High Level Review of UN Sanctions Background Paper Download PDF

Authors: Enrico Carisch, Sue Eckert, Loraine Rickard-Martin

This background paper is intended to inform about the issues to be addressed during the HLR Process. The authors offer their observations of tensions between UN sanctions implementation efforts and related institutional mechanisms and instruments for illustration purposes and to assist the Working Groups of the HLR Process.

To respond to evolving global threats to international peace and security, the UN Security Council over the past two decades has transformed both the design and application of UN sanctions. From the original focus on cross-border attacks and civil wars, the objectives of sanctions have expanded to include the protection of civilians and prevention of human rights atrocities, thwarting the proliferation of nonconventional arms and their delivery systems, stemming international terrorism, and limiting the financing of terrorism and conflict through exploitation of natural resources or criminal activities.

At the same time, the range of actors and mechanisms associated with sanctions has multiplied. The roles of existing international organizations have expanded, and new mechanisms and entities developed with responsibilities related to sanctions implementation. Their roles are primarily functional – addressing disarmament and nonproliferation issues (UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, the International Atomic Energy Agency); establishing international standards for money laundering and terrorist financing that are applicable to financial sanctions (Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Egmont Group); establishing international norms and standards for trade, transportation, and travel (OECD, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Air Transport Association); facilitating global collaboration in law enforcement (Interpol, World Customs Organization); and monitoring compliance with international human rights and humanitarian laws (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Council).

Within the Secretariat, offices with traditional roles in international crisis management and conflict resolution (UN Department of Political Affairs, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR), Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs), etc.) increasingly experience overlapping mandates in countries subject to sanctions. International judicial processes such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and atrocity-related litigation at the national and regional levels, likewise, are growing in frequency. Moreover, regional arrangements, especially in Europe and Africa and within the League of Arab States, responsible for promoting regional security, increasingly play a role in implementing or enforcing UN measures or applying their own sanctions, and raise issues of coordination and complementarity. Annex 1 provides an overview of the range of institutional actors and entities mentioned in recent UN Security Council resolutions applying sanctions.

This expansion of sanctions implementation actors, instruments and mandates adds complexity to the effective implementation of UN sanctions. Most changes evolve without deliberative planning as the Security Council responds to unfolding crises under time constraints. Consequently, there has not been a systematic assessment or opportunity to study these interactions and potential synergies. In fact, the last comprehensive reviews of UN sanctions date back several years - the Interlaken Process (1998-1999) focused on targeted financial sanctions, the Bonn/Berlin Process (1999-2000) analyzed arms embargoes, travel and aviation related sanctions, the Stockholm Process (2001-2003), and the Greece-sponsored symposium on ‘Enhancing the Implementation of UN Security Council Sanctions’ (2007), addressed more effective implementation and monitoring of targeted sanctions. Leading scholars are currently engaged in a comprehensive, systematic, and comparative assessment of the impacts and effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions regimes as part of the Targeted Sanctions Consortium.1

For policy practitioner’s much has changed in the intervening years to make today’s conflict resolution landscape more complex and complicated. The purpose of the High Level Review of UN Sanctions is to assess Security Council sanctions and develop forward-looking ideas and options to enhance the effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions.2

Among the challenges to UN sanctions, due process has emerged primarily through lawsuits brought by targeted individuals and entities in the court system of the European Union and in a number of national European courts. In response, Member States have made improvements in their national processes and prompted significant reforms in the Security Council’s procedures for listing and delisting. Primarily the introduction of the Office of the Ombudsperson with a robust mandate to review delisting applications by individuals and entities subject to the Al Qaida sanctions regime demonstrates the UN’s ability to adjust its due process procedures. Further reforms have been proposed, however, and the question of protection of individual rights and access to effective remedy remains for the other sanctions regimes, despite the introduction of a Focal Point for Delisting.

This issue has and continues to receive considerable attention3 in other venues. For this reason, as well as the HLR’s focus on an overall framework for the effective implementation, administration and enforcement of UN sanctions, the HLR should not aspire to becoming the primary forum in which to address these issues. To the extent possible, however, participants to the HLR Review, and in particular, its three working groups, may wish to present new approaches and solutions that could facilitate more effective implementation of UN sanctions including due process.

Purpose and content of this paper

This paper offers initial observations as to how sanctions implementation and associated instruments, institutions and mechanisms relate to one another. The paper provides a preliminary framework for analysis and policy reflection on current challenges related to UN sanctions implementation. It is not an exhaustive catalogue, nor does it offer recommendations; rather, it aims to clarify the issues to be addressed by the HLR and its three working groups. During the High Level Review process, officials of Member States, the UN Secretariat, UN agencies, relevant international organizations, experts and civil society will discuss implementation issues and formulate appropriate recommendations.

