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According to Article 41 of the UN Charter, the Security Council may call on Member States to “apply measure not involving the use of armed force to give effects to its decisions.” These measures are sanctions, which are meant to enforce international law. Sanctions have the potential to be an important and effective policy tool, and in some cases they have had positive results.

Typically, sanctions target trade and investments, which prevent the targeted country from participating in the global marketplace. In some cases, the sanctions are aimed at particular items, like arms or oil. Furthermore, they can cut off air traffic, suspend or drastically curtail diplomatic relations, block movement of persons, bar investments, or freeze international bank deposits. However, sanctions have also been controversial for a variety of reasons, despite being seen as a “peaceful” means of enforcing international law.

Increasingly, critics charge that sanctions are cruel, unfair and even violent. International law has developed no standards on which sanctions can be based or their destructive impact. Ironically, then, sanctions are used to enforce law, but themselves are outside acceptable standards of law. Furthermore, the populations of targeted countries often bear the burden of the sanctions while the governments they are directed at are able to deflect the negative impacts.

As a result of humanitarian concerns over imposing sanctions on entire countries, the Council has developed “targeted sanctions” aimed directly at elite interests and specific individuals in “recalcitrant” countries as a new method. While all UN sanctions are “targeted” in the sense that they are directed at a specific country or group, sanctions on individuals seeks to prevent harming the general population. This new tool presents new challenges, however, as names of individuals may be unfairly or hastily placed on Council lists. Named persons have little or no recourse if listed unfairly, and listing common names may harm completely innocent persons.

In response to the rising number of legal questions in relation to the 1267 Sanctions Committee on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Security Council created the Office of the Ombudsperson as an independent reviewer of the petitioners who wish to be removed from the sanctions list. More information on the 1267 Committee, the Ombudsperson and targeted sanctions can be found on the pages dedicated to these issues on the Security Council section.

Global Policy Forum has done numerous case studies since it began working on the issue of sanctions. Countries that have had sanctions placed on them include Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia and EritreaIranIraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, North Korea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and the Former Yugoslavia. Each of these sanction regimes have been followed by Global Policy Forum. Our most extensive case study focuses on the sanctions against Iraq, which the Security Council imposed in response to Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.  The economic embargo continued in for thirteen years, and it came to be seen increasingly as unfair and punitive. 

On this page there are general articles, documents and analysis on the older country-focused sanctions as well as links and resources.  On the other pages in this section, there is a discussion of targeted sanctions, and the case study of the Iraq sanctions.

Sanctions: An Analysis

Written by James A. Paul and Senwan Akhtar of Global Policy Forum. This article presents the key issues and challenges surrounding the use of sanctions. Writing before the adoption of "targeted" sanctions, Paul and Akhtar pave the way for the Security Council to adopt more humane, more just and more consistent ways of conducting diplomacy and applying pressure to states. (Global Policy Forum)

Sixteen Policy Recommendations on Sanctions

James A. Paul of Global Policy Forum made these recommendations at a forum of German parliamentarians in Bonn on March 31, 1998. Paul outlines the steps that the Security Council must take in order to make sanctions viable and justifiable. In general, Paul asserts that because sanctions can cause so much harm to innocent people, they are not a tool to be taken lightly. Sanctions therefore must be exclusively multilateral, must only be imposed in situations of last resort, and must above all consider human rights. (Global Policy Forum)

On the Long Road Towards Security Council Accountability: Accessing and Renewing the Ombudsperson (June 2011)

This paper by Nicol Herbert sees the new sanctions Ombudsperson as a unique step towards legal oversight of the Security Council.  For the first time, there is some degree of due process for individuals blacklisted by the 1267 Al Qaeda-Taliban sanctions committee.  Based on a year of practice and comments by the Ombudsperson herself, the paper recommends a number of changes to make the office more responsive to legal standards of due process and more effective at delivering justice.  An impending renewal of the mandate for the office makes the paper especially timely. (Global Policy Forum)

Background Information

Learning from the Sanctions Decade (Summer 2000)

In this comprehensive article, David Cortright and George A. Lopez explore the reasons why the Security Council suddenly began to impose sanctions on numerous countries in a variety of situations during the 1990s. They take note of the effects these sanctions have had on people worldwide and on this basis chart a path for sanctions in the first decade of the 21st century.

Chapter VII of the UN Charter

The legal document that creates sanctions, among more punitive measures, as way for the Security Council to enforce its demands.

