Seventy-eighth Session,
89th Meeting (AM)

As General Assembly Debates Ending Unilateral Economic Coercive Measures, Several Speakers Say They Hinder Development, Others View as Tool for Maintaining Peace

Decision, Amendment Allowing Participation of Several Non-Governmental Organizations in Upcoming Financing for Development Conference Also Adopted

Adopting a decision and amendment concerning the participation of non-governmental organizations in the forthcoming financing for development conference, the General Assembly today also held a debate on unilateral economic coercive measures, with some speakers underscoring that they hinder development, deepen divisions and increase trade inequities, while others upheld them as a tool for maintenance of peace.

By a recorded vote of 59 in favour to 10 against, with 40 abstentions, the Assembly adopted an amendment titled “Participation of non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions and the private sector in the Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development” (document A/78/L.79).  That text amends a draft decision (document A/78/L.76) of the same title, which was then adopted without a vote. 

By the terms of the draft decision, the Assembly approved a number of non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions and private sector organizations, as contained in a list, to participate in that Conference.  The amendment added four more of these entities to the list in the decision. 

Introducing the amendment, the representative of United Kingdom stressed the importance of meaningful civil society participation in this conference.  Transparency is essential for ensuring that the Conference will include a range of experts.  Regretting that some Member States continue to try to block the participation of non-governmental organizations using the non-objection procedure, she said it is crucial that the civil society organizations listed in the amendment be allowed to participate. 

Speaking in explanation of vote before vote, the representative of the Russian Federation said the presence of some organizations can lead to an unnecessary politicization, which makes it harder to achieve constructive dialogue.  “We know that we will be told now about freedom of speech, but the political instructions from their backers that they are carrying out have nothing to do with freedom of expression,” he said.

The representative of Canada, also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, underscored the need to include civil society at UN meetings, as it enhanced the quality of discussions and outcomes.  She voiced support for the amendment enhancing the participation of civil society, adding that their work should not be politicized.  The representative of the United States voiced concern over the use of the no-objection basis by some Member States to object to the participation of legitimate non-governmental organizations. 

Germany’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, voiced support for the amendments and an open inclusive process ensuring the active participation of all stakeholders in line with the spirit and letter of modalities adopted by the General Assembly.  Mexico will continue to advocate for the inclusion of any actor who wants to participate in the Conference and expressed support for the re-inclusion of the organizations that were not included in the original list, that country’s delegate said.

Speaking after the adoption of the decision, the Russian Federation’s delegate dissociated from the list of organizations in the amendment, as they did not go through the no-objection procedure.  The representative of Turkiye said some non-governmental organizations are engaging in activities that run counter to the purposes of the Organization.  The proponents of this amendment had in-depth information regarding these, she said, adding that such concerns should be taken seriously.

The representatives of Timor-Leste and Brazil said they abstained on the amendment due to lack of information, with the latter saying the process of accreditation of non-governmental organizations should be refined.  The representative of Viet Nam said that while relevant non-governmental organizations can contribute to dialogue and decision-making on a non-politicized basis, such participation must be based on consensus. 

Indonesia’s delegate also voiced concern over action taken to undermine the outcome of intergovernmental consensus by passing agreed modalities, which fueled a growing trust deficit among Member States.

Prior to those adoptions, the Assembly held a debate on the elimination of unilateral extraterritorial coercive economic measures as a means of political and economic compulsion.  Many speakers used legal arguments to demonstrate that such measures are contrary to international law and norms, while others pointed to the human toll, especially on innocent civilians deprived of food and medicine.  However, the delegates who spoke in support of the measures underscored that they are a crucial part of the international security toolkit and come with humanitarian exceptions. 

The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, noted that unilateral coercive measures are applied against over 30 nations worldwide, including many from his group; thus they directly affect the daily lives of over a third of humanity.  This is a clear violation of the UN Charter as well as other international norms, he said, adding: “We are currently seeing a new generation of these illegal measures, which are now much more cruel and destructive than ever before.” 

