Photo: The UN Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missile programme (ICBM) by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). UN Photo/Kim Haughton - Photo: 2017

Security Council Debates Effectiveness of UN Sanctions

By J Nastranis

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – While the UN Security Council unanimously moved on August 5 to expand sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) in response to the launches of ballistic missiles of possible intercontinental range, the Council discussed two days earlier the spirit and purpose of resorting to the restrictive instrument of sanctions.

The Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, charged with the maintenance of international peace and security as well as approving any changes to the UN Charter. Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action.

The Council has 15 members. But five veto-wielding permanent members (P5) – Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. – play a vital role in all decisions the Council takes. Ten non-permanent members, each elected for a period of two years, are entitled to express their views on all global issues. But in the absence of a veto neither of them can block a resolution adopted unanimously by the P5.

Current non-permanent members (with end of term date) are: Bolivia (2018),  Egypt (2017), Ethiopia (2018), Italy (2017), Japan (2017), Kazakhstan (2018),    Senegal (2017), Sweden (2018), Ukraine (2017), and Uruguay (2017).

Echoing a sentiment expressed by many delegates as the Council considered on August 3 enhancing the effectiveness of sanctions, UN Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun of Ethiopia said, sanctions are “a formidable in instrument for global peace and security,” but “not an end in themselves.” When implemented effectively, these can contribute to preventing conflict, countering terrorism and constraining the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Zerihoun has been Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs in the Department of Political Affairs since April 2010.

He said the Council had also adopted tailored and calibrated sanctions measures to deter unconstitutional change of Governments and the illicit exploitation of natural resources, which fund the activities of armed groups.

Security Council sanctions are a flexible instrument, subject to regular review, adjustments and terminations, Zerihoun told the delegates. In 2016, three sanctions regimes – Iran, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia – were terminated. While the Council adopted 26 sanctions regimes since 1966, it has also terminated 15 regimes to date, he said.

Not self-implementing

Reviews of sanctions regimes has resulted in strengthening responses to growing threats, Zerihoun said, adding that, in Libya, the Council has expanded prohibitions on the export of petroleum products, and designation of criteria was adopted for acts of sexual violence in the Central African Republic.

Stressing that effective sanctions require broad-based support from all Member States, Zerihoun said: “Even the best designed United Nations sanctions resolutions are not self-implementing.” The diversity and complexity of targeted sanctions regimes has imposed considerable implementation burden on countries. Sanctions committees continue to meet with stakeholders on the ground to hear their challenges.

“Sanctions are adopted in New York, but they are mainly implemented at border crossings, ports and airports, as well as in banking and financial institutions,” the UN Assistant Secretary-General added.

Since 2014, the Inter-Agency Working Group on United Nations Sanctions, comprising 26 Organization entities, has worked to ensure system-wide support to sanctions. Meanwhile, the Security Council Affairs Division has continued to play a key role in supporting the nine sanctions monitoring groups, team and panels, which comprised 59 sanctions experts.

The critical importance of support to those experts was highlighted with the killing of Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, who were members of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Group of Experts. He called for full accountability for those crimes and stressed the need to reassess the security arrangements governing the work of sanctions experts.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members noted that each sanctions regime was unique and required particular tailoring. They agreed that all such measures required the full support of Member States to be effective.

Iran deal not forged from sanctions alone

Matthew Rycroft, United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York said that sanctions turned words into tangible actions against those who threatened international peace and security. They were not the first resort, nor a measure that could ever be taken lightly.

Noting that the Iran deal had not been forged from sanctions alone, and that victory over Da’esh would not come about from the work of the 1267 Committee alone, Rycroft said sanctions must sit alongside other tools, such as direct political dialogue, negotiations and peacekeeping efforts.

There could be no “ifs” and no “buts”; sanctions were obligated under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, Rycroft stressed. He called for improving upon the work on some of the most important sanctions dossiers, including on North Korea, particularly as the number of States reporting on the implementation of those sanctions still fell far short of where it needed to be.