International Law and Standards Regarding Sanction Regimes (March 2000)

This paper identifies some of the international legal norms and standards applicable to the international community when applying a sanctions regime. The purpose of this paper is not to take a position with regard to the application of sanctions per se, but to illustrate that when such a regime is applied, it must be in accordance with the human rights and humanitarian principles enshrined in international law. This paper identifies key analyses and recommendations from a number of UN bodies, and also refers to principles articulated in Security Council Resolutions, the United Nations Charter, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other Human Rights conventions. (Peace Action)

Lloyd Axworthy Addresses Security Council on Sanctions (April 17, 2000)

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, addressed the Security Council on the mixed record of sanctions over the past decade and proposed measures to increase effectiveness and limit civilian suffering in the future.

General Articles

2012| 2011| 2010 | 2009 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | Archived Articles


UN Arms Embargoes Busted by Ships from the West (January 30, 2012)

When the UN Security Council imposes economic sanctions and arms embargoes, UN member states are responsible for carrying out the punitive measure. According to a new report by the independent arms control watchdog Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 60 percent of ships that have violated UN sanctions or arms embargoes—such as transfer arms, drugs, or other military equipment—belong to companies in western member states. As the author points out, this is especially problematic because often times it is the western member states that have the capacity to carry out these mandates. (IPS Terraviva)


Sanctions Pose Growing Threat to Syria’s Assad (October 10, 2011)

US and EU sanctions are hurting the Syrian economy and putting pressure on President Bashar al-Assad. Revenues from Syria’s oil and gas exports, which account for up to a third of state revenues, will further shrink in November when a broader EU ban on all imports will come into effect. All sectors of Syrian society, including the business elite, are feeling the strain. When comprehensive sanctions devastated Iraq’s civilian population in the 1990s, popular anger was often directed at the UN and the West, not Saddam Hussein. These events inform today’s international debate over whether sanctions will hurt average Syrians more than the leadership. (New York Times)


US Seeks End of Iraqi Trade Sanctions at Biden-Led UN Meeting (December 7, 2010)

On December 15, US Vice-President Biden will chair the Security Council meeting to discuss the current sanctions on Iraq. The sanctions have been in place since 1991 and were meant to prevent Iraq from acquiring materials for chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The US is seeking an end to these sanctions so that Iraq can improve agriculture and industry that have been stunted by its inability to obtain materials for peaceful development. The US is portraying the effort as recognition of Iraq's progress and new government. China is opposed to lifting sanction on Iraq until the Iraqi government gives the IAEA more access to scrutinize sites in Iraq. (Bloomberg)

UK Blocks Move to Hit Somali Pirates with UN Sanctions (August 10, 2010)

The United Kingdom has delayed the addition of two names to the UN list of individuals targeted with sanctions for involvement in piracy near Somalia. London is apparently investigating the legal implications of Security Council Resolution 1844, which imposes sanctions on individuals who are connected to threats to the "peace, security or stability of Somalia." The asset freeze means that British corporations might be open to prosecution if they made ransom payments that ended up in the hands of listed individuals. Insurers, law firms, and private military corporations would likely be affected the most by these legal considerations. (Reuters)

Even the Dead Can't Get off the UN Terror Blacklist (July 13, 2010)

The UN's extensive "terror blacklist" continues to identify individuals for targeted sanctions, even if they are apparently dead. The list has been at the center of controversy before. Some observers allege that it violates human rights, and others have shown that innocent individuals have been wrongly included. The controversy has intensified amid pressure from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to expedite the removal of deceased individuals. Nonetheless, challenges remain: it is difficult to ensure that the individuals are, indeed, dead, and if they are, that their assets will not be used to fund terrorism. (Washington Post)

Podcast Interview with Yvonne Terlingen on the Creation of the UN Ombudsperson (June 8, 2010)

On June 8, 2010, GPF invited Yvonne Terlingen to discuss the United Nation's targeted sanctions regime and the recent creation of the UN Ombudsperson by the Security Council. The Ombudsperson will serve as a contact point for individuals placed on the UN sanctions list and will carry out independent and impartial investigations into delisting requests. Yvonne Terlingen has served as head of Amnesty International's United Nations Office in New York and has recently written an article on the role of the United States in steering the Security Council's policy on counterterrorism, to be published in the summer edition of Ethics and International Affairs.