The nations applying these measures seek to impose a false narrative and confuse the international community; however these measures are affecting the provision of basic human goods and services.  Further, they obstruct the implementation of development plans and endanger lives by impeding access to health-care services.  “How much could Zimbabwe contribute to alleviating the global food insecurity crisis, should it be free from the application of unilateral coercive measures?” he asked, adding that Iran, the Russian Federation and Syria could help reduce the global energy crisis, if they could freely trade their oil and gas. 

In his national capacity, he added that the United States Government has been working with corrupt ultra-right sectors in Latin America to implement an aggressive regime-change policy in his country.  Such extra-territorial interventions and systematic sustained economic terrorism must end, he said, adding that the so-called sanctions are a curtain to hide the looting of Venezuela’s assets. 

“The human toll of this policy is immeasurable,”  the speaker for Cuba underscored, adding that no family in his nation is spared from the effects of the United States longstanding economic and commercial blockade imposed in 1962.  Over 80 per cent of the current Cuban population was born under the embargo, which has escalated since 2019 to a “much crueller” dimension, he said.  Cuba cannot even access equipment, technologies, devices, treatments and suitable medicines.  “We are forced to buy them at exorbitant prices, through intermediaries or replace them with generics of lesser efficacy, even for new-borns and sick children,” he pointed out, also rejecting the United States’ designation of his country as a State sponsor of terrorism.

The representative of Iran, which has been subjected to unilateral coercive measures for over four decades, pointed to how such measures impact, among others, the right to health, right to development and right to education.  Life-saving medicines and equipment cannot be imported, he said, sharing the story of a 43-year-old Iranian woman who was wounded by a chemical agent when she was seven years old, when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran.  The woman needs a particular medicine to breathe normally, he said, adding that as a child, she was the victim of chemical agents given to Saddam Hussein by Western countries and she continues to suffer because Western sanctions prevent Iran from getting the medicine she needs.  “Unilateral sanctions are nothing but economic war and terrorism,” he stressed. 

“Everyone likes butterflies,” said the speaker for Belarus, noting that while the term “butterfly people” might sound poetic, the name hides a terrible genetic skin disease.  Noting that there are about 100 “butterfly people” in his country, he said the bandaging materials they need are produced by one company in the world, but after the latest round of European Union sanctions, that company stopped selling to Belarus out of fear it would be subjected to the sanctions.  Thus, by introducing the sanctions, he said, “the European custodians of human rights” are depriving sick children from playing with their friends or going to school.  Rejecting the claim that sanctions have humanitarian exceptions, he said there is no such thing as smart sanctions.  “Those who come up with sanctions don’t have a brain, those who apply them don’t have a heart and those who justify sanctions have no conscience,” he said.  Unfortunately, some people are missing all three. 

Unilateral coercive measures are literally killing people, the representative of the Russian Federation said, rejecting attempts to put Security Council sanctions and illegal unilateral measures in the same basket.  Council sanctions are a subsidiary and targeted instrument that must take into account human rights consequences and are subject to review.  Unilateral restrictive measures are part of the colonial economic model.  They aim to financially and technologically isolate some countries and overthrow their Governments, he pointed out, asking Western countries:  “Who appointed you the judge of who, where, when and how much others are fulfilling their obligations?”  Rejecting the United States’ attempts at illegal expropriation of his country’s property, he warned that “if our assets are confiscated, we will be guided by our right to take retaliatory measures.”

In Sudan, that country’s representative said, sanctions have damaged agriculture, banking, education, health care and aviation, among other sectors.  Vulnerable groups and young people are especially impacted, he pointed out, adding that instead of condemning the military militia that is conducting the worst crimes in his country, sanctions have been imposed on his Government.  Calling on the countries that impose sanctions to lift them, he said multilateralism must be strengthened and international law must ensure that nobody is left behind.  Peace and development are interlinked, he said, noting that sanctioned countries are unable to access international trade or the banking system. 

