Debate on “General Issues Relating to Sanctions”*
Tomorrow (7 February), the Russian Federation will convene a debate on “General issues relating to sanctions: preventing their humanitarian and unintended consequences”. The meeting, which is one of the signature events of Russia’s Council presidency, will be held under the topic* “General issues relating to sanctions”, which allows the Council to consider a range of UN sanctions-related matters. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths are expected to brief. Several non-Council member states may participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Russia has circulated a concept note to help guide the debate. While recognising sanctions as an important tool under the UN Charter in maintaining international peace and security, the concept note underscores that sanctions should avoid adverse humanitarian or socioeconomic effects and unintended consequences. It acknowledges the Security Council’s shift from imposing comprehensive sanctions to targeted sanctions to mitigate their unintended effects. In this regard, the concept note refers to recommendations aimed at mitigating sanctions’ adverse consequences reflected in several UN documents, including the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (A/RES/60/1), but observes that these recommendations have not been implemented consistently across the various sanctions regimes.
The concept note stresses the need for the Security Council to assess possible humanitarian and unintended consequences before imposing sanctions. It cites the 2004 Sanctions Assessment Handbook issued by the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) as a tool for humanitarian practitioners and policymakers on identifying and measuring possible humanitarian consequences of sanctions. The concept note further underscores the need to secure the unhindered provision of food, health supplies and medical support, particularly as the world faces the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in line with the Secretary-General’s March 2020 appeal for a global ceasefire. Accordingly, it maintains that the Security Council should consider suspending sanctions during emergency situations to prevent additional humanitarian and socioeconomic pressures on countries under sanctions.
During tomorrow’s debate, Russia would like Council members to review current exemption mechanisms and take stock of the lessons learned with a view to addressing the matter of unintended consequences of sanctions. The concept note underlines the need to apply humanitarian exemptions consistently to all targeted measures—including arms embargoes, travel restrictions, aviation bans and financial sanctions—and invites Council members to explore the possibility of introducing standing humanitarian exemptions for humanitarian organisations and certain essential items that should be delivered to countries targeted by sanctions.
DiCarlo may underline the importance of sanctions as part of the Security Council’s efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts. She may also describe the challenges and gaps in the implementation of various sanctions regimes and emphasise the need for member states to carry out their obligations to facilitate the effectiveness of sanctions. In addition, DiCarlo may describe the work of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), through the Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD), in supporting the design and implementation of sanctions, as well as the work of various sanctions committees and their panels of experts.
Griffiths may focus his briefing on the humanitarian and unintended consequences of sanctions and highlight some of the practical challenges faced by humanitarian actors on the ground. He may also share his perspectives on ways to address these challenges and to improve the mechanisms for facilitating humanitarian assistance.
Council discussions on country-specific sanctions have become increasingly controversial. In recent years, China and Russia, sometimes supported by some elected members, have often abstained on resolutions renewing sanctions regimes and the mandates of panels of experts, such as on Somalia and South Sudan. Negotiations on sanctions resolutions were particularly 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. Russia and China have jointly proposed a draft resolution on easing sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) but other members have opposed this initiative. In his press briefing on the February monthly programme of work, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (Russia) said that they are still interested in pursuing the draft resolution. China and Russia may reference the draft at tomorrow’s debate.
The unintended consequences of sanctions drew particular attention recently following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan. Accordingly, the Security Council adopted resolution 2615 of 22 December 2021, which determines that humanitarian assistance does not violate the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime. Other resolutions renewing various sanctions regimes established by the Council also contain standard language which stresses that the measures imposed by the resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population.
The issue of Unilateral Coercive Measures (UCMs), or sanctions applied by one state or a group of states and not authorised by the UN Security Council, is likely to be raised at tomorrow’s meeting. China and Russia have frequently criticised the use of UCMs, such as those imposed on Belarus and Venezuela. Other members are reluctant for the Council to take a critical view of UCMs, especially when they themselves employ these measures as a foreign policy tool. These members emphasise that such measures are designed to avoid inflicting adverse humanitarian consequences on the civilian population. Council dynamics on UCMs are likely to remain difficult, especially in light of the tensions in recent months between the major powers on the issue of Ukraine. The US and other NATO members have threatened to impose sanctions with significant consequences on Russia if it invades Ukraine.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story noted that the meeting will take place under the agenda item “General Issues relating to sanctions”. The story was revised to refer to “General Issues relating to sanctions” as a topic, since it was removed from the Council’s agenda in January 2021 as there had not been a formal meeting on this agenda item for three years and there was no request to retain it. This meeting would bring it back as an agenda item.