Concerned by Unintended Negative Impact of Sanctions, Speakers in Security Council Urge Action to Better Protect Civilians, Ensure Humanitarian Needs Are Met
Efforts must better mitigate the unintended negative impact of sanctions and curtail unilateral coercive measures that continue to negatively affect the very populations they are meant to protect, delegates told the Security Council today.
United Nations sanctions are no longer the blunt instrument they once were, but concerns remain, said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. As a prime example, she pointed to the continued difficulty in reviving the banking channel for humanitarian transfers to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, since its collapse in 2017. Various resolutions make it clear that sanctions are “not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian populations”, she stated.
Highlighting several areas for action, she said Member States can minimize the burden of additional due diligence and reporting requirements on humanitarian actors by keeping their domestic legislation as close as possible to Council language. Other vital actions include continued monitoring by the Council’s sanctions committees for possible negative consequences and increasing cooperation with humanitarian actors and the private sector. More can also be done to reduce the possible adverse consequences of sanctions, she said, recalling the world’s welcome of Council resolution 2615 (2021), which carves out a humanitarian exemption to the sanctions regime on Afghanistan.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said “humanitarian carve-outs, as we now have on Afghanistan, can allow us to continue our programmes for those at greatest risk”. Mitigating the humanitarian impact of sanctions requires the international community to continue reviewing the way sanctions are designed and implemented, he said, urging the Council and Member States to ensure that measures applicable in armed conflict do not impede the assistance and protection activities of impartial humanitarian organizations for persons who are not fighting.
“In all contexts, they should ensure that sanctions do not restrict the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights including the right to food, water, shelter and health,” he said. To prevent this, the Council and others imposing sanctions should include comprehensive humanitarian carve-outs from the outset rather than case-by-case authorization procedures. Welcoming proactive efforts, he cited the United States guidance that incidental payments and cases of aid diversion to Al-Shabaab in Somalia would not be a focus for sanctions enforcement. At the same time, humanitarian agencies can boost confidence by investing in risk management and due diligence, he said, noting that operations in north-west Syria are an example of a highly monitored activity.
In the ensuing debate, Council members highlighted some of the adverse effects of ongoing Council sanctions. Noting that 8 of the Council’s 14 sanctions regimes are imposed on African States, Gabon’s representative said the arms embargo on the Central African Republic is particularly alarming as the country continues to face an onslaught of attacks by armed groups and needs to defend its people. Calling on the Council to unconditionally lift that arms embargo, he said every situation should be subject to a detailed assessment, while international sanctions must be reversible and never have punitive purposes.
Some members exchanged differing views about unilateral sanctions. The Russian Federation’s delegate said unilateral coercive measures encroach on the sovereignty of States and undermine the norms of international law. Examples abound, from Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela to the “sanctions war” against Syria, which has worsened the socioeconomic situation in that country, he said. Emphasizing that the only legitimate sanctions are through the Security Council, he said attempts to leverage such measures against Myanmar and Mali are illegitimate. Unilateral sanctions wreak damage on developing countries, derailing their efforts to counter climate change and realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said.
The United States delegate said unilateral sanctions are legal and effective in stemming threats when the Council remains deadlocked over certain pressing issues. While the United States prefers that the Council impose sanctions, some situations require countries to use leverage to address such threats as nuclear proliferation, corruption and human rights abuses, she said, concerned that some members are insinuating that such actions by nations — who have the right to impose their own measures — are unlawful.
Venezuela’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, raised several concerns, stressing that: “Today, we are seeing not only an unprecedented resort to unilateral sanctions, but also a new generation of such illegal measures, which are now crueller and much more destructive than ever before.” Indeed, States are weaponizing such illegal measures in the pursuit of geopolitical and economic goals. Calling on the Council to condemn the imposition and intensification of such measures, he said their negative impact continues to block the timely procurement of food, medicines, supplies, vaccines and other essential goods for civilian populations.
Member States facing sanctions shared their perspectives. While agreeing that Council embargoes have improved in recent decades, Mali’s delegate drew attention to the political, economic and financial measures the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed on his country in January. Emphasizing their disastrous humanitarian consequences, he said those sanctions have no legal basis and are a flagrant violation of the principles of solidarity and the pan-African ideal.