To facilitate a common understanding of the potential issues and challenges, this paper, following a brief introduction, is organized into three sections:

I. UN integration and coordination issues;
II. UN sanctions and related institutions and instruments;
III. Emerging challenges and opportunities

Actors involved in the implementation of UN sanctions

Other than endorsements of regional mediations (e.g., the 2002 IGAD-EU sponsored Somalia peace and reconciliation process and the ECOWAS intervention in Liberia in 2003), few if any references to sanctions-related institutions can be found in the resolutions adopted during 2003 and 2004.

A review of recent substantive Security Council resolutions applying sanctions indicates a broad range of international actors, UN entities (including peacekeeping operations and mediation efforts), regional organizations, etc. specifically mentioned (see Annex 1).

These entities are called on, directed, or otherwise referred to or acknowledged for playing some role as part of the peace and security architecture constructed around UN sanctions.

While the sanctions policies of the UN and individual Member States or regional organizations at times reflect divergent political interests, Security Council directives and resolutions, as well as UN implementing organizations and actors are expected to work in a complementary manner. Owing to perceived tensions among various mandates, fostering collaborative efforts between Security Council sanctions implementation and other UN instruments of peacekeeping and mediation is a challenging task that requires continual management and competent leadership.

Opportunity Costs of Poorly Implemented Sanctions

The disconnect between sanctions policy implementation and other UN mandates has been observed previously: “By their nature, however, sanctions generate systemic and structural tensions within the larger organization. Questions arise whether sanctions, which target designated parties, are compatible with peacekeeping missions, which are intended to be neutral and depend upon the consent of the host government”.4 At times, it appears that sanctions have been relegated to a lower and somewhat ostracized status among other policy tools. While sanctions regimes and peacekeeping mandates are mutually reinforcing instruments, misperceptions can have real consequences in terms of less effective implementation of sanctions, ultimately resulting in financial, political, and humanitarian costs that are generally unappreciated.

The greatest casualty is often political will. Widespread misunderstanding of sanctions as a punitive measure rather than a preventive tool to be used in conjunction with diplomacy, reduces motivation to implement among some states and other actors. It heightens the antagonism within governments in countries subject to sanctions even when the continuation of a carefully managed partial arms embargo is designed to protect the state. This in turn makes them reluctant to fulfill their own role in making the sanctions work. Even penholders among Council members sometimes view sanctions as primarily a political tool. Rather than maximizing operational opportunities, they are at times too quick to trade an easing of sanctions for political concessions by the government. However, the premature disassociating of sanctions from a government can lead to heightened security risks. Permitting the easing, suspension or lifting of an arms embargo may allow weaponry to inadequately trained government forces who themselves become security threats to the civilian population they are meant to protect.

Another casualty is information. With the exception of Sanctions Committees and their Expert Groups, the Secretary General and other UN reporting entities consistently omit discussion of sanctions from their reports, evaluations, and recommendations. This practice contributes to the perception of sanctions as an inconsequential component of the UN’s overall conflict resolution efforts. The record is clear, however; when a crisis prompts policy makers to act, sanctions are often the primary response. Other UN entities generally fail to understand, assess, and articulate the challenges or benefits that sanctions bring to their work.

Concurrent with the lack of information, the systematic assessment of costs associated with effective sanctions implementation is inhibited as well. What are the gains of effective sanctions implementation, and losses if sanctions are not well implemented? How does poor implementation of country-based sanctions impact the political investments necessary for peacekeeping, disarmament, and mediation efforts? What political and diplomatic costs result if only some Member States implement UN sanctions, for example in support of nonproliferation or terrorism objectives? Methodologies to assess the benefits and costs of effective sanctions and how they relate comparatively to other UN instruments are lacking.

One measure of the costs can be found in the budgets of country-based sanctions regimes. According to UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) budgets, on average, Sanctions Committees and Expert Groups are budgeted between $1-2.5 million annually.5 The budgets of the Iran and DPRK nonproliferation regimes and the counterterrorism sanctions on Al Qaida and the Taliban are roughly two to three times greater. While not trivial, these costs are dwarfed in comparison with other UN conflict resolution and mediation programs. If effectively implemented sanctions were instrumental in shortening a conflict (and ending a peacekeeping mission even by as little as one year), the cost savings could be considerable, and the humanitarian gains invaluable. In other words, the benefits and cost savings of effective sanctions could be substantial, for example in freeing up more funds for humanitarian aid, peace-building or capacity building. At the same time, the financial, political, and humanitarian price tag of poorly implemented sanctions could be sizable.

Another example of the beneficial synergies of UN sanctions are the positive externalities resulting from the UNSCR 1373 and 1267 committees’ requirements for greater due diligence by financial institutions. To combat the financing of terrorism, UN measures and other national and regional efforts mutually enhance one another to compel global banking institutions and intermediaries to institute more stringent compliance and due diligence requirements, thereby contributing to an enhanced international regulatory capacity.6 The concerted compliance action prioritized the fight against terrorism financing, resulting in a global culture of forward-looking compliance and due diligence that has been extended to other forms of financial crimes.

