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Sanctions are ‘effective’ method to build global stability, Security Council told

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman (left), briefs the Security Council at its meeting on general issues relating to sanctions. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman (left), briefs the Security Council at its meeting on general issues relating to sanctions. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

From Afghanistan and Angola to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia, sanctions implemented by the United Nations Security Council have had a positive track record, proving their efficacy and economy in supporting Member States overcome instability, the top UN political official said today.

“UN sanctions have proved to be an effective complement to other Security Council instruments and actions,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said in a briefing to the Council on the evolution of UN sanctions. “We know it is not perfect, but there is also no doubt that it works.”

The usage of sanctions has had a long and storied history within the UN body since its first application in 1966 on Southern Rhodesia. Since then, 25 sanctions regimes have been implemented for a wide range of purposes – from being used to support conflict resolution efforts to the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and counter terrorism.

Currently, noted the Under-Secretary-General, 15 sanctions regimes are in place – the highest number in the history of the Organization – at a “comparatively modest” cost of under $30 million a year to manage.

Despite the long-standing use of sanctions, Mr. Feltman recalled that the Council had also shown its capacity to “continuously innovate and adjust its sanctions regime” with the “most significant transformation” being the 1994 shift from comprehensive to targeted sanctions, comprising travel bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes, bans on the trade of commodities (diamonds, coal, wildlife products, charcoal), restrictions on items, material, equipment, goods and technology related to nuclear ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction programmes, as well as bans on the export of certain luxury goods.

In addition, the 1999 introduction of sanctions monitoring groups formed the basis of another “important innovation” leading to the 11 monitoring groups, teams and panels currently working world-wide in support of the Security Council and its sanctions committees.

Nevertheless, he explained that much work was to be done to raise the awareness of Member States that UN sanctions are meant to be “supportive not punitive.”

“They are not meant to cripple states but to help them overcome instability, address massive human rights violations, curb illegal smuggling, and counter terrorism,” he told the Council members.

“Some Member States already do understand this and have requested the Security Council to adopt, fine-tune or strengthen targeted measures, to support their fragile political transitions and national reconciliation efforts. Many others request the Council to strengthen targeted measures to help protect against terrorism and other illicit activities.”

At the same time, Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL’s Secretary-General, briefed the Council on his organization’s role in enhancing sanctions implementation through its global law enforcement network.

“INTERPOL supports the implementation of UN sanctions by enhancing the quality of information available to the sanctions Committees,” Mr. Stock told delegates.

“In addition to this support, INTERPOL also assists in the effective implementation of specific UN sanctions, related to individuals – such as the travel ban and asset freezing – and goods – like the arms embargo and illegal natural resource exploitation,” he explained.

Mr. Stock outlined how his agency remained keen on hearing new ideas on how to improve sanctions implementation and emphasized the importance of strengthening INTERPOL’s alliance with the UN.

To that point, in his briefing, Mr. Feltman delineated a series of proposals for the Council’s consideration on how to better coordinate the sanctions process, including the increased use of assessment missions to take stock of the impact of sanctions; the expansion of the relevant designation criteria to address specific human rights violations; the creation of a “clear and standardized listing/delisting framework;” and the strengthening of due process when considering the designation of individuals and entities.

“More work is also needed to provide assistance to Member States implementing UN sanctions. This will clearly take effort and resources,” he continued. “And some more work is needed to take into greater account the rights of individuals, entities and Member States designated for targeted measures.”

He acknowledged, however, that despite the improvements and updates required, the UN’s sanctions regime still functioned accordingly.

“UN sanctions, in short, work,” he said.

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