Abdelrazik Suit Takes Aim at Ottawa over UN Blacklist (June 8, 2010)

Abousfian Abdelrazik has filed a lawsuit against the Canadian Government after he was wrongfully included on the UN's "blacklist" of alleged terrorists. Abdelrazik was stranded, jailed and tortured in Sudan as the target of a UN travel ban and asset freeze. He remains the target of sanctions despite having been cleared by both Canadian intelligence services and the national police force. He argues that Canada's compliance with the UN targeted sanctions regime violates his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This case illustrates the dubious efficacy and legitimacy of the UN's targeted sanctions. (CTV News)

UN Security Council Seeks an Eminent Individual for an Impossible Job (April 16, 2010)

In December 2009, the Security Council passed Resolution 1904; creating an Ombudsperson's Office to be staffed by an eminent person. The main task of the Ombudsperson is to carry out independent and impartial investigations into delisting requests by persons placed on the Security Council sanctions list. In this article, Joanne Mariner praises the effort by the Security Council to improve the fairness of the listing and delisting processes. However, according to the author the reform still falls short of what is necessary. (FindLaw)
EU and US sanctions against Zimbabwe are weakening democracy in Zimbabwe. The sanctions were imposed back in to 2002 following the human rights violations around the national elections. However, Zimbabwe now has a power-sharing and popularly supported government and the economy is growing and stabilizing. The sanctions prevent Zimbabwe from moving forward and reaching its full potential. One of Zimbabwe's leaders, Morgan Tsvangirai, will travel to the EU this month to petition for the removal of the sanctions. (Guardian)

UN Drops Muslim Brotherhood Figure from 'Terrorist Finance' List (March 17, 2010)

Youssef Nada, a prominent financial and diplomatic representative of an Egypt-based fundamentalist movement, has been quietly dropped from the UN sanctions list. Nada was added to the list after alleged financial ties with Al Qaeda through his companies in Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Bahamas. Nada and his companies, however, remain on the US terrorist-finance sanctions list. This article suggests that the UN's decision to drop Nada from its sanctions list may have been prompted by a proposed mechanism under Swiss law. This mechanism would enable the Swiss government to refuse enforcement of UN sanctions against individuals in circumstances where little is proven against them. (Newsweek)

China Rejects Iran UN Sanctions (January 6, 2010)

The Chinese UN ambassador, Zhang Yesui, has rejected a proposal for UN sanctions against Iran.  This could result in the US and its allies imposing sanctions on Iran without UN backing.  (BBC News)


UN Ombudsman to Weigh No-Fly List Claims (December 17, 2009)

On 17 December 2009, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1904 in which it authorizes the establishment of an ombudsperson. This ombudsperson will receive requests from individuals and entities seeking to be removed from the Security Council sanctions list. This so- called "blacklist" targets sanctions against alleged supporters of the Taliban and al Qaeda and has been heavily criticized for its lack of due process for listed persons. The creation of the ombudsman is a first step in a positive direction. It provides an avenue for individuals and entities seeking a de-listing to present their cases to an independent and impartial officer. (CBC News)

Dead Men on UN Terror List Hinder Global Fight Against Al-Qaeda (December 3, 2009)

At least 42 dead people and 69 defunct companies are among the 500 names on the UN's list of alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters. This seriously mars the legitimacy of the list and makes it more difficult for member states to apply sanctions on suspected individuals and organizations. The list has proven difficult to update, as all 15 Security Council members must agree to add or remove any person or company from the register. (Bloomberg)
United Nations Panels of Experts are small, civilian, fact-finding teams appointed by the UN Security Council to monitor the effectiveness of targeted sanctions. However, the valuable information the experts produce does not necessarily translate into member state or Security Council action. This study, by the Stimson Center, argues that Panel efforts deserve greater attention from and use by the United Nations to improve implementation of targeted sanctions, which in turn could help peace-building. (Stimson Center)


The Security Council's Targeted Sanctions Regimes: In Need of Better Protection of the Individual (December 2007)

This Leiden Journal of International Law article notes that the Security Council's targeted sanctions contain serious procedural flaws. The Council can arbitrarily place individuals on a sanctions list, without giving them access to evidence against them or the right to appeal. The article recommends that the UN establish an independent and impartial sanctions organ, with the power to review petitions for delisting.