I. UN Integration and Coordination Issues

This section addresses the range of integration and coordination issues involving the UN Security Council, Sanctions Committees and their Expert Groups, the UN Secretariat, and intra-UN mandates such as DPKO, DDR, SSR, UN Missions, SRSGs, human rights monitoring by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others.

Notwithstanding twenty years of experience with the implementation of targeted sanctions, the UN’s internal institutional coordination and integration leaves room for improvement. Disconnects are largely attributable to what some have characterized as the lack of a unified UN sanctions policy.7 Sanctions implementation by peacekeepers, and collaboration with those mandated to monitor sanctions compliance, including identifying the need for technical and capacity-building assistance, are often hampered by insufficient guidance, information-sharing, and access to data. Improved engagement could be achieved with greater sanctions-relevant awareness, skills, and knowledge – in particular regarding potential benefits accruing to all UN partners and mandates.

The Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions in 2006,8 under Greece’s chairmanship, focused on these critical needs. The report usefully set forth guidelines and best practices for principal UN sanctions implementation actors according to the priorities at that time. Now, with changed circumstances and new threats to international peace and security, important adjustments are required. Three pertinent elements are proposed for consideration: a) internal capacity building, b) sharing of monitoring insights, and c) a unified sanctions policy.

a) Sanctions Committee leadership and capacity: assisting in the implementation of UN sanctions is a fundamental responsibility of Committees, and effective leadership by Chairs and support by Secretaries are important factors for the day-to-day operation of Committees and for the management of Expert Groups. A critical dimension of the Secretariat’s role is to provide support for E-10 (elected members of the Security Council) Chairs of Sanctions Committees and their permanent mission staff who often do not have the resources to manage actively the Committees’ considerable volume of work. The functions of Secretary include providing institutional memory and advice on Committee practice and precedent; identifying qualified Expert Group candidates and supporting all Committee and Expert Group activities; leading the Secretariat team that drafts reports, communications, and documentation and provides administrative support; and generally ensuring the smooth functioning of the committees. Consequently, the level of experience of Secretaries is a determinative factor in the quality of the Committee’s work.

For Committee Chairs and their staff and for Secretaries, misperceptions about the role of sanctions, limited preparation and the steep learning curve of Committee operations may limit the opportunities their roles afford them. Because there is no formal comprehensive induction for new Committee Chairs or their Missions, the burden of training often falls on Secretaries who may be relatively inexperienced themselves. In other words, Committee Secretaries are the curators of information concerning sanctions policies, practices, and methodologies – without a clear definition of what that entails or a mechanism to ensure consistency and continuity in the application of sanctions.

In addition to its role of preparing and facilitating meetings and the activities of expert groups, the Secretariat also should provide guidance on substantive mandates of Committees that increasingly require regulatory-like actions (e.g., granting exemptions to arms embargoes, asset freezes and travel bans, designations, etc.), in collaboration with Expert Groups, the Focal Point for Delisting, the Ombudsperson and others.

Despite the level of responsibility required, Secretaries are recruited from within the UN staff pool and may not have prior relevant sanctions experience or training. Essentially, new recruits learn on the job, with more experienced colleagues acting informally as mentors. This may have sufficed with a handful of Sanctions Committees and Expert Groups, but is insufficient today given the growth of sanctions regimes, the workload that comes with the sanctions measures and implementation mechanisms, all contributing to the expansion of the role of Secretaries.

The preparation and training of Secretaries should be appropriate to the rapidly evolving sanctions environment and enable effective responses and interactions with the range of institutional actors. The Secretariat should be assisted in increasing its capacity to meet such demands and developing a coherent vision of what its future role should be.

b) Sharing of monitoring insights: monitoring of UN sanctions has led to specialized investigative skills and methodologies; potential synergies among these efforts should be explored and exploited on an ongoing basis. Relevant areas of experiential learning and information exchanges involve both the internal workings of Committees and vertical expertise. Examples for these two areas of inquiry include:
  • Expert Groups methodologies – After fifteen years of experience with sanctions monitoring mechanisms, it should be possible to develop best practices or methodologies regarding the recruitment, training, investigative and reporting practices of experts which safeguard independence and encourage effectiveness. Yet there is no systematic preparation of new Expert Group members, ways of distilling the lessons learned from Expert Groups, or a formalized skills-development program for experts, based on the analytical assessment of past practices.
  • Vertical expertise – While individual experts change over time and across sanctions regimes, the activities of sanctions-busting, smuggling, financing of terrorism, and WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferation, share common typologies and actors not limited by geographical boundaries. To date, very limited and sporadic efforts toward vertical expert clusters (e.g., in arms, customs, transportation, finance, etc.) exist to discern and develop relevant typologies of sanctions violations or violators.
c) Need for a unified sanctions policy: A factor in sanctions implementation efforts by UN bodies is the perceived lack of support from UN senior officials and established institutional mechanisms to address coordination issues. Declaratory pronouncements by senior UN officials regarding the utility and effectiveness of UN sanctions and their role in overall UN conflict resolution mandates are few. Furthermore, there is no institutional mechanism to integrate and coordinate sanctions policies with other UN mandates, and manage the natural tensions resulting.

