Six Countries That Have Faced Severe Economic Sanctions

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Historically, nations have leveraged economic sanctions as a non-military tool to act against a targeted country, often for political or humanitarian reasons. Recent years have seen the important role that such sanctions can play.

When the ground-breaking nuclear agreement between Iran and the West was reached, it was the first step in releasing Iran from U.S.-led sanctions that paralyzed its economy. Elsewhere, Russian companies and individuals found themselves on the receiving end of sanctions from the U.S. and EU following its invasion of Crimea in Ukraine.

Check out the 6 nations currently under U.S.-led economic sanctions to learn about how this tool is being used in the world today.

1. North Korea

Start date of sanctions: 14 October 2006

In October 2006, the UN passed resolution 1718 enacting a series of sanctions against North Korea in response to its illegal nuclear test, causing North Korean delegate Pak Gil Yon to walk out and prompting the state news agency to declare that “the DPRK will continue to take physical countermeasures considering it as a declaration of war.”

In addition to the UN resolution, the United States has time and again imposed sanctions on North due to its human rights abuses and nuclear program, meaning that nearly all forms aid, financial activity, and trade with the country are prohibited. The most recent sanctions were triggered by a massive cyber attack against Sony that was attributed to North Korean hackers.

Despite the sanctions and general international isolation, many argue that the sanctions are ineffective since the state allegedly continues to profit from illicit sales of military technology and narcotics, while benefiting from China’s support of the regime. Furthermore, North Korea’s reliance trade with the West was never significant, denting the effect of U.S.-led embargoes.

2. Cuba

Start date of sanctions: 19 October 1960

In 1959, Fidel Castro rose to power unseating a post-revolution Cuban government that was supported by the United States. As a result the US placed what became one of the longest-standing sanctions on Cuba, preventing Americans from traveling to or trading with Cuba and its entities due to its refusal to move towards “democratization and greater respect for human rights”.

Recording artist Beyoncé Knowles and her husband Jay-Z were famously accused of breaking sanction laws when they spent their 2013 honeymoon in Cuba. However, it was later revealed that the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control had licensed them a “people-to-people” educational exchange program enabling them to act as US ambassadors for the duration of their trip.

July 20, 2015 marked the full restoration of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, signalling a thaw in relations and the potential to improve the economic status quo.

3. Sudan

Start date of sanctions: Novem­ber 3, 1997

In 1993, the United States placed Sudan on its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, alleging it harbored local and international terrorists. Four years later, it enacted comprehensive economic, trade and financial sanctions against Sudan due to its continued alleged support for international terrorism, efforts to destabilize neighboring governments and the prevalence of human rights violations.

In 2007, the Bush Administration followed up with new economic sanctions on Sudan in response to the government’s failure to resolve the violence in Darfur where an estimated 200,000 people have died.

However, critics have since argued that the sanctions have done little to bring the desired changes in the country, as the country has profited from increased oil exports while the sanctions have hurt the lives of Sudanese citizens.

4. Syria

Start date of sanctions: 23 July 2012

Syria has been subject to U.S. sanctions for several decades following its designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to the country’s support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the government’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Following President Al-Assad’s violent campaign against unarmed civilians and the humanitarian crisis of refugees, the United States followed the EU in placing restrictions on investment, financial activity and transportation, as well as an embargo against all arms sales.

Furthermore, the Arab League has imposed its own set of sanctions against Syria, suspending all flights from member states to Syria, ending transactions with the country’s central bank, freezing all Syrian assets in Arab countries, and a travel ban on senior officials of the Syrian government.

5. Burma

Start date of sanctions: May 21, 1997

Since 1997, the U.S. has placed sanctions against Burma (also known as Myanmar) on human rights and political grounds after it accused the country’s ruling military junta of committing large-scale repression of the democratic movement. As a result, U.S. persons and businesses are prohibited from investing in Burma and exporting financial services to the country.

However, the United States is showing signs of unwinding two decades of sanctions against Burma as the country undergoes rapid-fire economic and political change. President Barack Obama has let some sanctions expire while extending others as he cited the government’s advances in critical areas such as the release of more than 1,100 political prisoners, progress toward a nationwide ceasefire, the legalization of unions and taking steps to improve the country’s labor standards.

6. Iran

Start date of sanctions: November 14, 1979

Following the contentious years of the Iranian Revolution that saw the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran deposed and 52 Americans taken in the Iranian hostage crisis, the U.S. levied a trade embargo against the nation in 1979. The sanctions have rapidly expanded in recent years as a response to the country’s nuclear weapons program, and have focused on locking Iran out of the global financial system as well as severely impeding its oil and petroleum exports.

In spite of the historical nuclear deal between Iran and the West, U.S. sanctions are expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future, meaning that U.S. oil companies, banks and consumer-goods firms will continue to be prevented from doing business in the country. However, analysts expect that European sanctions, which are far less extensive and longstanding than U.S. sanctions, will lift relatively quickly.