UN Approves Appeals over Terrorism Blacklist (December 21, 2006)

The UN Security Council adopted an appeal procedure for the delisting of individuals accused of terrorist activities from UN sanctions. Individuals will now be able to present their case for removal from the lists without depending solely on their government. Yet, they will still not have a right to participate in the review process by the Security Council. Human Rights advocates welcomed the resolution as a step forward, but argued that the US-drawn procedures remain far from attaining human rights standards, as they leave the final decision in the hands of the same ones who submitted the names in the first place (Wall Street Journal)

The Black Hole of a UN Blacklist (October 2, 2006)

In 1999, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1267 establishing sanctions against presumed terrorists whose names appear on a list. This Wall Street Journal article criticizes the UN listing system, which enables the Council to sanction individuals while denying them any right to defend themselves, thereby violating human rights conventions. While the Security Council can list an individual as a terrorist with alarming ease, only governments can apply to remove someone from the sanctions list.

Interpol Welcomes UN Decision for Enhanced Co-operation (August 10, 2006)

Attempting to improve the efficiency of its sanctions regime, the UN Security Council has unanimously agreed to share all details of individuals under UN sanctions with Interpol for inclusion in its databases. The call for increased cooperation with Interpol follows the joint issuing to Interpol's 184 member countries in December 2005 of Special Notices for individuals targeted by UN sanctions against al Qaeda and the Taliban. (Angola Press)

UN al Qaeda Sanctions Said to Violate Rights (June 23, 2006)

Denmark's foreign minister has warned the UN Security Council that its sanctions lists on al Qaeda and Taliban suspects threaten to undermine the rule of law. Lack of due process and effective oversight in the compiling of sanction lists are compounded by the difficulty of removing names or correcting mistaken identities on the sanctions list. The Security Council adopted a statement that committed it "to ensuring that fair and clear procedures exist for placing individuals and entities on sanctions list and for removing them." (Reuters)

Why China Blocks Sanctions On Iran, Sudan and Burma (June 12, 2006)

Efforts at the UN Security Council to impose economic and military sanctions upon Sudan, Iran and Burma have proved unsuccessful due to China's threat to veto any such resolution. China has strong economic interests in Sudan and Iran - it finds itself increasingly dependent on Sudanese and Iranian oil reserves and enjoys revenues of over one billion dollars a year from exporting weapons to the two countries. "Just as much as the United States and other Western powers protect their own political and military interests worldwide, so does China." (Inter Press Service)


Bombs, Carrots and Sticks: The Use of Incentives and Sanctions (March 2005)

Do sanctions work:  will corrupt governments really comply with the demands of the UN to achieve global integration? This article examines the past success and failure of sanctions and incentives, to better understand how they work. Cortright and Lopez show sanctions are successful when consistent, direct, and backed by multilateral support. They conclude sanctions are best employed alongside the use of positive incentives and vice versa - colloquially named the carrot and stick approach.

Africa Wary of Punitive Sanctions on Member States (March 17, 2005)

Addressing the UN Charter Committee on behalf of the 53-member African Group, Lydia Randrianarivony of Madagascar expressed concern over "the increasing trend in the application of UN sanctions- especially on African countries." Randrianarivony said in most cases sanctions affect the most vulnerable, particularly women and children, and stressed that the Council should only turn to sanctions as a last resort. The call for smart sanctions comes at a time when Council members cannot agree on measures to penalize Sudan over the atrocities in Darfur. (Inter Press Service)

Links and Resources

Targeted Sanctions Project at the Watson Institute, Brown University

The Watson Institute provides in-depth analysis and research on the use of targeted sanctions by the UN Security Council. The Institute also produces valuable statistics on the use of targeted sanctions.

Targeted Sanctions Bibliography

The Watson Institute has also produced this bibliography, which lists essential reading on the the topic of targeted sanctions. The list of external links at the end of this bibliography is particularly extensive.

The Fourth Freedom Forum's Sanctions and Security Research Project

The Sanctions and Security Research Project provides analysis and policy recommendations for sanctions regimes, directed at both unilateral and UN sanctions. Eminent scholars David Cortright and George Lopez are associated with Fourth Freedom, and updates on their work are provided through this website.

The Security Council Committee on Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Also known as the "1267 Committee", this committee was created by the Security Council to monitor the implementation of UN sanctions enforced against members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in resolutions pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1267. The 1267 Committee has debated and analyzed the legal issues pertaining to the use of targeted sanctions, and provides excellent reports on the most minute of matters. For more information on the 1267 Committee, visit our Terrorism page linked above.

GPF Bibliography on Sanctions

This page contains sources used by GPF while working on sanctions issues.


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