The current approach fails to integrate sanctions within an overall strategy for a country or region, thereby undermining the contribution sanctions can make to overall UN peace and security objectives. Discussions of sanctions implementation issues, akin to the prior Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions occur sporadically, and internal UN coordination issues, such as a proposed Sanctions Implementation Task Force9 are opportunities for senior management to demonstrate leadership on sanctions. In the same spirit, the HLR is a new occasion to actively contribute to the formulation of recommendations and improvements to enhance sanctions effectiveness.

Examples of UN challenges in coordination and sharing of information

In the cases of Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, and Sudan/Darfur, UN sanctions coincide with peacekeeping missions, often simultaneously deployed with other UN organizations and bodies. Typically, these include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for assisting children, the World Food Programme (WFP) for delivering food, the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to provide comprehensive logistical support to all UN operations, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for capacity building projects, and the UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for coordinating humanitarian assistance, in close collaboration with and under the guidance of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG). Sanctions resolutions typically assign peacekeeping missions the role of providing logistical support to sanctions monitoring bodies (physical protection and security duties are delegated to the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS). Managing the collaboration between sanctions monitors, peacekeeping missions, ISS and others, is the responsibility of the SRSG. Expert Groups remain answerable to their respective Sanctions Committees and bound by UN codes of conduct as appointees of the Secretary-General, even while consulting with relevant UN bodies and others.

Maximizing Synergies Between UNOCI and Expert Groups

In August 2006, UNOCI created an Integrated Arms Embargo Cell that among other tasks closely collaborates with the Expert Group for Côte d’Ivoire. The Experts’ reports have been mostly positive regarding information-sharing with the peacekeeping mission, and many consider UNOCI’s specialized arms embargo cell a useful template for other peacekeeping missions.
In some cases, positive synergistic effects have resulted, (see box to the right) where UN partners actively manage their collaboration and seek innovative approaches. In other situations, such partnerships do not exist, thus losing a potential to contribute to the implementation of UN sanctions.

Extenuating circumstances are often the basis for such tensions. The adversarial political climate with the government of Sudan, and the overstretched capacity of peacekeepers operating in inaccessible and contested Eastern Congo left poor choices for UN officials. A SRSG’s problem is exacerbated by a mandate that does not strike a pragmatic balance among seemingly competing peacekeeping obligations, capacity building, and sanctions implementation.

The application of the financial sanctions in Resolutions 1970 and 1973 in 2011 against the complex web of investments benefitting Muammar Gaddafi highlighted two challenges. On the one hand, UN organizations were at risk that they may have rented or leased offices, hotel accommodations, cantonments, or contracted services at air-or seaports, or from international and local suppliers and service providers, that ultimately would benefit Gaddafi. Without a UN system-wide due diligence that includes a sanctions-relevant vendor vetting, the possibility remained that the organization was involved commercially with designated entities or their front companies.

A second aspect of the Libya sanctions regime was also triggered by Gaddafi’s vast economic holdings, as well as the layering of UN and autonomous sanctions regimes. Even before the Security Council adopted its asset freeze on the Libyan Central Bank and other financial entities, a number of states and the EU blocked billions of dollars suspected of being linked to Gaddafi and his inner circle. The combination of unilateral and multilateral measures signaled the international financial community to shut down nearly all transactions involving Libya, even those not expressly prohibited by sanctions. OCHA and other UN organizations were caught by surprise when their payments for urgently needed aid to the Libyan population were stopped. While the roots of many of these complications are likely related to autonomous sanctions and compliance concerns by international banks, the residual effects can be detrimental to UN sanctions. The UNSC, the Committees, the Secretariat, and UN technical agencies need to better assist Member States in explaining to economic operators the requirements of compliance with UN sanctions to ensure that a more fact-based approach is taken.

II. UN Sanctions and related institutions and instruments

This section provides an overview of the evolving network of associated UN and external institutions and mechanisms with functions related to sanctions. These include specialized agencies addressing arms control and nonproliferation, terrorism, money laundering and financial crimes, international transport and border control, human rights; international judicial processes; certification and due diligence mechanisms in natural resources trade; and the private sector and civil society. The task of comprehensively assessing these relationships is reserved for the HLR working groups.