South Sudan’s delegate said sanctions have negatively affected its citizens, from banking challenges to rising consumer prices. Noting that South Sudan’s independence followed half a century of war, he said the Council should have resolved political problems through alternative tools rather than sanctions. Indeed, imposing sanctions without first exhausting better options only aggravated the situation, polarized the parties and pushed back the horizon of lasting peace, he said.
Echoing those concerns, Iraq’s representative said that despite their negative impact, “sanctions cannot be compared to the scourge of war and armed conflict”. Spotlighting the need to continue to follow up on the impact of sanctions on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida and any related individuals, he said exemptions should be created to protect ordinary people from the impact of such measures. Welcoming the Council’s efforts to protect frozen Iraqi assets in various Member States, he urged all countries to promptly return those funds and allow them to be invested in Iraq’s sustainable development.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Kingdom, China, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, India, Norway, Brazil, Albania, Kenya, Ghana, France, Mexico and Sudan.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:43 p.m.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalling the Council’s 14 current sanctions regimes, said they remain a vital Charter-based tool to ensure the maintenance of international peace and security, but are not an end in themselves. To be effective, sanctions should be part of a comprehensive political strategy, working in tandem with direct political dialogue, mediation, peacekeeping and special political missions, as can be seen in supporting conflict resolution in Libya, Mali, South Sudan and Yemen, deterring unconstitutional changes of the Government in Guinea-Bissau, and curbing the illicit exploitation of natural resources that fund the activities of armed groups in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. Sanctions also constrain the proliferation activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the terrorist threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida and their affiliates.
United Nations sanctions are no longer the blunt instrument they once were, she said. Since the 1990s, changes have minimized possible adverse consequences on civilian populations and third States. Citing such exemption examples as the regimes in Somalia and Afghanistan, she noted that the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006), which oversees sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has approved 85 of the 100 exemption requests received since 2017 and has granted multiple timeline extensions in recognition of pandemic-related logistical challenges.
The Council and its sanctions committees have increasingly sought to obtain first-hand information on possible adverse consequences through regular briefings by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and by the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict and for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, she said. Committee Chairs also regularly travel to sanctioned countries, which are adjusted in response to changes on the ground, she said, adding only one Member State in the last decade has reported facing “special economic problems” arising from Council sanctions.
The last decade has also shown that sanctions can go beyond limiting the influx of arms or the financing of armed groups, she said, adding that they can serve as leverage to bring about positive outcomes for people at risk. The prospects of sanctions were a factor in the release of abducted women and children from military bases in South Sudan in early 2020 and in child protection workers negotiating the release of children by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 50 individuals and entities have been designated for involvement in such activities as conflict-related sexual violence to obstruction of delivery of humanitarian assistance. The imposition of sanctions solely for such acts is a relatively recent and welcome step, she said, adding that the evolution from comprehensive to targeted measures marked a sea change in this area of the Council’s work.
There are still some concerns, she warned, noting as a prime example the continued difficulty in reviving the banking channel for humanitarian transfers to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, since its collapse in 2017. More can be done to reduce the possible adverse consequences of sanctions, she said, noting the humanitarian community and much of the world’s welcome for resolution 2615 (2021), which carves out a humanitarian exemption to the sanctions regime on Afghanistan. Various resolutions make it clear that sanctions are “not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian populations”, and Member States can further minimize the burden of additional due diligence and reporting requirements on humanitarian actors by keeping their domestic legislation as close as possible to Council language. Other vital actions include the continued monitoring by sanctions committees for possible negative consequences and to increase cooperation with humanitarian actors and the private sector. The role of the Ombudsperson, established in 2009, introduced a more robust due process mechanism available to individuals or entities seeking to be removed from the ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida sanctions list, she said, emphasizing that providing fair and clear procedures to all other designated entities and individuals would render the sanctions tool even more effective.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, thanked the Council for its recent reaffirmation of exemptions allowing humanitarian operations to continue in Afghanistan. “Sanctions are a fact of life in many humanitarian relief operations,” he said, noting that they affect the daily operations of humanitarian workers, “even when those impacts are unintended”. However smart and targeted sanctions are, compliance with them is a daily element in the work of humanitarian agencies, impacting logistics, finances and their ability to deliver. They can lead to humanitarian projects delaying or stalling and some can threaten the well-being of whole swathes of civilian society.
