For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2545
Release Date:  18 April 2000
 Secretary-General Reviews Lessons Learned During ‘Sanctions Decade’
In Remarks to International Peace Academy Seminar

  NEW YORK, 17 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the opening remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Peace Academy Seminar on Sanctions, in New York on 17 April:

 I am very pleased to join you this morning for a seminar on an issue of critical importance to the United Nations: the role and importance of sanctions. Sanctions are a serious business, and only by improving their effectiveness can we hope to see them used better in the future.

 Allow me at the outset to commend the authors of the study launched today named “The Sanctions Decade”. They have produced not just a compelling title, but also an incisive analysis. Indeed, the world may well conclude that the use of sanctions as an instrument of the Security Council, and of Member States, was one of the defining characteristics of the post-cold war era.

 I am gratified that Canada during its term as member of the Security Council, and the International Peace Academy (IPA) under the innovative leadership of David Malone, are devoting so much time and resources to tackling this question. During the “Sanctions Decade”, the United Nations established more sanctions regimes than ever before. This by itself is enough to justify this study. Sanctions offer the Security Council an important instrument to enforce its decisions. 

 They represent more than just verbal condemnation and less than the use of armed force. Traditionally, the range of sanctions available has included arms embargoes, the imposition of trade and financial restrictions, interruption of relations by air and sea, and diplomatic isolation. Usually, the objective has been to change in specific ways the behaviour of a government or regime which posed a threat to international peace and security, and, in a conflict situation, to diminish the capacity of the protagonists to sustain a prolonged fight. 

 However, just as we recognize the importance of sanctions as a way of compelling compliance with the will of the international community, we also recognize that sanctions remain a blunt instrument, which hurt large numbers of people who are not their primary targets. Further, sanctions need refining if they are to be seen as more than a fig leaf in the future. Hence, the recent emphasis on targeted sanctions which prevent the travel, or freeze the foreign bank accounts, of individuals or classes of individuals -- the so-called “smart sanctions”.

 As Minister Axworthy notes in his foreword to this book, “too often sanctions have been a substitute for more resolute action and sustainable solutions”, and often “getting sanctions right has been a less compelling goal than getting sanctions adopted”. 

 The record of the “Sanctions Decade” has raised serious doubts not only about the effectiveness of sanctions, but also about their scope and severity when innocent civilians often become victims not only of their own government, but of the actions of the international community as well.

 The Secretariat has undertaken a review of lessons learned from recent sanctions regimes, focusing in particular on the need to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of sanctions, while improving the targeting of elites. The review has also illustrated the need for credible monitoring mechanisms for sanctions regimes, and the importance of having the necessary resources to effectively administer them.

 The "Sanctions Decade" provides a number of critical lessons. As we have seen most recently in the report on the Angola sanctions regime, the proliferation of actors on the international scene has rendered traditional regimes incomplete and vulnerable to new threats. In the case of Iraq, a sanctions regime which enjoyed considerable success in its disarmament mission has also been accused of worsening a humanitarian crisis as its unintended consequence. And in the case of the Bosnian war, we witnessed an arms embargo which was seen by many States as favouring the aggressor and effectively denying a Member State its Charter right to self-defence.

 More generally, in other cases, little if any effort has gone into setting up regimes to monitor or enforce sanctions, which have therefore proved ineffective as a result of widespread violations. And in some cases, neighbouring countries that bear much of the economic and trading loss from compliance have not been compensated by the rest of the international community and, as a result, have allowed sanctions to become porous. 

 Article 50 of the Charter makes clear that neighbours confronted, and I quote, “with special economic problems arising from carrying out” enforcement measures, have a special role in the ultimate resolution of the problems. I wish to underline this principle, because I believe not enough serious attention has been paid to the impact on neighbours and trading partners, nor on compensating victims of sanctions regimes who are the unintended victims of these measures.

 This brings me to a larger, but I believe equally important challenge, namely the general lack of understanding and skepticism in the general public about the rationale and usefulness of sanctions. This skepticism is, of course, most pronounced among populations of States against whom sanctions are imposed. But even among non-sanctioned States, there appears a growing distrust of this instrument, and its ability to bring about change at a fair cost.

 We at the United Nations and in the international community at large need to make greater efforts to ensure that when sanctions are imposed against a Member State, we are able to make a clear and convincing case for their necessity and their ultimate aim.

 When robust and comprehensive economic sanctions are directed against authoritarian regimes, a different problem is encountered. Then, tragically, it is usually the people who suffer, not the political elites whose behaviour triggered the sanctions in the first place. 

 Indeed those in power not only transfer the cost to the less privileged, but perversely often benefit from such sanctions by their ability to control and profit from black market activity, by controlling the distribution of the limited resources, and by exploiting them as a pretext for eliminating domestic sources of political opposition. In some cases, the existence of a sanctions regime has transformed a society for the worse, as sanctions-evaders, smugglers and the like rise to the top of the socio-economic ladder because of their skill at manipulating the situation to their advantage.

 It is clear that the last decades’ proliferation of sanctions regimes and the diverse range of purposes for which they were employed have imposed on the international community a heavy obligation to ensure that this instrument is employed with great care and a clear understanding of its effects, both intended and unintended. 

 The Security Council has in recent years begun to ask for an assessment of the humanitarian impact of sanctions before voting to impose them. It is my hope that the Council later today and into the future will take a broader look at the issues which arise in respect of sanctions regimes, and that it will take into account recent Swiss and German studies aimed at improving targeted financial sanctions and arms embargoes.

 But allow me to suggest that it is not enough merely to make sanctions “smarter”. The challenge is to achieve consensus about the precise and specific aims of the sanctions, adjust the instruments accordingly and then provide the necessary means. This requires, on the part of the Security Council and Member States, a willingness not only to tackle technical operational questions, but also the broader political questions of how best we ensure the fullest and broadest compliance with the will of the international community on the part of recalcitrant States.

 I recognize that this is a challenging agenda, but I raise it because I believe we cannot hope that sanctions will succeed until we are willing and able to address the larger questions as well. It is simply not good enough to adopt sanctions as the first and easiest line of response and then hope for the best. Sanctions are not something that you can “fire and forget”. That much, at least, the Sanctions Decade has taught us. 

 I am confident that this seminar will help arrive at answers to these questions, and I wish you all success in your deliberations.

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