Broadly speaking there are 10 clusters of related organizations, instruments and mechanisms associated with UN sanctions:10
Table 1: Topical clusters of institutions, instruments and mechanisms related to sanctions
Arms control: conventional and non-conventional weapons IAEA, OPCW, UNSCR 1540 Committee and Experts, the UN Register of Conventional Arms, the Nairobi Protocol and the Regional Centre on Small Arms, the NPT, CWC, BWC, the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other Associated Materials,
Financial, economic and commodity aspects of sanctions FATF, WB, IMF, Kimberley Process, OECD, ICGLR
International Transportation and Cross-border issues ICAO, IATA, WCO
Mediation Mano River Union, Joint African Union/United Nations Mediation for Darfur, ECOWAS, Six-Party Talks, P5+1 Negotiations, Ouagadougou Political Agreement, Group of Ten Ambassadors, Gulf Cooperation Council
Private sector and civil society Financial institutions, NGOs,
Human rights and international humanitarian law OHCHR, ICC, RSGS, HRC Independent Expert, UN Action against sexual violence in conflict, Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, SRSG for Sexual Violence in Conflict, UN Human Rights Council and Commission of Inquiry
Regional and sub-regional concerns AU, EU, LAS, ICGLR, ECCAS, ECOWAS, Agreement on temporary arrangements for the administration and security of the Abyei Area, International Working Group on Côte d’Ivoire
Judicial processes ICC, UN International Independent Investigation Commission (Lebanon Tribunal)
General implementation support Interpol, UNODC, Afghan High Peace Council, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
Financial Sanctions and FATF

The global fight against money laundering and financial crime, as well as the implementation of the 1267 sanctions, was invigorated in 2001 through the adoption of nine new special recommendations related to terrorist financing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The comprehensive review and update of the original 40 + 9 FATF recommendations in 2012 established the FATF as the global standard setter for measures to counter the financing of proliferation, as well as for money laundering, and terrorist financing. An important factor contributing to improved integration of money laundering and financial sanctions implementation was the effort to improve compliance with FATF standards. In 2005, the Security Council explicitly endorsed the FATF Recommendations as international standards in fighting illicit finance that Member States should implement. Although a voluntary system, FATF’s influence lies in its peer review system evaluating compliance of Member States with the standards. Most states found to be noncompliant have modified their policies in line with the FATF recommendations.

The success of FATF, however, may complicate the implementation of financial measures associated with country-based sanctions regimes. Because the recommendations focus only on Council sanctions related to proliferation and terrorism and do not apply to UN sanctions generally, some Member States may not implement other financial sanctions with equal rigor. Notwithstanding the binding nature of the Security Council’s Chapter VII sanctions, the selective nature of the FATF recommendations could have the perverse effect of undercutting UN sanctions more broadly. In order to avoid this effect, additional efforts may be necessary to encourage Member States to model the implementation of other sanctions on the framework that already exists for sanctions related to terrorism and proliferation.

In many cases it is virtually impossible for UN Expert Groups to obtain assistance from Member States in following up on allegations of sanctions violations against financiers of arms and conflict. For example, the DRC Group of Experts attempted in vain to obtain the cooperation of states where conflict minerals (e.g. gold, cassiterite) were exported after they were illegally smuggled out of the Congo. Similarly, it proved futile to gain assistance from states from which financiers and buyers operated to acquire and ship dual-use equipment to the conflict parties in Darfur.

UN sanctions and ICC referrals

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) established the ICC to address and deter the kind of criminal behaviour that threatens peace and security (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression, once the Assembly of States Parties decides to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression after 1 January 2017). Thus there may be an intrinsic overlap with the object and purpose of sanctions targeting individuals under the UN Charter.

Increasingly, the reach of sanctions has gone beyond those responsible for initiating and supporting threats to, or breaches of, international peace and security, to include perpetrators of conduct that could be crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC (especially violations of international humanitarian law, human rights, attacks against civilians, recruitment of child soldiers, sexual and gender based violence), thus increasing the overlap. Inevitably, in some cases the same individuals are or could be subject to both ICC proceedings and to UNSC targeted sanctions.

Even where their “jurisdiction” overlaps, sanctions and the ICC have different objectives (and evidentiary standards): sanctions applied to a particular individual seek to protect “the peace” or, more concretely, civilians, from future actions of the individual, by constraining the individual’s ability to act; an ICC proceeding seeks to determine the accountability of that individual for past actions.

Nevertheless, this intersection raises questions about whether the two processes, where they overlap, have an impact on each other. If the ICC initiates proceedings against a person who is also subject to sanctions, does that undermine the political pressure intended for the sanctions measure, or does it demonstrate that the international demand for accountability disqualifies the person from any political calculation? Conversely, does designating a person under a sanctions regime interfere with any ICC judicial process against that same person, as a kind of pre-trial prejudice, or does it usefully constrain the person, by the effects of the travel ban and financial sanctions, and eventually encourage them to submit themselves to the ICC’s jurisdiction? Does the Council’s decision not to place a person under sanctions amount to a defence for that same person subject to proceedings on the same grounds by the ICC? Does the ICC’s decision to acquit a person subject to sanctions based on the same allegation require the Council to remove the sanctions as well?