Continue with diplomacy and mediation

Kazakhstan’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Barlybay Sadykov said, the Central Asian country supported Security Council sanctions, which were important preventive measures that helped to sustain or restore international peace and security. Sanctions should be designed with the aim of modifying behaviour and whenever possible, they must be subjected to pre-assessment on their probable impact from a humanitarian point of view, as well as enforcement and efficacy, Sadykov stressed.

Every sanction regime was unique and carefully tailored to address specific and clear objectives, although there was always room for improvement and the dissemination of best practices. Throughout the sanctions phase, every effort should be made to continue with diplomacy and mediation for Member States to comply with Security Council resolutions.

Maintaining international peace and security.

China’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Liu Jieyi, said that, under the provisions of the United Nations Charter, sanctions were a peaceful means of conflict resolution and played a positive role in maintaining international peace and security.

Some sanctions regimes had served their purpose and had been lifted, although, at the same time, there must be awareness that some faced problems that should be cause for serious consideration by the Security Council. Its use of sanctions must be in full keeping with the provisions of the Charter, entailing prudent deliberations when imposing them, he emphasized, adding that their imposition should be predicated on exhausting all non-coercive means.

China’s representative stressed that Security Council decisions on sanctions must be part of an overall political package and should be advanced holistically, while the implementation of resolutions should be not selective. The Council should enhance the relevance of sanctions to avoid negative impacts and focus on the key issue at hand, he said, stressing that they should not affect normal, legal trade relations nor exacerbate humanitarian situations on the ground.

Sanctions must include clear objectives

Ambassador Dr Tekeda Alemu, Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said sanctions were one of the most important tools at the Security Council’s disposal and must be part of a broader political strategy aimed at managing and preventing conflicts. Sanctions had, however, evolved significantly in recent years, he added, noting the effectiveness of targeted sanctions. If used appropriately and in a targeted manner, sanctions had the potential to exert pressure on individuals whose attention the Council was seeking.

Sanctions must include clear objectives, he added, emphasizing that they must be reviewed and tailored in a timely manner. More often than not, however, arguments took place on the overall effectiveness of sanctions. That remained a counterproductive practice. To achieve desired objectives, it would serve well to look at each sanctions case individually.

If a particular situation warranted the lifting of sanctions, the Council must not hesitate to take that action. It must also never shy away from strengthening sanctions in cases that call for it. “What really matters here is the reality on the ground,” he added. He opposed the politicization of sanctions and the application of double standards in their design and implementation. The fervour with which the Council implemented sanctions must not be different from one case to another.

Not be an end to themselves

Ambassador Vassily Alekseevich Nebenzia, Russia’s Permanent to the UN, said that restrictive measures could not be an end to themselves. It was the Council alone that had the right to impose sanctions. Such actions must be restrictive in terms of time and must have clear criteria for drawdown. Their focus must be targeted at those who cause crises and never on civilians.

Restrictive measures must not be used to bring down undesirable regimes for economic reasons. As seen from experience, that was likely to lead to mass chaos and endless civilian suffering. Sanctions must never be used against diplomatic or consular representatives. That would be a clear violation of the Vienna Convention.

Each sanctions regime was individual and unique and what was useful for one may well be counterproductive for another. He stressed that those decisions must be made solely by Member States. “It is no secret that some people want to see certain outcomes,” he added, expressing regret over the application by some Member States of unilateral restrictions.

Such measures countered international cooperation and violated State sovereignty. He also stressed the need to examine the outcome document of the Council’s Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions, which had made a significant contribution to improving the work of the 15-nation body.

U.S.- Russia Cooperation

Ambassador Michele J. Sison, the U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN, said, sanctions required patience and were among the most important tools that the United Nations had at its disposal. When implemented swiftly and effectively, sanctions could have widespread positive impact.

The United States and Russian Federation had worked together in formulating sanctions against Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Because the Security Council spoke with one voice, those sanctions were showing real results on the ground, Sison noted.

