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Sanctions

Expected Council Actions

Egypt has scheduled a briefing in August under the agenda item “General issues relating to sanctions”. A representative of the Department of Political Affairs will brief, and a resolution addressing a number of matters applicable to sanctions across the board is expected to be adopted as the briefing’s outcome. At press time, the draft resolution was being negotiated.

Key Recent Developments

Leading up to the briefing during its August presidency, Egypt organised an Arria-formula meeting on 5 July on “Enhancing the Design Process of UN Sanctions: Perspectives from All Stakeholders”. According to a concept note, the meeting was called to provide an “opportunity for a discussion on the enhancement of UN sanctions design process, including perspectives of previously or currently targeted countries” and to “bring together representatives from permanent and non-permanent members of the UNSC, wider United Nations membership, and Regional Organizations”. The meeting was held in an open format and was webcast by UNTV. The briefers included ambassadors of two countries for which Security Council sanctions have been terminated recently, Lewis G. Brown of Liberia and Amadu Koroma of Sierra Leone, and  of one member state currently under sanctions, Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Representatives of civil society also briefed.

Both ambassadors of states formerly under sanctions expressed their conviction that Security Council sanctions contributed to their respective countries’ return to democracy. In the two-hour discussion that followed, most members of the Council took the floor. The broad range of topics covered included aspects of the working methods of sanctions committees; common threads running through different sanctions regimes, such as the need for flexibility and periodic adjustments of sanctions measures; and the uneven and sometimes faulty implementation of the sanctions. Several members stressed the need for sanctions to be part of an overall broader strategy for the Council’s approach to a given situation.

A considerable number of non-members of the Security Council attended the meeting. Several addressed the gathering, including some who spoke on behalf of groups of states particularly interested in specific aspects of sanctions. 

Developments over the Years

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.

There are now 13 active sanctions regimes; the all-time high, from March 2015 until January 2016, stood at 16. Collectively, the work of sanctions committees, all of which are currently chaired by permanent representatives of elected Council member states, accounts for a significant portion of members’ time and resources. Sanctions are nowadays discussed virtually every month, in briefings, consultations and meetings of the different sanctions committees, but almost always in the context of a specific sanctions regime.

Following a period in the 1990s when several sanctions regimes were created very quickly and in an ad hoc fashion, members realised that the Council lacked methodology and sometimes even consistent terminology that would ensure clarity and coherence from one sanctions resolution to another. In early 1997, the eight elected members chairing the sanctions committees at the time started meeting informally to share experience and expertise, and to discuss the possibilities of devising more uniform guidelines and procedures, rationalising the use of existing resources and achieving better sanctions implementation. In consultations in November of that year, the Council discussed sanctions thematically for the first time, rather than only considering one sanctions regime at a time. This in turn led to the Council’s adopting a number of documents on working methods related to sanctions.

Sanctions became a thematic issue on the Council’s agenda when Canada, during its April 2000 presidency, organised an open debate on the topic. On the same day, the President of the Council issued a note in which members of the Council decided to establish an informal working group of the Council to develop general recommendations about how to improve the effectiveness of UN sanctions.

In the 17 years since adding to its agenda the thematic item “General issues relating to sanctions” the Council has held a few meetings under this item; two of them as open debates.

After the first open debate in 2000, Ireland organised an open debate on sanctions on 22 October 2001 during its presidency with a focus on the design of targeted sanctions. (Numerous members at large asked to speak, and the debate resumed on 25 October.) Germany held a follow-up to the two open debates in a Council debate on 25 February 2003. More recently, Australia held a briefing in November 2014 and Venezuela held a debate in February 2016.

Much of the methodological work on and discussions of UN sanctions unfolded outside the Council. Starting with a March 1998 meeting in Switzerland, different member states hosted international meetings in quick succession, addressing specific aspects of sanctions. The Swiss meetings, held in Interlaken in 1998 and 1999, were focused on the design and technicalities of financial sanctions. In November 1999, a meeting focusing on arms embargoes and targeted sanctions was held in Bonn, and its follow-up took place in December 2000 in Berlin. The next large international initiative on sanctions was undertaken by the Swedish government with meetings in April and November 2002. Each of these meetings was attended by government representatives, experts, and members of civil society, and they became known, after the locations where the seminars were held, as the Interlaken, the Bonn/Berlin, and the Stockholm processes. Each produced a handbook-type report intended for use by the Council and other relevant actors. Building on these efforts, the Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions transmitted its final report on 18 December 2006, which the Council, on 21 December, welcomed in resolution 1732, deciding “that the Working Group has fulfilled its mandate”.