UN sanctions and OHCHR monitoring
Challenges also exist between the monitoring of Security Council sanctions and the General Assembly’s mandates for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The OHCHR’s monitors are legal experts certified in international human rights law and trained to collect relevant evidence. In some sanctions regimes, the same information could be useful to Expert Groups. Agreements, memoranda of understanding, or even periodic sharing of weekly situation reports between the OHCHR and relevant Sanctions Committees could facilitate enhanced implementation of sanctions monitoring protocols. That OHCHR monitors may, however, be concerned about the potential consequences for their principal mandate if they are seen visibly cooperating with Expert Groups is understandable, given that the work in the field, often under adverse conditions and always dependent on the cooperation of local and national authorities or leaders of armed non-governmental forces, potential targets of UN sanctions.

UN Sanctions and Disarmament/Proliferation
Arms embargoes have long been a staple measure for the Council to deny the supply of weapons into specific conflict zones, or to oversee the supply of weapons to states emerging from conflict. In 2006, the Council placed similar embargoes on the supply of goods and services that could contribute to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation (dual use goods) to Iran and the DPRK.

At the same time, the international community, including through the UN, has pursued a variety of general disarmament, arms control and WMD non-proliferation measures of universal application. In relation to conventional arms, such measures have tended to be voluntary, often focused on transparency of arms supply and procurement, although the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013 marked a significant shift to a legally binding framework including restraint of supply. In relation to WMD, legally binding frameworks for disarmament and non-proliferation have existed for a number of years, supported by voluntary counter-proliferation initiatives such as export control regimes.

Disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation measures are amongst the most highly contentious and deeply politicized in international relations even when no particular country is being singled out. It is hardly surprising then that the secretariats and monitoring bodies for these initiatives are wary of introducing the topic of country-specific arms or counter-proliferation-related sanctions into their discussions. Yet the technical and implementation focus of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation entities obviously has and enormous amount to offer in relation to sanctions implementation.

The principal mandate of disarmament and nonproliferation organizations is to monitor compliance with the relevant non-proliferation treaties (Table 2).

Table 2: Disarmament and nonproliferation organizations
Disarmament and Proliferation Organizations Abbreviation Treaty or Agreement
International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water ( Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT)Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Nuclear Suppliers Group NSG
Implementation Support Unit for the Biological Weapons Convention

Australia Group

Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Australia Group

Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Missile Technology Control Regime

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation
United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Wassenaar Arrangement

Arms Trade Treaty

Plan of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Firearms Trafficking Protocol
To accomplish their mandates, these bodies require good working relationships with UN Member States. Their perception that sanctions are controversy-prone can lead to non-collaboration with sanctions monitoring mechanisms for fear of complicating their work.

Nevertheless, sanctions monitoring mechanisms could benefit from greater interaction with disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation entities, for example through periodic briefings and information sharing. In particular, the UNSCR 1540 Committee, which is not a Sanctions Committee but requires Member States to adopt legislation and implement export controls to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and their means of delivery, may provide a useful bridge between sanctions and disarmament/nonproliferation bodies. With 1540’s focus on international capacity building and collaboration, a natural basis exists to ensure that capacity-building enhances sanctions compliance and implementation.

Conflict minerals and sanctions
Beginning with the first sanctions regime against Southern Rhodesia, and continuing through the recently adopted regime on the Central African Republic, UN sanctions on natural resources have been frequently applied in support of international norms. The implementation of such measures can be assisted by regional standards such as the innovative regional certification mechanism set up by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to control the trade with illegal natural resources. Industrialized states also contribute to similar control efforts with the OECD’s11 voluntary ”Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chain of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas,” . The ICGLR has also taken the lead in many other contentious regional issues, precisely as it was intended by the African Union, the Security Council, and the General Assembly, to create an institutional response to the Central African wars, violence and illegal trade in natural resources. The ICGLR has succeeded in fulfilling its unique mandate in part thanks to supportive UN sanctions against combatants operating in the Eastern DRC.

III. Emerging challenges and opportunities in UN Sanctions, Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and Regional Organizations

This section focuses on emerging challenges and opportunities in the implementation of UN sanctions regimes, in particular relating to current frictions with Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law (HR/IHL) related mechanisms, and regional and national sanction measures, potential new applications of sanctions, lessons regarding sanctions effectiveness, and capacity building requirements.

Sanctions and HR/IHL

UN sanctions resolutions increasingly identify areas of HR/IHL violations by referring to the responsibility to protect, or to specific violations such as the incitement of hatred, the perpetuation of sexual and gender-based violence, the abuse of children in conflict, and the denying to the general populations of the economic and cultural benefits of their raw materials through large-scale illegal exploitation of minerals, timber, wildlife or products and other forms of natural resources.