Welcoming today’s meeting as an opportunity to provide the Council with that humanitarian perspective, he said United Nations sanctions — and those imposed by Member States — “are not the blunt instruments of the past”. The Council moved from broad economic and sectoral sanctions to more targeted sanctions in the 1990s. Indeed, there have been cases where sanctions can positively impact compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law, including in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the threat of sanctions compelled several non-State armed groups to release children from their ranks. Welcoming that United Nations sanctions are now designed not to have impacts on civilians, he said efforts to ensure that they comply with international law should also translate into ensuring that they do not impede exclusively humanitarian activities when conducted by impartial humanitarian actors.
“In Somalia, and now in Afghanistan, the United Nations sanctions regimes have shown themselves able to adapt and carve out space for humanitarian activities to continue,” he said. However, despite attention to those risks, sanctions can still have negative consequences on civilians and humanitarian operations. Outlining several concerns about the use of sanctions in countries already affected by humanitarian crises, where civilians are already vulnerable and institutions often fragile, he said sanctions can make it harder for humanitarian agencies to engage or transact with listed individuals or entities, who often hold significant control over the lives of entire populations. Banks and commercial operators — aiming to avoid any risk of penalty or prosecution — can effectively deny services to humanitarian customers. Meanwhile, commercial operators that trade food, fuel or other necessities can decide to err on the side of caution, to “overcomply” with sanctions, leading to shortages and price hikes. “Humanitarian carve-outs, as we now have on Afghanistan, can allow us to continue our programmes for those at greatest risk,” he said.
Against that backdrop, mitigating the humanitarian impact of sanctions requires the international community to continue reviewing both the way sanctions are designed and the way they are implemented. He urged the Council and Member States to ensure that sanctions applicable in armed conflict do not impede the assistance and protection activities of impartial humanitarian organizations for persons who are not fighting, irrespective of their allegiance or designation. “In all contexts, they should ensure that sanctions do not restrict the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights including the right to food, water, shelter and health,” he added, warning that sanctions should not have cascading secondary implications that go beyond the focus of the action.
He went on to stress that the Council and others imposing sanctions should build in comprehensive humanitarian carve-outs from the outset — rather than case-by-case authorization procedures, which can be cumbersome and inefficient — and should be translated into national legislation. Welcoming proactive efforts to build confidence — such as the European Union’s recent “letters of comfort” providing reassurance to financial institutions, the private sector and non-governmental organizations — he also cited the United States guidance that incidental payments and cases of aid diversion to Al-Shabaab in Somalia would not be a focus for sanctions enforcement. For their own part, humanitarian agencies can boost confidence by investing in risk management and due diligence, he said, noting that operations in north-west Syria are an example of a highly monitored activity that provides confidence that humanitarian resources reach those who need it and are not diverted for any other purpose.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, saying that Council sanctions play a strong role in responding to threats to peace, but leveraging such measures as a punitive weapon is not acceptable. The targeted and flexible nature of Council restrictions should become standard practice and clear benchmarks must be established to reflect the situation on the ground. Problems persist with sanctions on the Central African Republic, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau, he said, underlining the need to refine current measures. Unilateral sanctions have unfortunately been imposed, causing problems from routine monetary transactions to delivering aid, as seen in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Russian Federation and China have introduced initiatives to counter this trend. He cited other cases of concern in Libya and Yemen, whose citizens are feeling the brunt of sanctions. Council resolution 2615 (2021), with its focus on humanitarian aid, can help to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan. Proposing several suggestions going forward, he said minimizing the interpretation of sanctions can be done through comprehensive assessments, and reporting related adverse consequences to the Council could be done through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The sole legitimate sanctions are through the Council, he said, viewing unilateral coercive measures as an encroachment on the sovereignty of States that undermines the norms of international law. Examples abound, he said, pointing to cases in Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela and the “sanctions war” against Syria, which has worsened the socioeconomic situation in that country. Sanctions pressure has adverse consequences in other countries, he said, adding that attempts to leverage sanctions in Myanmar and Mali are illegitimate. Such measures wreak damage to developing countries, derailing their efforts to counter climate change and realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Underlining an increasingly urgent need for multilateral efforts to eliminate unilateral sanctions, he said social and humanitarian spheres should be exempt for all such measures, adding that a large circle of like-minded States is growing with regard to such measures.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) stressed that targeted sanctions can play an important role alongside diplomacy, peacebuilding and peacekeeping. Recalling the value of sanctions in Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Somalia, he noted that such measures are an important means of countering the threat of transnational terrorism and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. His country — one of the top five humanitarian donors globally in 2021 — is committed to minimizing any unintended consequences of sanctions, including on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. To that end, he advocated for carefully targeted sanctions, aimed at specific goals, expressed support for a range of humanitarian exceptions and licensing grounds in the application of sanctions, including the recent adoption of the United Nations Afghanistan humanitarian exception. He also noted that the United Kingdom has well-established dialogue with banks and humanitarian actors in the Tri-Sector Group to find legal, safe and transparent ways to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.
