UN sanctions not blunt instruments

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United Nations (UN) Security Council (SC) sanctions are no longer blunt instruments having transformed since the 1990s into “a vital tool” minimising negative consequences for civilians and States not directly targeted.

This message from Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary A DiCarlo was delivered to the SC this week during a debate on sanctions focussing on unintended consequences, especially in the humanitarian context.

She told the top UN body there are currently 14 SC sanctions regimes in place worldwide.

These sanctions measures support conflict resolution in Libya, Mali, South Sudan and Yemen; deter unconstitutional changes of government in countries including Guinea Bissau and curb illicit exploitation of natural resources to fund the activities of armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia.

The UN political affairs chief said sanctions “are not an end in themselves.”

“To be effective, sanctions should be part of a comprehensive political strategy, working in tandem with direct political dialogue, mediation, peacekeeping and special political missions.”

In recent years, the SC attempted to avoid adverse consequences for civilian populations and third-party states DiCarlo said.

In cases of arms embargoes, for instance, exemptions are routinely granted for importing non-lethal equipment needed for humanitarian relief.

With travel bans, exemptions are provided for medical or religious reasons or to participate in peace processes. Exemptions for asset freezes allow payment for food, utilities or medicines.

The SC created standing humanitarian exemptions in Somalia and Afghanistan, as well as case-by-case exemptions in Libya, Yemen and DPRK.

Sanctions are “continually adjusted” in response to changes on the ground, DiCarlo said, pointing out termination of sanctions against Eritrea and a significant narrowing down the terms of an arms embargo in the CAR.

The last 10 years showed sanctions do more than limit the influx of arms and ammunition or financing armed groups. Almost all regimes now try to uphold international humanitarian standards.

In 2020, for example, humanitarian obligations helped release abducted women and children from military bases in South Sudan and in DRC it opened the way to negotiate the release of children by armed groups.