Ombudsperson Chastises the UNSC over Targeted Sanctions Regimes

I saw today a report of a presentation given to the UN Security Council by the Ombudsperson of the UNSC’s Resolution 1267 Committee (hat tip to Maya Lester over at the excellent European Sanctions blog). You can see the full text of the Ombudsperson’s report here.  The issue of human rights related due process and UNSC sanctions, particularly in the nuclear nonproliferation area, is one I’ve written about before here a number of times, noting the various court judgments in the EU annulling EU sanctions adopted pursuant to UNSC directives.  I think this new Ombudsperson’s report is important in bringing the fundamental human rights issues involved to broader attention. As Judge Prost says in her report:

While international law in this area continues to evolve, from experience one point is clear. A review of the relevant jurisprudence, as well as interaction with human rights officials, courts and bodies conveys a clear and consistent message. The imposition of targeted sanctions which directly affect the rights of individuals and entities, without the availability of an independent review mechanism which can deliver an effective remedy, is a practice inconsistent with fundamental human rights obligations.
She also gives a number of recommendations for how the UNSC can improve its sanctions regimes. Highly recommended reading.

3 Comments on “Ombudsperson Chastises the UNSC over Targeted Sanctions Regimes”

  1. ZHENG Xi (Brooke) says:

    Thanks for drawing people’s attention to sanctions by this post and by several links provided in this post. As a human rights law student, I personally oppose strongly to overly used sanctions.

    One popular international relations view regards sanctions as one of the methods that really can push countries to comply with international community decisions. They argue that due to a lack of enforcement mechanism in international law, countries have to leverage economic and diplomatic tools to force some countries to act in accordance with “international norms.” Maybe in some situations, sanctions worked, such as the Apartheid South Africa. However, while achieving political goals, one should also take into consideration the effect of sanctions on individuals.

    Economic sanctions might have big influence on the sanctioned regime. But it has even more impact on individuals of that regime. Government leaders, especially in authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, do not care much for individuals’ livelihood. They would hang on under sanctions in order to achieve their political goals. Iran has been sanctioned since 1979, but there had not been any significant changes to Iran’s political stance up until recent few years. However, Iranian people have suffered tremendously. One report by the Global Research points out that sanctions has largely decreased the standard of living in Iran and caused huge human rights violations. (See: According to this report, new sanctioned imposed on Iran since 2006 have “acutely decreased Iranian people’s access to commodities and major services, including medicine and treatment.” Right to health and essential medical treatment is among fundamental human rights which is prescribed in the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. However, due to sanctions, Iranian people have only very limited access to medicine and treatment. Therefore, before putting sanctions on others, countries should consider what they might bring to individuals living in sanctions.

    It is a positive sign that European court have started to question these sanctions and bring higher human rights standard to the world. These precedences could serve as postivie push for international community’s reflection on sanctions and could increase awareness of impacts on individuals in sanctioned regimes.

  2. Megan M says:

    Thank you for posting this. I think the Ombudsperson’s report highlights significant issues with the current UNSC sanctions system, and it is an important step forward in creating international enforcement mechanisms that are informed by a human rights approach.

    I agree that the UNSC sanctions system is severely lacking in transparency. While developed countries such as the US preach to developing countries about the rule of law, due process and transparency, they fail to implement these concepts on an international level. The UNSC sanction decision-making process must be based upon reliable evidence and due process. There must also be a permanent independent review mechanism available for individuals facing targeted sanctions. If powerful states such as the US insist upon the adoption of such principles of the rule of law in states such as Iran, they must also be prepared to implement these principles at the international level.

    Although the Ombudsperson’s comments represent a significant step towards the integration of a human rights approach in the UNSC sanctions system, I think sanctions remain an important instrument that states may resort to in order to pressure actors into complying with international norms. In my opinion, it would be unrealistic to abandon the sanctions system because of the impact that it has on individuals. Where diplomacy and negotiations have failed, sanctions seem to be the next most effective mechanism to pressure states into complying with international norms. Where a state has failed to comply with international law, and poses a threat to international security, sanctions may be a useful tool, particularly where states may be tempted to turn to the threat or use of force to resolve the situation. However, the UNSC must consider the Ombudsperson’s report, and must ensure that the sanctions decision-making process remains effective, while respecting fundamental human rights such as the right to due process.

  3. Dawn says:

    Thank you Dr Joyner for your enlightening post.

    I think it is past time that the international community ensured that the UNSC does not overstep its jurisdiction in adopting sanctions that clearly have a huge detrimental impact to local populations. The Global Policy Forum has identified limitations to sanctions in human rights law and humanitarian law, which I find most convincing; (para 30-38, they have also developed a six-prong test in evaluating sanctions which I believe to be a good standard from which to consider whether the UNSC, as per Fassbender, is fulfilling its duty to “balance the general and particular interests which are at stake. Every measure having a negative impact on human rights and freedoms of a particular group or category of persons much be necessary and proportionate to the aim the measure is meant to achieve.”

    Hope you have a lovely day today.

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