ZHANG JUN (China) expressing concern about the extension of sanctions over the past 20 years, called for steps to reduce their adverse impact. Sanctions must be designed to dovetail with the core issues at hand and desired objectives to minimize collateral damage, and Member States must faithfully implement them without misinterpretation or “overcompliance”. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations missions deployed in sanctioned countries must monitor any adverse impact, reporting it to the Council in a timely manner to enable adjustments. Exemptions must be made and there must be high thresholds for humanitarian activities. The Council must consider suspending or adjusting sanctions for unique circumstances such as COVID-19. He underlined the need to improve representation of developing countries on relevant sanctions committees. Referring to the Council’s informal group on sanctions operating from 2000 to 2006, he proposed the re-establishment of such a tool to make recommendations and improve regimes. The Council must also have a comprehensive document to guide next steps. Current sanctions related to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have led to serious socioeconomic problems, with the 1718 Committee reporting on this situation, he said, calling on Council members to address this urgently. Unilateral sanctions have caused great disasters and chaos in some countries, undermining the Council’s own regimes. Few countries have failed to rein in their unilateral sanctions, seeming to be addicted to them. This damages multilateralism, runs counter to the United Nations Charter and reflects hegemonism, he said, calling on States to cease to impose these unlawful measures.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) noting that humanitarian organizations have spoken about how sanctions can hinder their work — including through bank de-risking, burdensome compliance requirements and even criminalizing humanitarian activity more broadly — said these measures must be carefully targeted to have maximum impact on those whose behaviour the Council seeks to influence, while also minimizing adverse humanitarian effects. “Carefully targeted sanctions, particularly where due process is respected, can serve to reduce unintended consequences,” she stressed, which ensures compliance with international law. She pointed to the priority Ireland places on protecting the humanitarian space in sanctioned environments, citing the inclusion of humanitarian language in the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, in particular, which humanitarian organizations regard as best practice among sanctions regimes. The introduction of a humanitarian carve-out in the context of Afghanistan was also a significant development. Ireland will continue to prioritize enhanced humanitarian safeguards within sanctions regimes and support the adoption of appropriate mitigation measures and the development of best practices. She added that the European Union’s use of appropriate derogations and exemptions, and the case-by-case assessment of designations, are a key part of minimizing unintended consequences of sanctions on civilians.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said sanctions should not prevent humanitarian actors from undertaking their essential work, nor humanitarian assistance from reaching those in need. The potential for these measures to have a humanitarian or other unintended impact must be systematically considered in the design of each sanction regime and addressed where applicable. This means providing clarity on the scope of sanctions to reduce the risks of overcompliance by Member States and private actors. The design can be adapted on a case-by-case basis and consider the risks of diversion or looting of aid by groups and non-State actors to finance their war efforts or their terrorist and illegal activities. He also called for constant re-evaluation and adaptation of sanctions throughout their lifespan through an independent and transparent methodology, noting that the United Arab Emirates would welcome further discussion on this matter. Finally, it is important to better understand the humanitarian impact of sanctions on the ground, he said, adding that the Sanctions Committees should use the tools at their disposal, including visits to countries affected by these measures. “The Chairs of Sanctions Committees must be more involved in drafting Council products,” he stressed.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) stressed that sanction regimes must not be an end in themselves or further exacerbate the suffering of the receiving populations. Highlighting the need to keep these regimes under constant review, he said that they should be neutral in nature and should not become political instruments of the few powerful. To address the unintended consequences of sanctions, including humanitarian consequences, such measures should always be used as a last resort, and in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, with a clear timeline and criteria for phased withdrawal, he stressed. It is also necessary to ensure that legitimate trade and economic activities of the concerned State and its regional partners are not impacted adversely. Calling for realistic and achievable benchmarks regarding the lifting of targeted measures, such as arms embargo and assets freeze, he emphasized that it is important to exercise due diligence while providing humanitarian carve-outs, especially in cases where terrorism finds safe havens. He cited examples of terrorist groups taking full advantage of such carve-outs, rebranding as humanitarian organizations to evade these sanctions, and using the humanitarian space to raise funds, recruit fighters and even use them as human shields. Also pointing out significant challenges in overseeing the sanctions measures, he called for open, transparent and credible working methods of subsidiary bodies of the Security Council.