The representative of Uganda, who spoke on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, also pointed to the discriminatory effect of such measures on developing countries.  They impact technical and financial cooperation, technology transfer, agricultural and industrial production, access to food, medicines and vaccines, and “even the participation of delegations in meetings of the United Nations system”, he pointed out.  Together with unilateral protectionist measures, including tariff and non-tariff barriers, they violate the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), undermine the multilateral trading system and seriously threaten free trade. Welcoming the reference to these measures in the conclusions of the 2024 Financing for Development Forum, he said it should also be reflected in the outcome documents of the upcoming Summit of the Future. 

Also speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, he noted that the Movement annually presents a draft resolution on this topic, both in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.  It was also upon the Movement’s initiative that a Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights was appointed ten years ago, he noted.  Reiterating concern about the intensification of such measures, as well as measures that affect food and fertilizer trade, he added:  “Food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure.”  He also expressed the Movement’s support for the claim of affected States to compensation for the damage incurred as a consequence of the implementation of extraterritorial or unilateral coercive measures or laws.

Nicaragua’s delegate echoed that, adding that the Assembly must proactively adopt a resolution referring legal issues relating to these measures to the International Court of Justice, request an advisory opinion and establish an obligation to indemnify those countries that have been victimized by them.  The representatives of Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Syria outlined the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures in a range of fields from medicines to energy to food.  Syria’s delegate described such measures as “a sword hanging over the neck of people”, financial institutions and third countries, adding that the humanitarian carve-outs did not make a difference during the pandemic or in the aftermath of the earthquake in his country. 

However, the European Union’s delegate, speaking in its capacity as observer, said sanctions are being unjustly blamed for matters for which they are not responsible.  They “support conflict resolution” as in Libya and South Sudan and constrain the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s proliferation activities as well as the terrorist threat posed by the ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida.  In the wake of the Russian Federation’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, her bloc adopted 13 sanctions packages, ranging from asset freezes to travel bans.  Stressing that the Union’s sanctions are intended to protect “the most vulnerable of us”, she said they do not target the civilian population.  “On the contrary, it is frequently the civilian population, human rights defenders and civil society entities that call for these measures to be imposed,” she said, adding that food, medicine and other emergency supplies are exempted from the Union’s sanctions. 

She also objected to language describing sanctions as “unilateral coercive measures,” describing this as “a politically motivated attempt to divert attention away from the reason the sanctions were imposed in the first place.”  And while the term “sanctions” can have a negative connotation, as a “punishment”, they are not punitive, she said.  The Union’s treaties call them “restrictive measures” and they are applied within the bloc’s jurisdiction.  They do not create obligations for non-Union operators, unless their business is conducted at least partially within the Union, she said, adding that “as such, our sanctions do not have extraterritorial application.”

The United States, that country’s delegate said, uses sanctions to address “some of the most abhorrent and destabilizing activities of our time”, from terrorism to trafficking.  In some cases, sanctions are used because there is no avenue for pursuing action at the UN, either because there is no applicable authority or because some States obstruct implementation of UN sanctions.  “We would much prefer to see UN sanctions fully implemented,” he added, stressing that they are “one of the most powerful peaceful tools the international community has to address threats to international peace and security”.  His country works closely with international partners to build the capacity of UN Member States to implement sanctions, and where UN action is not feasible, it works in tandem with other States to implement autonomous sanctions that pose financial costs on corruption and restrict the flow of dual use components to Governments working hard to build weapons of mass destruction. 

Echoing that, the representative of the United Kingdom noted that the use of veto in the Council has made it difficult to use Council sanctions and defended the right of Member States to use autonomous sanctions.  His country’s sanctions comply with domestic and international obligations, he said, adding:  “We use sanctions proportionately and carefully.” 

For information media. Not an official record.