Research Report

Posted 25 November 2013
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UN Sanctions

This is Security Council Report’s first Special Research Report on the general issue of UN sanctions. To view the full report, please download the PDF here.

The report provides an overview of UN sanctions with four main purposes: first, to provide a concise explanatory guide to the fundamentals of UN sanctions regimes; second, to offer a reference source of accessible data regarding UN sanctions regimes currently in force; third, to outline some significant trends in the evolution of UN sanctions; and fourth, to offer analysis of current Council dynamics and policy options regarding sanctions.

The first section provides background regarding the legal framework and broad historical trends of UN sanctions. The following section discusses the principal objectives—conflict resolution, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, democratisation and protection of civilians (including human rights)—and implicit strategies of UN sanctions. The report then outlines the main institutional framework for UN sanctions regimes, that is, the Security Council resolutions and sanctions committees, as well as the panels/groups of experts or monitoring groups assisting these committees. The following section outlines trends regarding who or what constitutes a target, under what criteria an individual or entity is designated as a target, and the processes for “listing” and “delisting” targeted individuals and entities. The report then discusses the five main types of UN targeted sanctions: diplomatic, travel bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes and commodity interdiction. The following section explores issues of implementation, such as compliance, evasion, reform and institutional learning. The report then offers brief analyses regarding concepts, evaluation, policy options and Council dynamics. An annex of tables summarising the 13 current UN sanctions regimes has been provided as a reference tool.

Possible Future Options

While a lot of work has been done improving and sharpening UN sanctions, there remains significant room for further improvement. Options regarding sanctions that the Security Council and its sanctions committees may wish to consider include:

  • enhancing pre-authorisation evaluation processes, particularly the assessment of strategic objectives and unintended consequences;
  • specifying strategic objectives of sanctions in authorising resolutions, including intended linkages with peacekeeping, mediation or peacebuilding;
  • exploring options for the imposition of secondary sanctions to improve effectiveness in situations of repeated non-compliance;
  • reinstating the Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions, which was discontinued through resolution 1732 of 21 December 2006;
  • considering due process-related recommendations proposed by the Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council and other actors within the UN system;
  • consulting regularly with states adversely affected by sanctions regimes;
  • implementing concrete steps toward improving sanctions communication and coordination with regional and subregional organisations;
  • examining the possibilities, in conjunction with the Secretary-General, for increasing the resources available for sanctions management within the Secretariat;
  • reviewing procedures for the appointment of experts to panels and monitoring groups, including with regard to national representation and competency;
  • incorporating the findings of expert panels/monitoring groups into sanctions policymaking more consistently, perhaps through the creation of a formal periodic follow-up mechanism;
  • increasing the transparency of the meetings of sanctions committees and improving public and media outreach regarding sanctions regimes;
  • undertaking more frequent field visits by sanctions committees in order to assess implementation of (and compliance with) sanctions regimes; and
  • holding periodic meetings of the chairs of all sanctions committees in order to facilitate improved coordination and information sharing.

These proposed options have been deliberately limited to those that may be practicable in the short-to-medium term. Of course, this list is far from exhaustive; it is at best indicative of the types of options the Security Council could potentially explore.