Largely unaddressed is the actual methodology for how UN sanctions monitors and HR/IHL agencies are supposed to collaborate. Monitoring of UN sanctions and of HR/IHL compliance often focuses on the collection of the same or similar evidence and targeting of the same individuals and organizations. While there are distinctions in collection and handling of evidence, investigative principles in regards to balancing due process for the accused with the rights of victims are similar.

Emerging HR/IHL-relevant violations for sanctions

Despite the extraordinary diversity of typologies of violations of HR/IHL and the ways through which UN sanctions issues have attempted to counter them in recent years, little attention has been focused on forward-looking measures. The internet, digital technologies and mobile communication systems provide platforms for inciting hate, raising funds, obtaining embargoed or otherwise restricted items, recruiting supporters and combatants into causes that contravene international norms and are targeted for sanctions.

This emerging threat to international peace and security raises complex issues and challenges concerning the prevention of atrocities and the protection of free speech or other personal liberties.. Given that internet providers and users are spread across many states and jurisdictions, the issue clearly requires international cooperation and coordination.

Regional sanctions

The past several decades have witnessed a proliferation of sanctions applied by regional and sub-regional organizations, especially in Europe and Africa. Regional organizations such as the EU, AU, ECOWAS, ECCAS, SADC, and the ICGLR, as well as individual states, are increasingly playing a greater role in implementing and enforcing UN measures or imposing their own sanctions, raising questions of coordination and complementarity.

Multiple layers of sanctions, even when not entirely parallel or consistent, can have a reinforcing effect and strengthen sanctions compliance through increased awareness and attention. However, confusion between UN and regional or other sanctions, as well as selective implementation, and divergent national interests, can complicate sanctions implementation. The following practical examples serve as a starting point to more fully explore these emerging challenges of multi-layered sanctions and related practices.

UN, AU and EU sanctions can be mutually supportive, as recent measures on Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic demonstrate. The EU routinely adopts sanctions in tandem with Security Council action. Europe also maintains autonomous sanctions independent of the UN largely based on humanitarian considerations, bringing the total to 29 EU sanctions currently applied (the EU currently sanctions Guinea, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe even though the AU does not sanction these countries). For its part, the AU Peace and Security Council currently maintains sanctions on three of its members: the Central African Republic, Egypt, and Guinea-Bissau. AU sanctions are independent of UN measures, based on the AU Constitutive Act and related documents, applied for unconstitutional changes of government, and include the suspension of membership as the primary sanction.

Table 3 Sanctions Regimes by Regional Organizations12
Organization EU AU
Total number of situations to which sanctions apply 48 11
Number of situations to which sanctions currently apply 29 3
Countries to which sanctions apply Afghanistan, Al Qaida, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, CAR, China, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DRC/Zaire, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Fiji, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Togo, Tunisia, USA13, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe CAR, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Togo
There is a risk, however, that the proliferation of sanctions by different bodies could undermine UN sanctions implementation. Identification of common principles, adoption of a protocol or process to mutually reinforce other organizations’ sanctions policies could promote more effective coordination of Security Council and regional sanctions.

Another feature of the interaction between UN sanctions and supplemental measures by regional or national bodies concerns situations in which the Security Council is unable to agree on UN sanctions (the most recent example is the decision by the League of Arab States to apply sanctions against its member state, Syria), or comes under criticism, e.g., related to NATO’s use of force in Libya in 2011. While the EU and most Western states adopted sanctions against Syria, Russia and China remain opposed. In other cases such as DPRK, the EU, most Western countries, Japan and the Republic of Korea, have applied far-reaching additional sanctions against the DPRK.

Member State Reporting

Typically, Member States report periodically regarding legal and regulatory initiatives to implement UN sanctions, or they are asked to report on specific actions such as seizing of embargoed materials, freezing the assets, or preventing the travel of individuals under a travel ban.

Sanctions regimes rarely elicit substantive responses from more than 50 percent of Member States, and under 30 percent report in a timely manner. Historically, compliance reporting by states is strongest in the counter-terrorism and nonproliferation regimes. The reason is that counter-terrorism and non-proliferation is supported by strong outreach activity of the relevant Experts Groups, the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) and the 1540 Panel. There is also a generally higher level of bilateral promotion of implementation for these sanctions, benefitting from FATF’s specific standards. Written requests to states by sanctions monitors, for example, especially to neighbors of a state subject to an arms embargo, often elicit no response.

A review of Expert Group reports indicates that most Member States provide minimal information in their national implementation reports, particularly when UN sanctions could trigger criminal prosecutions (enforcement). Member States may take unilateral action to freeze the assets of individuals and entities, or implement such measures immediately upon release of UN sanctions lists, but rarely report to the committee or UN sanctions monitors regarding assets frozen or released. This would suggest that reporting on enforcement action may be less rigorous than reporting on implementation.