Several more government-driven initiatives, aimed at improving sanctions effectiveness while also addressing their side effects, followed. These included the 2005/2006 study of targeted sanctions and enhancing due process of sanctions regimes led by Germany, Sweden and Switzerland; the ongoing work of 11 Like-Minded States on Targeted Sanctions; and, in 2014-2015, a High Level Review of UN Sanctions, initiated by Australia, Finland, Germany, Greece and Sweden, with its compendium containing 150 recommendations published in 2015, followed by an assessment document published this June.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Since the late 1990s, there has been an interesting pattern to the dynamics surrounding UN sanctions. Most methodological exercises, as described above, originated outside the Council, and although most Council members participated in these meetings, the Council as a whole kept a certain distance from these discussions. Also, the Council never formally took on board the results of these processes, though several of their respective outcomes were published as Council documents in the form of annexes to a letter to the Secretary-General or the president of the Security Council. Taken together, the different series of initiatives played an important role in the development of the Council’s sanctions methodology, and the presentation of their outcomes provided the opportunities for most of the Council’s public discussions of the general issues of sanctions.

Elected members have tended to lead on these initiatives, such as organising public discussions; they also led the Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions from 2000 through 2006.

On the whole, permanent members have seemed more reluctant to engage in initiatives aimed at establishing sanctions methodology applicable to all sanctions regimes. They have, however, often taken the lead in designing or modifying specific sanctions regimes.

The Egyptian initiative appears to reflect a desire for the Council, when needed, to be able to address issues common to all or most sanctions regimes, such as the methodology of sanctions committees or their monitoring bodies, or the Council’s ability to adjust sanctions in accordance with the changing environment. It is also partly a response to concerns from the wider UN membership about states’ capacity to implement sanctions and their need for assistance and guidance in this respect.

UN DOCUMENTS ON SANCTIONS

Security Council Resolutions
21 December 2006 S/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 2006 S/RES/1730 This resolution established “a focal point” within the UN Secretariat to process submissions for de-listing under Council resolutions involving targeted sanctions.
8 August 2006 S/RES/1699 This was on the cooperation between Interpol and the 1267 committee.
Security Council Meeting Records
11 February 2016 S/PV.7620 This was a debate titled “Working Methods of Security Council Subsidiary Organs”.
25 November 2014 S/PV.7323 This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock regarding sanctions.
25 February 2003 S/PV.4713 This was a debate on sanctions organised by Germany.
22 October 2001 S/PV.4394 This was an open debate on general issues related to sanctions and its continuation.
25 October 2001 S/PV.4394 (Resumption 1) This was the resumption of an open debate on general issues related to sanctions and its continuation.
17 April 2000 S/PV.4128 This was the last time article 27(3) was raised by a member state during a Security Council meeting.
Notes by the President of the Security Council
17 April 2000 S/2000/319 This note by the President of the Council established on a temporary basis an Informal Working Group to develop general recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of UN sanctions.
Other
21 June 2017 S/2017/534 This was a letter from the Permanent Representative of Australia to the President of the Security Council requesting the circulation, as a document of the Security Council, of the annexed assessment of the High Level Review.
2 February 2016 S/2016/102 This was a concept note circulated by Venezuela for the debate titled “Working Methods of Security Council Subsidiary Organs”.
12 June 2015 S/2015/432 This was the Compendium of the High-level Review of UN Sanctions.
5 November 2014 S/2014/793 This was a concept note circulated by Australia for the briefing on sanctions.
18 December 2006 S/2006/997 This was a note by the President of the Security Council transmitting a letter from the Chairman of the Informal Working Group of the Security Council on General Issues of Sanctions and enclosing the report of the Informal Working Group.

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