There used to be a thriving export business for monuments and statues of world leaders in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In November 2016, the Security Council banned the trade as part of a series of sanctions intended to halt the east-Asian nation’s nuclear tests and launches using ballistic missile technology. At the time, then-United States Ambassador Samantha Power said that exports such as “two statues for which Robert Mugabe paid $5 million … and countless others found around the world generate tens of millions of dollars for the regime.” The Council has also prohibited the sale of charcoal from Somalia to disrupt its use as a source of revenue for Al-Shabaab. It has imposed similar prohibitions in the past on the illicit diamond trade sourced from Africa. Measures such as these take into account specific national and regional contexts, imposing financial repercussions on those flouting international law.
Security Council sanctions can be broadly defined as restrictions on military, economic or political action. They are not meant to be punitive but aim rather at countering terrorism, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and facilitating political settlements in countries emerging from conflict. Sanctions regimes primarily comprise of arms embargoes, asset freezes and travel bans. They may include bans on equipment and technology related to weapons of mass destruction and can also cover a range of highly specific financial activities, such as bans on luxury goods and commodities.
When used effectively, sanctions can be a powerful means to encourage Member States to abide by their global responsibilities. That authority comes from the Charter of the United Nations, which stipulates that “The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures.” Sanctions are often also deployed alongside mediation efforts and peacekeeping operations, among other measures.
Sanctions are meant to be temporary and should be terminated once their stated objectives have been achieved. The Council imposed its first sanctions regime in 1966 against the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), while the sanctions regime on Somalia is the Council’s oldest still in existence, dating back to 1992.
Current sanctions regimes, committees and expert panels
There are 14 ongoing sanctions regimes, including in Somalia, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur (Sudan), DPRK, Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Yemen, South Sudan and Mali. There are also sanctions regimes that focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaida, another focusing on individuals associated with the Taliban that may constitute a threat to the peace and security of Afghanistan. Another has been imposed on individuals designated as suspected of involvement in the 14 February 2005 terrorist bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.
Each sanctions regime is managed by a Committee chaired by a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Committees are considered to be subsidiary organs of the Council. In addition, there are 10 monitoring groups, teams and panels of experts that support the work of 11 of the 14 sanctions committees. The Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD) in the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) is responsible for assisting the Security Council in the design, implementation and evaluation of these sanctions regimes. The first assessment of sanctions regimes conducted by the Secretary-General was carried out in September 2014. Recent requests by the Council to the Secretary-General include assessments of the sanctions imposed on Somalia, Libya, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, and South Sudan. Upcoming reports are expected on Libya and Somalia, as well as further reports on the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Sanctions lists and de-listing mechanisms
The Council also maintains individual Committee sanctions lists (and a consolidated list) of those individuals and entities that are subject to sanctions. There are 710 individuals and 293 groups or organizations under sanctions.
Member States may at any time submit to the relevant sanction committees requests for delisting of individuals or entities. In addition, individuals and entities on the ISIL (Da’esh)/Al-Qaeda Sanctions List can submit a de-listing request directly through the Office of the Ombudsperson to the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. Individuals and entities on other sanctions lists can submit their requests through the United Nations Secretariat.
Exemptions from sanctions
The Council includes exemption measures in sanctions regimes to ensure that sanctions are targeted and do not have negative consequences. The most common type of exemptions relates to arms embargoes, asset freezes or travel ban measures. A sanctioned individual may have access to funds, for example, to pay for basic expenses such as food, housing and medical treatment. Under a travel ban, exceptions can be made when an individual is required to travel to attend judicial proceedings or to return to his or her country of nationality.
In certain cases, sanctions committees issue “assistance notices” to help Member States and others understand and use these exemptions. For example, the DPRK sanctions committee has issued guidelines for obtaining humanitarian exemptions in order to facilitate the work of humanitarian actors.
Private sector engagement
The private sector, especially the financial sector, has an important role to play in the effective implementation of Security Council sanctions, while ensuring that legitimate financial or commercial activities may continue unimpeded. Over the past several years, SCAD has held various informal meetings with financial organizations involved in implementing asset freezes and other targeted measures.
Title photo: Security Council Extends Yemen Sanctions Regime (23 February, 2017). The Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2342 (2017), extending until 26 February 2018 sanctions on those threatening stability in Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.