By the same token, when sanctions lacked wide support, they remained meaningless and degraded the credibility of the Council making the next threat to peace and security more likely. And yet, the Council had been unable to come together to agree on several issues including a format to discuss cross-cutting issues relating to sanctions.

“When it does this, the Council shoots itself in the foot,” she said. “If wide-spread support is the way to do sanctions right, the way to do them wrong is unfolding before us.” When Member States failed to comply with sanctions levelled against an aggressor, the Council lost credibility. The Council continued to threaten but failed to follow up and had closed its eyes to repeated violations. She said the United States would act to defend universal human rights from Venezuela to Zimbabwe and from Crimea to Syria. It was a promise of a people no longer able to conceal their impatience.

Mostly imposed on developing countries

Senegal’s representative Gorgui Ciss pointed out that sanctions regimes were mostly imposed on developing countries, particularly in Africa, and increasingly targeted the illicit exploitation of natural resources. He called for strengthening cooperation among the Council, its sanctions committees and affected Governments to ensure such measures were applied to ensure that natural resources would support development rather than fuelling conflict.

Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, Bolivia’s Permanent Representative to the UN rejected unilateral sanctions as illegal actions extending the domestic legislation of one State to another. Sanctions should be a measure of last resort, to be applied when there was a clear threat to international peace and security, or when an act of aggression was eminent.

Never successful in isolation

Ambassador Carl Skau, Sweden’s Alternate Representative to the Security Council recalled that in the mid-1980’s, his country introduced economic sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa, that were essentially unilateral in nature, but with strong political symbolism.

Since then, Sweden has been engaged in processes aimed at making sanctions more effective and transparent. Sweden believes that United Nations sanctions, when properly applied and well-calibrated within a broader political strategy, could serve as a versatile tool for responding to security challenges.

Sanctions could never be successful in isolation, he warned, adding that they must always be part of a broader political strategy, featuring elements of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding. The common obligation to implement decisions by the Council coexisted with obligations to respect fundamental human rights. By further improving fair and clear procedures, the Council would render the sanctions tool more effective and legitimate, thereby enhancing the authority of the Council and the United Nations as a whole.

Sanctions must never be tools for punishment

Japan’s Ambassador Koro Bessho said that sanctions were tools to achieve specific political objectives, including the restoration of peace after civil war, prohibition of support for terrorists, disarmament of armed groups and denuclearization. Sanctions must never be tools for punishment, however. They must have clear goals and exit strategies. Each sanctions regime generally has its own internal exemption clauses or mechanisms to minimize unwanted adverse effects.

To that end, the evolution in the way the Security Council uses such measures is a welcome one, he continued, adding that the periodic review of sanctions in each sanctions committee could be useful.

Once the Council decides to take certain sanctions measures, they must be fully implemented in order to be effective. That can be challenging and complex, and may require both time and capacity-building for Member States. According to Ambassador Bessho, neighbouring countries have a particularly vital role to play in ensuring that the sanction measures are effective. Besides, sanctions must be fully implemented by each Member State before the Council discussed their effectiveness.

“Sanctions” not mentioned in UN Charter

Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta of Egypt, Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity, highlighting that Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter granted the Security Council the mandate to take different measures to confront any threats to international peace and security without the use of force. Despite the use of the word “sanctions” to describe such measures, he recalled that the Charter did not make any reference to that term. As such, the Council has the responsibility of rectifying the use of that commonly used term and its punitive measures, he said.

The Council has made significant progress in developing the concept of sanctions; moving from comprehensive measures to smarter and more effective measures, benefiting from the knowledge gained from previous experiences.

As a result, the international community has been able to mitigate the negative impacts of such sanctions, including on civilians and States that were not party to conflicts. The unique nature of the threats to international peace and security made it necessary to adopt sanctions regimes that were tailor-made and in line with the nature of the situation, Ambassador Aboulatta said.

Note: This report draws on the Security Council’s Meetings Coverage “For information media. Not an official record.” SC/12941. 3 August 2017. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 August 2017]

Photo: The UN Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missile programme (ICBM) by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). UN Photo/Kim Haughton

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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