Expected Council Action
In February, Russia intends to convene a debate on “General issues relating to sanctions” with a particular focus on preventing their humanitarian and unintended consequences.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The Security Council considers sanctions—as envisaged in Article 41 of the UN Charter—an important tool to enforce its decisions. In the UN’s first several decades, Chapter VII sanctions were imposed only twice, on Rhodesia in 1966 and South Africa in 1977, but following the end of the Cold War, their use has become quite extensive. Over several decades, the Council has established 30 sanctions regimes, of which 14 are currently active. Following the experience of the 1990s when several sanctions regimes were created, and the negative consequences resulting from comprehensive sanctions became evident, the Security Council made a shift towards targeted sanctions which focus more closely on certain individuals, entities and groups. In recent years, the Council has also at times granted humanitarian exemptions to alleviate negative humanitarian effects of sanctions; the work of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee is a case in point.
“General issues relating to sanctions” was added to the Council’s agenda more than two decades ago to allow it to consider a range of UN sanctions-related matters. At the first meeting on this thematic item, on 17 April 2000, Council members underscored the need to improve the design and effectiveness of sanctions, as well as to address challenges faced in their implementation, including their unintended consequences. The Council has held only six meetings under this thematic item since it was introduced in 2000, most recently a briefing in August 2017 during the Egyptian Council presidency, shortly after Egypt organised an Arria-formula meeting in July 2017 to discuss how to improve the design of UN sanctions. Liberia and Sierra Leone shared their experiences as countries that were previously under UN sanctions during the meeting; the Democratic Republic of Congo shared its views as a country still under UN sanctions.
Venezuela organised a debate on “General issues related to sanctions” in February 2016, which focused on the working methods of subsidiary bodies, particularly sanctions committees. Countries affected by sanctions were invited to speak under Rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. While some shared their experiences in implementing sanctions, others used the opportunity to highlight their unintended consequences.
Earlier, Australia had convened a briefing in November 2014 under the same thematic item. As an outcome of the briefing, Australia prepared a draft resolution which, among other things, requested the Secretary-General to establish a Policy and Coordination Unit within the Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD) of the Department of Political Affairs to provide a range of guidance and support on sanctions implementation. The draft resolution was opposed by China and Russia, however, apparently due to concerns that the Secretariat could become a de facto policymaking body challenging the authority of the Council, and eventually Australia decided not to table it for a vote.
The Council’s November 2014 briefing coincided with the High-Level Review on UN Sanctions launched in May 2014 and sponsored by Australia, Finland, Greece, and Sweden in partnership with Brown University and the sanctions consulting firm Compliance and Capacity International (CCI) to assess existing sanctions and to develop forward-looking recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of sanctions. The findings of the review were submitted to the Council and the General Assembly in June 2015. One of the recommendations was for the Secretary-General to “provide a report on key sanctions trends, implementation issues, linkages between Security Council sanctions regimes and other Council-mandated activities, including the intended and unintended impact of sanctions measures on human rights, due process, and on humanitarian work”.
Issues and Options
A key issue for discussion is what additional steps the Council can take to mitigate the unintended consequences of sanctions. One option is for the Council to listen to voices from the field, including local civil society actors, on the impact of sanctions on civilian populations in order to have a better appreciation of the challenges that may be encountered during implementation.
Another option is for the chairs of sanctions committees to give particular attention to this issue as part of their field visits to countries targeted by sanctions and highlight their observations in their reports to the Council.
The Council could also consider requesting the Secretary-General to undertake a study through extensive consultation with various stakeholders and to submit a report with appropriate recommendations on how to curtail the unintended consequences of sanctions. In preparing the report, the Secretariat could consult with member states; UN agencies, funds and programmes; targeted individuals and local populations; private industry; and academia, among others.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Discussions in the Council on country-specific sanctions have become increasingly controversial. China and Russia, supported by some elected members, have been abstaining on resolutions renewing sanctions regimes and the mandates of panels of experts such as Somalia and South Sudan for quite some time, but sanctions renewals became more distinctly contentious in 2021. Russia, underscoring the need to increase geographical diversity in the appointment of UN experts, also placed a hold on the appointment of experts of several sanctions regimes.
Some Council members continue to highlight the unintended socioeconomic and humanitarian consequences of sanctions in discussions and negotiations related to specific sanctions regimes. This issue drew particular attention following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan and in relation to the adoption of resolution 2165 of 22 December 2021, which determines that humanitarian assistance does not violate the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime. Resolutions renewing the various sanctions regimes established by the Council also now contain standard language which stresses that the measures imposed by the resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population.
Even though Unilateral Coercive Measures (UCMs) are, as the name makes clear, sanctions not imposed by the Security Council, China, Niger, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and South Africa organised a virtual Arria-formula meeting on 25 November 2020 to discuss this topic. The UN Special Rapporteur on the impact of UCMs on the enjoyment of human rights was among those who briefed the meeting, which focused on the negative effects of UCMs and how to mitigate those effects.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SANCTIONS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 December 2006S/RES/1732||This resolution welcomed the report of the Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions and requested its subsidiary bodies to take note of methodological standards and best practices proposed in the report.|
|19 December 2006S/RES/1730||This resolution established “a focal point” within the UN Secretariat to process submissions for de-listing under Council resolutions involving targeted sanctions.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|3 August 2017S/PV.8018||This was a briefing on general issues related to sanctions.|
|11 February 2016S/PV.7620||This was a debate titled “Working Methods of Security Council Subsidiary Organs”.|
|25 November 2014S/PV.7323||This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock regarding sanctions.|