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Washington, DC – Eighteen faith leaders sent a letter to President Biden calling on his administration to lift economic sanctions to ensure humanitarian access and save lives around the world. The letter was led by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

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“We recognize that the majority of those harmed by economic sanctions are not political leaders, but ordinary people and particularly the most exploited and the most vulnerable – the poor, the displaced, racial and ethnic minorities, widows and orphans,” the letter reads, endorsed by leaders of Christian denominations including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and faith-based humanitarian organizations including the American Friends Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

The letter calls on President Biden to “show moral leadership by ending the use of broad economic sanctions” that cause harm and often fail to achieve their foreign policy objectives. The letter also calls for vaccine manufacturers and distributors to be protected from sanctions, for greater financial access for organizations fighting COVID-19 around the world, and for expedited exemptions from sanctions for NGOs responding to COVID-19 and other human needs internationally.

“Broad-based economic sanctions have caused immense human suffering in countries such as Iran by destroying their economies, preventing critical humanitarian work, and inhibiting their ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diane Randall, General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. ” As Quakers, we see the Light of God in all people. We strongly urge President Biden to ensure that vital humanitarian access can reach people in need and that nations can access vaccines and other materials to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

“MCC operates in some of the most heavily sanctioned regions in the world, working to alleviate human suffering and promote reconciliation, yet this work has been limited and delayed by U.S. sanctions,” said Ann Graber Hershberger, Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. “We urge the administration and Congress to consider the material cost sanctions impose on women, children, vulnerable groups and entire populations impacted by broad-based sanctions. Alongside others in the humanitarian community, we will continue to call for clear and specific permissions for humanitarian organizations and for the U.S. to reconsider a sanctions policy that causes widespread harm.”

“Through decades of working in communities affected by sanctions, we have seen how sanctions can be a form of violence that hurts many people indiscriminately,” said Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee. “Every single person on this planet is precious and sanctions put too many people’s lives at risk. Given the ongoing pandemic and accelerating climate crisis, it is imperative that President Biden take steps to ensure sanctions are not imposed on whole populations. That only creates suffering and insecurity, just when solidarity is needed most.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold we know the most vulnerable throughout the world, including in the Middle East, suffer disproportionately,” said Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). “The United States government must advance policies that ensure humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it the most. We ask the Biden Administration to follow through with its commitment to putting human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy by ending the use of broad economic sanctions, especially with the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The complete letter can be viewed here:

Dear President Biden,

As faith leaders and directors of faith-based humanitarian organizations, we are writing to you in solidarity with the millions of people around the world facing wide-ranging humanitarian crises from the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect of economic sanctions. Several of our organizations work to support the most vulnerable people in some of the most heavily sanctioned regions in the world, including Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and we witness first-hand the harmful impacts of U.S. economic sanctions. We urge you to take immediate actions to end these sanctions that are so negatively impacting civilians, especially in this time of COVID-19.

Although we are told that sanctions are intended to influence the policies of governments, they often have harmful effects far beyond their intended targets, claiming the lives of innocent men, women, and especially children. The most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, the marginalized – are always hurt worst of all. People in countries such as Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Syria are struggling to obtain essential food and medical supplies – because of our sanctions. Even where technical exemptions for food and medicine are in place, they don’t work, because the fear of secondary sanctions have a chilling effect on humanitarian transactions by governments, financial institutions, and relief organizations.

For example, in March of 2020, the Washington Post reported that U.S. sanctions were actively obstructing Iran’s access to medicine and equipment. U.S. sanctions are also greatly hindering Iran’s efforts to obtain enough COVID-19 vaccines and harming its ability to effectively slow the spread of the virus, leading to the illness and death of innocent civilians. This is not an isolated situation but is widely felt among sanctioned countries and regions across the globe.

By interfering with the supply of critical essentials, such as electricity, fuel, and metals, broad-based economic sanctions often have severe and negative humanitarian impacts. Many Syrian households have only one or two hours of electricity per day, making high-nutrient foods such as meat and dairy difficult to preserve. A lack of fuel for tractors or other agricultural equipment can limit food production in sanctioned regions. Vaccine distribution relies on cold chain storage, which include items that require special licenses or exemptions in multiple regions.

Specifically, we urge you to:

Show moral leadership by ending the use of broad economic sanctions that too often result in the deaths of innocents and fail to change government behavior.

Until sanctions can be lifted, we urge you to ensure that vaccine manufacturers will never face sanctions for providing vaccines and other COVID-related materials to any sanctioned country. Lift restrictions on economic resources needed to fight the pandemic. Unfreeze assets of sanctioned countries in U.S. banks so they can purchase COVID-related and humanitarian supplies. Lift financial barriers to help make humanitarian trade easier and ensure that U.S. sanctions do not inhibit economic and humanitarian assistance from multilateral institutions, including emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Encourage companies like Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer to share patent knowledge for vaccines, increase vaccine production, and create more distribution hubs.

Expedite exemptions and licensing for humanitarian trade and remove barriers to delivery of humanitarian and economic assistance needed to treat and prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as support other vital health infrastructure. Prioritize vaccines, personal protective equipment, testing kits, respirators, sanitizers, food, and medicine. Support the work of humanitarian organizations around the world who provide a broad array of lifesaving and life-affirming work including water, sanitation, hygiene, and educational programming. Civil society and aid groups should also be consulted to expand sanctions exceptions to support the flow of humanitarian aid. Support transparency including requiring a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the humanitarian impact of sanctions.

As people of faith, we are called to love our neighbors. We recognize that the majority of those harmed by economic sanctions are not political leaders, but ordinary people and particularly the most exploited and the most vulnerable – the poor, the displaced, racial and ethnic minorities, widows and orphans. In October, Pope Francis called on governments to “stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth.” Earlier this year, another 150 faith leaders urged governments and pharmaceutical companies to vaccinate the world against COVID-19, affirming that “every person is precious” and that “we have a moral obligation to everyone in every country.” We agree with these moral calls to action to save innocent lives and again urge your administration to lift broad-based economic sanctions to ensure vital humanitarian access.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.


Diane Randall, General Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Ann Graber Hershberger, Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Rev. Dr. Fahed AbuAkel, former moderator, Presbyterian Church USA
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Director of Advocacy, Presbyterian Church USA
Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary at the American Friends Service Committee
Rev. Dr. Julia Brown Karimu, President, Division of Overseas Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace
Marie Dennis, Senior Advisor, Pax Christi International
Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
Susan Gunn, Director, Maryknoll office for Global Concerns
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society
Rev. Dr. Nathan Hosler, Dir, OPP, Church of the Brethren
Rev. Dr. Rafael Malpica Padilla, Executive Director, Service and Justice, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Robert Moore, Executive Director, Coalition for Peace Action
Mary Katherine Morn, President, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Rev. Mark Stephenson, Interim Director, Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, Associate General Minister, Wider Church Ministries and Operations, United Church of Christ; Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Jim Winkler, President & General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC)
Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

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Tim McHugh

Timothy McHugh

Director of Media Relations

Tim leads organizational efforts to communicate about issues, victories, priorities, and updates through all available news channels – specifically the major media outlets.