Ruth Gibson is a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program at the University of British Columbia, specializing in Geopolitical Strategy and International Law. She is a Liu Scholar with the Liu Institute of Global Affairs. She is also a Killam Laureate, having been awarded the Killam Doctoral Scholarship in her first year of her PhD. She has work, volunteer, and travel experience in over 50 countries, is competent in five languages, and has published academic and creative works. She received two national awards for her doctoral research (the Social Science and Humanities Research Award of Canada and the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canadian Graduate Scholarship) as well as two university-based scholarships (a four-year doctoral scholarship through the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program and a four-year doctoral scholarship from the University of British Columbia).
Ruth’s doctoral research builds on a decade of work experience on five continents. Volunteering on the border of Myanmar and Thailand with undocumented immigrants sparked her MSc thesis research at the University of Toronto investigating the experiences of undocumented immigrants seeking healthcare in Canada. Following her MSc, for which she was awarded a Social Science and Humanities Research Award of Canada Graduate Scholarship, she moved to Madagascar to work as the Chief Executive Officer of the Akbaraly Foundation, a not-for-profit focused on women’s and children’s health. While in Madagascar, Ruth worked closely with the World Health Organization, the Malagasy Minister of Health, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Population Fund to design health programs that could be sustained while the country was under international sanctions. Subsequently she worked for the Ministry of Health for the National Guard of Health Affairs in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Canada from the Middle East she began her PhD program at the University of British Columbia.
Ruth’s doctoral dissertation is titled “Unilateral Sanctions as Unregulated Aggression: Population Health, Crimes Against Humanity, and the World Order.” The United Nations Security Council has provisions for resolving conflicts through joint efforts by member nations, but increasingly superpowers are taking action alone, imposing sanctions on other countries without seeking the support and permission of the Security Council. Given that unilateral actions affect millions of people, it is critical to understand and monitor their impacts.
Health analysts estimate that between 1990 and 2000, half a million Iranian children under the age of five died from disease and malnutrition as a result of sanctions imposed on Iran during that decade. In Madagascar, UNICEF estimates that 80% of the children born between 2009 and 2014 were developmentally stunted as a result of sanctions imposed by the international community during this period. A report about the effects of US economic sanctions against Venezuela published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that there was a 31% increase in general mortality between 2017 and 2018 as a direct result of sanctions. Equally concerning, harsh sanctions create resentment and anger among targeted populations, and terrorists are increasingly using them to justify violent retaliation against the imposing country. For example, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has cited the deaths of women and children in Iraq caused by US sanctions as a motivating force in its terrorist activities.
Ruth’s dissertation uses a combination of quantitative methodologies to understand the impacts of sanctions on the physical health of populations in sanctioned countries by analyzing health metrics in case studies of Iran, Madagascar, and Venezuela. She makes the case that under international laws, sanctions may rise to the level of crimes against humanity. She also uses theories of radicalization to show the relationship between trauma caused by economic suffering and terrorist retaliation. Finally, she proposes an alternative decision-making framework for coercive political action that will contribute to human rights and a more just world order.