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway), noting that her country implements all Council sanctions, as they incentivize parties to seek settlement to conflict, stressed that “targeted and well-designed sanctions can also help protect civilians, prevent and curb sexual violence, as well as the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict”. The Council has the responsibility to ensure that sanctions are updated to reflect changes on the ground. She expressed concern over reports from humanitarian organizations that these measures may negatively impact their work, citing Norway’s support for the adoption of resolution 2615 (2021) on assistance to support basic human needs in Afghanistan, and welcoming the Council’s adoption of language over the year stressing that international law must be applied when implementing sanctions. The Council must foster dialogue with all relevant actors to ensure that measures do not negatively impact the ability of humanitarian workers to do their work in a neutral and impartial manner, while exemptions must be drafted in such a way that provide clarity to all relevant actors. The Council cannot accept falsely portraying sanctions as an alternative explanation of serious problems caused by the underlying drivers of conflicts, she said, pressing its members to also ensure there are minimum due process guarantees for persons targeted by sanctions.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), noting that today’s meeting marks a chance for the Council to take a self-critical look at its use of sanctions, pointed out that such measures are increasingly limited to certain goods or targeted to certain individuals or entities. Their aim is to dry up certain sectors, which sometimes impact the broader budgets of affected States and in turn the lives of civilian populations. “This is an extremely risky gamble,” he stressed, recalling the African Union’s calls on all States to refrain from imposing unilateral coercive measures. Noting that out of the Council’s 14 sanctions regimes 8 are imposed on African countries, he cited the arms embargo on the Central African Republic as particularly alarming as the country continues to face an onslaught of attacks by armed groups and needs to defend its people. Calling on the Council to unconditionally lift that arms embargo, he went on to state that every situation should be subject to a detailed assessment, while international sanctions must be reversible and never have punitive purposes.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said that, while sanctions are an alternative to armed force, they do have unintended consequences. “With 14 sanction regimes in force and nearly 1,500 listings to date, one might wonder whether a measure that should be of last resort became the preferred choice to deal with intractable crises,” he said. Sanctions can be legitimate and effective when they are multilaterally created, strategically targeted and designed to have minimal impact on civilian populations. They must be a measure of last resort, follow the exhaustion of diplomatic solutions and be part of a comprehensive strategy to overcome the crisis. While the Council has come a long way in improving sanctions regimes, there are still many unintended humanitarian impacts that need to be addressed, including ensuring that sanctions are limited in their scope and temporal elements; that assessment reports on potential humanitarian impacts are prepared; that both listing criteria and the conditions for lifting are clearly defined; and that there is greater consistency in humanitarian exemptions.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), stressing that sanctions must be targeted, minimizing their unintended consequences, noted the United States efforts to do so with regard to humanitarian exemptions, including in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Somalia and Yemen. In Afghanistan, efforts are ensuring that the pain of sanctions do not affect ordinary people, she said, encouraging further discussion on this, including with non-governmental organizations and other relevant actors. The Council must use sanctions to improve the lives of people in affected countries, she said, noting instances where citizens had asked for such measures to prevent violence, abuse and arms proliferation. Too often, however, the Council’s routine work is blocked by certain members. Ignoring sanctions undermines the tool’s utility and the organ’s work. While the United States prefers that the Council impose sanctions, some situations require countries to use leverage to address such threats as nuclear proliferation, corruption and human rights abuses, she said, concerned that some members are insinuating that such actions by nations — who have the right to impose their own measures — are unlawful. Sanctions imposed by individual countries and regional groups are legal and helpful when the Council remains deadlocked. At the same time, Council members have voted in favour of such sanctions as those against ISIL.
