… after Maduro” including “international efforts to freeze, recover, and reuse the funds” of Venezuela which controls the largest oil reserves in the world.

Senator Merkley, who voted to approve the bill, sits on the Foreign Relations Committee giving him extra influence over US foreign policy. His vote and public statement add to his voting record that he shares with Wyden and DeFazio of supporting and voting for numerous sanctions such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017. These bills passed both the House and Senate with enormous bipartisan support. Notably, Bernie Sanders was one of the two senators who voted against both bills. 

All three representatives showed to be poorly informed, if not misinformed, in their responses to inquiries regarding sanctions. We hold some responsibility for the policies supported by OUR representatives – especially when the policies are harmful and illegal. Please consider voicing your opposition to sanctions by calling your congresspeople today and send a message with your vote in 2020. 

Sanctions are ineffective, illegal, and disastrous to civilian populations. They are not, as Albright claimed “worth it!”

  • Senator Merkley
  • Eugene (541) 465-6750
  • D.C. (202) 224-3753
  • next election 2020
  • Senator Wyden
  • Eugene (541) 421-0229
  • D.C. (202) 224-5244
  • next election 2022
  • Representative DeFazio
  • Eugene (541) 465-6732
  • D.C. (202) 225-6416
  • next election 2020