Professor analyzes role of trade sanctions against Iran

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

LAWRENCE — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress on Tuesday as about 50 Democratic lawmakers threatened to boycott the address, offering the latest and one of the most clear microcosms of the debate about Iran’s nuclear program and strained relations among nations. A University of Kansas professor has authored an extensive look at the history of trade sanctions against Iran, noting that while they have had their intended effect, the problems are far from over.

Raj Bhala, associate dean for international & comparative law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law, has published “Fighting Iran With Trade Sanctions” in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law. 

“Iran has been a part of my life since high school. I’ve been fascinated by it; I’ve been frustrated by it for many years,” Bhala said. “I’ve had professional, educational and personal experiences with Iran ever since. The purpose of this article is to explain, analyze and critique the most comprehensive set of trade law sanctions ever imposed by the United States, or any country, against another country.”

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are at the heart of the disagreements. While Iran claims it is not interested in nuclear weapons and only wants to pursue peaceful nuclear energy, the U.S., Israel and many members of the United Nations claim the world simply cannot allow the country to develop nuclear weapons.

Bhala details the four main types of sanctions, imposed by the U.S. and endorsed by the United Nations:

  • Foreign direct investment or FDI
  • Import and export
  • Financial sanctions
  • Human rights sanctions.

The sanctions have had the intended effect of weakening Iran’s economy, Bhala said. The FDI sanctions alone forbid countries from making investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector.

“We all know Iran is blessed with abundant energy resources. However, it needs to pump that oil and natural gas out of the ground, export it, have it refined, re-import it and sell it, either domestically or internationally,” Bhala said. “Not being able to reap those foreign investments has clearly damaged that vital sector.”

The financial sanctions have also been effective, as any transactions with Iran became illegal under the orders. The sanctions also outlawed correspondent banking, a major feature of international banking and letters of credit involving Iran, the primary instrument of trade finance.

While effective, the sanctions have evolved because they did not quell the behaviors they were intended to stop, Bhala said. In the case of energy exports, Iran has worked around the limitations because of strong demands in nations such as China and India with burgeoning populations in the process of industrialization.

Iran also could circumvent import and export sanctions as transporters, insurers and others did not always know whether the cargo they carried or insured was of Iranian origin or destined for Iran. So, the U.S. brought freight companies and insurers within the ambit of the sanctions regime.

The ability to circumvent sanctions not only led to tightening of restrictions over time, they also generated significant lessons, Bhala said. History shows that sanctions work best when the United States does not act alone and imposes sanctions in concert with allies. The record also suggests the United States should work closely with friends and allies to help them comply with sanctions. 

“It’s not reasonable for India to shift all of its energy needs away from Iran overnight, for example,” Bhala said. “That’s impossible to do and not something that we should expect.”

Actions can have unintended consequences, and they should be monitored to help improve sanctions as well, he wrote. One example is the high rate of plane crashes in Iran due to lack of modern spare parts and high-quality aerospace engineering servicing. Loss of innocent life is not acceptable and can and should lead to improvements to sanctions when it is shown to happen, Bhala said.

With updates, sanctions have achieved their intended outcomes and brought Iran to the bargaining table as an interim nuclear deal is now in place, which Bhala details in the article. While disagreements persist, they are still practical teaching tools for anyone hoping to enter the field of law. The sanctions affect business, real estate, financial, economic and many other sectors of law.

“It’s an incredibly diverse array of sanctions, and there are criminal penalties for violating them,” Bhala said. “It would be malpractice if we were not teaching our students about them, and as a moral issue, it’s a fascinating question of, ‘Do sanctions work, and do we have the right to impose them?’”

The strained relationship between the U.S. and Iran also has the potential to improve. If both sides were able to prevent nuclear armament through sanctions, it would be a triumph of international law and show that negotiations on complex, decades-old problems can work, if they are undertaken in good faith and with empathy.

“I think there’s a lesson of hope here,” Bhala said. “For almost 40 years our relationship with Iran has been extremely poor. I don’t want to see these problems passed on to my daughter and her generation. This is a problem my generation should fix, and I think we can.”

An Error in Wisconsin

"While we’re on the topic of moral attention: A study just published by the American Psychological Association found that universities underreport sexual-assault complaints on their campuses when they’re not being watched by the U.S. Department of Education, although they report complaints accurately during audits by federal officials. 'The result is students at many universities continue to be attacked and victimized,' writes the study’s author, Corey Rayburn Yung, a law professor at the University of Kansas, 'and punishment isn’t meted out to the rapists and sexual assaulters.'"

Study Shows Colleges Continue to Underreport Sexual Assault

"Colleges and universities are likely to underreport or downplay the number of sex crimes on campus unless under federal scrutiny, according to a new study published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.

The study, which looked at four-year schools with at least 10,000 students between the years of 2001 and 2012, found that when the Department of Education audits schools for possible Clery Act violations, sexual assault reports rise by approximately 44%. After the audit, reporting rates fall back to pre-audit levels, the New York Times reports.

Study: University sexual assault reports differ greatly when under investigation

"Higher education institutions are required by law to report campus crimes. Under the Clery Act, crime rates should be made public. While many universities and colleges do report their criminal cases, a new study found that when it comes to sexual assault, an overwhelming amount of schools report very different rates when they are under federal investigation, oppose to when they are not under the microscope.

Sexual assault survivor urges other women to come forward

"In the wake of a new University of Kansas professor's study about how often universities fail to report sexual assaults, a young survivor explains why it took her years to open up about what happened to her.

...

One in five women on college campuses becomes the victim of a sexual assault, experts believe, but many never report the crime. A new study by University of Kansas law professor Corey Yung found that universities also play a role.

'The pattern, the norm, seems to be undercounting,' Yung said.

Universities undercount campus sexual assaults, study says

"A new report finds that colleges and universities are under-reporting on-campus sexual assaults, some even after they have been fined for doing so.

'When it comes to sexual assault and rape, the norm for universities and colleges is to downplay the situation and the numbers,' said Corey Rayburn Yung, the report's author and a law professor at the University of Kansas. 'The result is students at many universities continue to be attacked and victimized and punishment isn't meted out to the rapists and sexual assaulters.'"

Sexual Assault Under-Reported on U.S. College Campuses: Study

"Some U.S. universities and colleges appear to be under-reporting sexual assaults on their campuses, a new study concludes.

Researchers looked at data about on-campus sexual assaults reported by 31 large private and public universities and colleges during audits by the federal government. During the audits, the number of reported sexual assaults rose an average of 44 percent compared to previously reported figures.

Sexual Assault Under-Reported on U.S. College Campuses: Study

"Some U.S. universities and colleges appear to be under-reporting sexual assaults on their campuses, a new study concludes.

Researchers looked at data about on-campus sexual assaults reported by 31 large private and public universities and colleges during audits by the federal government. During the audits, the number of reported sexual assaults rose an average of 44 percent compared to previously reported figures.

Colleges Are Downplaying Sexual Assault Numbers, New Report Finds

"A new study published by the American Psychological Association finds that many colleges and universities are underreporting sexual assault cases on campus. Many of the schools had previously been cited by the U.S. Department of Education for underreporting, and some of them even heavily fined, which has apparently done nothing to make them more honest.

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