Turning to the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she said sanctions are not preventing aid deliveries, which are instead hampered by Pyongyang’s self-imposed border closures. As such, the United States called on Pyongyang to, among other things, defund its unlawful missile programme and prioritize the living conditions of its own people. Anticipating the Council’s constructive dialogue on these and related issues, she expressed hope to advance such discussions in a productive manner.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said the Charter of the United Nations is clear on the necessity of using sanctions to prevent further violence and address threats to peace, breaches of peace or any act of aggression. Describing sanctions as a tool that must be used with the utmost care and precision, he said they must also be measured and proportional in order to be effective while avoiding any collateral damage or unintended consequences. “Targeted sanctions do not harm the economy, they do not hurt the population or affect essential needs such as food and medicine,” he said, adding that such terrible acts as genocide and crimes against humanity require a targeted response. Nor can the Council accept that fortunes amassed by stealing from country’s natural resources are hoarded in accounts abroad or allow individuals who openly violate peace processes to leisurely travel around the world and amass more wealth. Welcoming strong monitoring processes and humanitarian exemptions, he said Albania is not convinced by the need to suspend sanctions in times of emergency, pointing out that two years into the COVID-19 pandemic the current extraordinary situation continues to be exploited by State and non-State actors, as well as individuals and entities under sanctions.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya), recalling that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan regarded sanctions as a “necessary middle ground between war and words”, said they can nevertheless have devastating impacts on civilians without achieving their intended aims. Issuing several recommendations, he drew attention to the need to examine the ethics and legality of sanctions beyond their humanitarian impact. “The frequency and reach of unilateral sanctions have led to a growing view that they are the weapons of the strong against the vulnerable or weak,” he said, adding that such a perception undermines faith in multilateralism. Meanwhile, terrorist groups need to be sanctioned, he said, spotlighting the fact that the Al-Qaida affiliate group in Somalia has murdered tens of thousands but is still regarded by the Council as merely a domestic “political spoiler”. “We cannot have a two-track counter-terrorism and then argue that the Council does not have double standards for lives lost to terrorism,” he said, urging delegates to reconsider their position on that matter while calling for more clarity on exemptions granted to States, humanitarian groups and the private sector.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that, if all Member States would fulfil their obligations by implementing the Council’s decisions in good faith, sanctions when implemented could be short, effective and less damaging to populations. Nonetheless, some sanction regimes have lasted a long time and their unintended consequences on civilian populations and third States have proven quite damaging. “We therefore have a responsibility not only within this Council but also among the wider membership … to fine-tune the implementation of sanctions,” he said. They must be imposed only as a last resort, and serious efforts must be made to exhaust more pacific tools provided for by the Charter. Noting that the processes of the Council’s sanctions committees could benefit from greater transparency and accountability, he said their panels of experts should increase their engagement with national, regional and international humanitarian groups. Echoing calls for more attention to humanitarian exemptions, he said Governments also have a role to play in ensuring humanitarian access is unhindered and that aid reaches those in need.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), describing sanctions regimes as an essential instrument that contributes to the maintenance of international peace and security, said they do not constitute an end in themselves but instead support political strategies, for example against the proliferation of nuclear forces, terrorism and violations of international law. Noting that sanctions must be targeted, proportionate, flexible and reversible, she underlined the need for meticulous follow-up of their implementation. When sanctions are imposed, the Council has a responsibility to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those in need; as such, it has introduced humanitarian exemptions in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. “We must continue to adopt an approach on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the specificity of each context,” she stressed, adding that, on France’s initiative, provisions aimed at better preserving humanitarian space are also in place in sanctions regimes related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Mali. The European Union has always made sure that its sanctions do not prevent humanitarian action, she added.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said today’s theme is a priority for his delegation’s work on the Council, which has moved from a debate on whether such measures have negative consequences to one that aims at preventing their unintended impact. Such an approach led to the adoption of resolution 2615 (2021), carving out humanitarian exemptions in sanctions against Afghanistan. However, “we have a long way to go,” he said, emphasizing that some members are silent over such measures as resolutions 2611 (2021) and 2617 (2021). Sanctions often impose serious restrictions on nations who intend to provide humanitarian funding and can also punish aid workers or affect the very population the measures were meant to benefit, he said, expressing opposition to unilateral sanctions, like those imposed on Cuba.
AMMAR MOHAMMED MAHMOUD MOHAMMED (Sudan) said Council sanctions give rise to a multitude of questions, including on their impact on the affected country’s socioeconomic development. Sudan remains concerned that the Council adopts both targeted and non-targeted sanctions, giving rise to ethical quandaries about the consequences in affected countries. As such, questions arise as to whether these measures are being used as a political tool, he said, noting that resolution 1591 (2005) and subsequent measures in response to the prevailing situation in Darfur have had a negative impact on Sudan. This issue has been flagged by various 1591 Committee chairs, creating a climate of mistrust. To prevent such unintended consequences, peaceful options must be examined, and such measures must be carried out within a determined timeline, he said, emphasizing that sanctions must not be set indefinitely, but should be lifted when conditions change and should be regularly reviewed and adjusted.
AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) said the targeted sanctions unfairly imposed on some of his country’s officials and entities — as well as the arms embargo on South Sudan — have negatively impacted the South Sudanese people. Spotlighting challenges in banking and other business transactions at a time when COVID-19 has already made trade and goods more expensive, he said consumers are feeling the impact of sanctions in the market and their lives have become even more difficult. Noting that his country became newly independent after more than 50 years of war and internal conflict, he said the Council ought to have used alternative tools, rather than sanctions, to resolve political problems there. Imposing sanctions without first exhausting better options only aggravated the situation, polarized the parties and pushed back the horizon of lasting peace, he stressed.
ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali), agreeing that the Council’s sanctions have improved in recent decades, recalled its 2017 decision to impose a travel ban against spoilers blocking the implementation of his county’s peace process. “Today, it is worthwhile to engage in a thorough reflection to evaluate the effectiveness of this individual sanctions regime,” he said. The search for balance between the efficiency of sanctions and their potential dire consequences should also be considered by regional and subregional organizations when deciding whether to resort to sanctions against a Member State. Noting the political, economic and financial sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Mali on 9 January, he said they are having disastrous humanitarian consequences at a time when the population is already being severely tested. Those sanctions have no legal basis and represent a flagrant violation of the principles of solidarity and the pan-African ideal. While ECOWAS claims without evidence that its sanctions do not target the Malian population, reality proves otherwise, he said, citing their economic impact on the country’s hospitals, health centres, schools and other basic services.
SARHAD SARDAR ABDULRAHMAN FATAH (Iraq) echoed concerns about the negative impacts of sanctions regimes on countries, while associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement’s view that such measures must be targeted and very carefully imposed. Possible consequences on sustainable development targets, as well as on the delivery of basic services and vulnerable groups, must be taken into account, he stressed, underlining the importance of considering the needs of all United Nations Member States equally. However, despite their negative impacts, he said, “sanctions cannot be compared to the scourge of war and armed conflict”. Spotlighting the need to continue to follow up on the impact of sanctions on ISIL/Da’esh, Al-Qaida and any related individuals — especially on their sources of funding — he said exemptions and other carve-outs should be created to protect ordinary people from the impact of sanctions regimes. Welcoming the Council’s efforts to protect frozen Iraqi assets in various Member States, he urged all countries to promptly return those funds and allow them to be invested in Iraq’s sustainable development.
SAMUEL MONCADA (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, stressed the need for the Council to thoroughly consider the short and long-term effects of sanctions with a view to preventing and avoiding unintended consequences. Emphasizing the need to ensure that the population of the targeted States is not victimized, he said greater efforts must be made to address concerns of due process and transparency in listing, delisting and exemption procedures. Rejecting the manipulation of humanitarian assistance for political purposes, he said aid constitutes a fundamental component for the protection of civilians in armed conflicts and must be provided in accordance with the guiding principles established by the General Assembly. Drawing attention to the growing trend that sees some States imposing unilateral coercive measures, he said such actions are encroaching on the Council’s power and authority over sanctions, adding that: “Today, we are seeing not only an unprecedented resort to unilateral sanctions, but also a new generation of such illegal measures, which are now crueller and much more destructive than ever before.”
Indeed, States are weaponizing such illegal measures in the pursuit of geopolitical and economic goals, he said, adding that their application is being amplified and coordinated among a wider range of Governments in what will eventually be known as a new kind of “group unilateralism”. The objective remains the same: to force the political will of sovereign and independent nations and suppress their industrial development and technological progress, he continued, emphasizing that applying such measures targets civilian populations and is a deliberate attack against the right to development. Calling on the Council to condemn the imposition and intensification of such measures, he said their negative impact continues to block the timely procurement of food, medicines, supplies, vaccines and other essential goods for civilian populations. The Group of Friends vows to spare no effort in preserving, promoting and defending the prevalence and validity of the Charter, for which it is necessary to ensure that unilateral sanctions are lifted in a complete and immediate manner and to conduct a comprehensive and global review of measures imposed by the Council to ensure their adherence to the tenets enshrined in the Charter.