The reasons for such uneven reporting are multifaceted and have not been fully explored, but conventional wisdom may miss the mark. For example, reports as to “sanctions fatigue,” or at least reporting fatigue is common but largely relates to correspondence with Groups of Experts. National implementers face daunting requirements, reporting and implementation demands. The Al Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committees have addressed this issue by streamlining reporting requirements. Recently Member States were requested to complete a Voluntary National Assessment of Implementation Survey;14 most states ignored the opportunity to utilize the voluntary questionnaire to report on implementation efforts under the 1267/1989 regimes. Experience indicates the need for a greater focus on assisting implementation, engaging directly with affected states, and more regular open briefings, possibly focused thematically. Specialized informational and educational efforts around implementation and reporting on arms embargo, financial or transportation-related measures may attract greater interest rather than reiterating the impositions of restrictions on individual countries.

New Objectives and Applications of Sanctions

As the fragmentation of international sanctions proceeds, and alternative conflict resolution mechanisms such as the peacebuilding commission, referrals to the international courts and tribunals, and regionally driven mediation and sanctions regimes gain favor, the possibility arises that only the most virulent threats to international peace and security (for example terrorism or non-proliferation) will result in adequate political will to support the application of UN sanctions. On the other hand, the very recent history with sanctions on CAR and Yemen, also suggests that where P5 (permanent five members of the Council) political interests are not in conflict the Council is willing and able to apply sanctions swiftly.

The question however remains concerning how the application of sanctions can be implemented with greater effectiveness – thereby increasing their value to policy makers in averting violence and protecting civilians. The Security Council should consider the possibility that new threats require new sanctions responses, or existing threats may be addressed by new measures. Examples are the rarely applied measure of curtailing membership privileges, for example, of those responsible for atrocities or other forms of threats to international peace and security.

While there is currently no consensus about new threats, greater attention has focused on more effective implementation of sanctions against promoters of gender-based and sexual violence, the recruitment and other abuses of children in conflict, or those responsible for the illegal exploitation of natural resources, wildlife or oil resources. Given continuing breaches of peace and security, the imperative for ongoing research and debate in the search for more effective sanctions implementation is self-evident.

Finally, enhancing the effectiveness of sanctions has been shown to be most successful if the capacity is improved of those states and organizations that find themselves at the front lines of implementation. Capacity assistance may take many different forms. Some states may require consistent training and education of specific government agencies in charge of sanctions implementation. Formulation of implementation “best practices” for government sanctions officials may be another element in capacity enhancement. In some instances, specific branches of government may require specific tools, databanks, electronic detectors, or more fundamentally, an introduction to specialized international technical agencies that can provide such assistance.

Analyzing systematically the capacity needs, defining response mechanisms and interacting broadly with governments around the world concerning their capacity needs is not only an urgent step toward achieving greater effectiveness of sanctions, it is also a practical way of engaging sanctions policies globally in a positive and constructive context.

Annex 1: Institutional actors and entities associated with UN sanctions

AJOC Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (Sudan/S. Sudan)
AMISOM African Union Mission in Somalia
AU African Union
AU - PSC African Union Peace and Security Council
BINUCA Bureau Intégré de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en Centrafique (UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic)
BWC / BTWC Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction
CPA Comprehensive Peace Agreement
CPLP Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries
CTC Counter-Terrorism Committee
CTED Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate
CWC Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction /
DPKO Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN)
DRC Democratic Republic of the Congo
ECCAS Economic Community of Central African States
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States
EU European Union
EUTM EU Training Mission Somalia
FATF Financial Action Task Force
G-10 Group of Ten Ambassadors
GCC Gulf Cooperation Council
GoE Group of Experts
OHCHR High Commissioner on Human Rights
HRDDP (United Nations) Human Rights Due Diligence Policy
IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency
IATA International Air Transport Association
ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization
ICC International Criminal Court
ICGLR International Conference on the Great Lakes Region
IMF International Monetary Fund
KP Kimberley Process
LAS League of Arab States
MONUC Mission des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
MONUSCO Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
NPT Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
ONUB Opération des Nations Unies au Burundi (United Nations Operation in Burundi)
OPCW Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
PBC Peacebuilding Commission
Expert Groups Panel of Experts
SRSG Special Representative of the Secretary-General
UNAMA United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
UNAMID African Union – United Nations Mission in Darfur
UNCT United Nations Country Team
UNIOGBIS United Nations Integrated Office for Peacebuilding in Guinea- Bissau
UNISFA United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei
UNMIL UN Mission in Liberia
UNMIS United Nations Mission in the Sudan
UNMISS United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan
UNMOVIC United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission
UNOCI United Nations Operations in Côte d’Ivoire
UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
UNSG United Nations Secretary-General
UNSMIL United Nations Support Mission in Libya
UNSOM United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia
WB World Bank
WCO World Customs Organization