Select Committee on International Development Second Report


The International Development Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



Following a ten-month inquiry into the future of sanctions, the International Development Committee has concluded that, although sanctions may well represent a low-cost alternative to war in financial terms, they are all too often as damaging — in humanitarian and developmental terms — as armed conflict. The Committee is particularly concerned at the impact of comprehensive economic sanctions and regional sanctions regimes.

Those who should be targeted, the political leaders and elites who have flouted international law, continue to enrich themselves. Much discussion has taken place of targeted sanctions, in particular financial sanctions, as a 'smarter' and more just approach. We conclude, however, that neither the United Kingdom nor the international community have made real efforts to introduce such sanctions. There has been much talk but little action.

Comprehensive Economic Sanctions — Iraq (paras 17-42)

There is a clear consensus that the humanitarian and developmental situation in Iraq has deteriorated seriously since the imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions whilst, at the same time, sanctions have clearly failed to hurt those responsible for past violations of international law as Saddam Hussein and his ruling elite continue to enjoy a privileged existence.

Not all this humanitarian distress is the direct result of the sanctions regime. It appears that Saddam Hussein is quite prepared to manipulate the sanctions regime and the exemptions scheme to his own ends, even if that involves hurting ordinary Iraqi people. This does not, however, entirely excuse the international community from a part in the suffering of Iraqis. A sanctions regime which relies on the good faith of Saddam Hussein is fundamentally flawed.

Whatever the wisdom of the original imposition of sanctions, careful thought must now be given as to how to move from the current impasse without giving succour to Saddam Hussein and his friends. Any move away from comprehensive sanctions should go hand in hand with measures designed to target the real culprits, not the poor of Iraq but their leadership. Possibilities include a concerted attempt to target and either freeze or sequester the assets of Saddam Hussein and those connected to him, and the indictment of Saddam Hussein and his close associates as war criminals.

We find it difficult to believe that there will be a case in the future where the UN would be justified in imposing comprehensive economic sanctions on a country. In an increasingly interdependent world such sanctions cause significant suffering. However carefully exemptions are planned, the fact is that comprehensive economic sanctions only further concentrate power in the hands of the ruling elite. The UN will lose credibility if it advocates the rights of the poor whilst at the same time causing, if only indirectly, their further impoverishment.

Regional Sanctions Regimes (paras 43-50)

Regional sanctions regimes have also resulted in catastrophic humanitarian consequences, most notably in the cases of Burundi and Sierra Leone. In both cases regional governments or organisations failed to ensure that humanitarian goods and services were allowed into the countries. The UN has a duty to monitor regional sanctions regimes and intervene when human rights are ignored or humanitarian needs neglected. The Committee criticises the UN for failing to intervene promptly when regional sanctions against Burundi and Sierra Leone were obviously failing to take account of humanitarian needs.

Improving Sanctions (paras 60-142)

The Committee has considered a number of proposals to make sanctions "smarter". These include financial sanctions and arms embargoes.


If sanctions are to be retained as a credible instrument of foreign policy, they must increasingly seek to target the assets of specific groups or individuals responsible for breaches of international law. The Committee has found that whilst targeted financial sanctions appear to be workable, there remain serious practical difficulties in the tracking and location of financial transactions. At an international level, we find it totally unacceptable that there is no individual or body with overall responsibility for targeting financial sanctions. Major efforts will be needed to ensure that policy objectives are translated into practice including significant advances in intelligence gathering procedures, technical capacity and political will. The Committee recommends that the United Kingdom argue and gather support for the establishment of a properly staffed and financed sanctions unit within the United Nations to receive and coordinate information on the enforcement of financial sanctions.

At a national level, the Committee has yet to be convinced that enough effort is being expended by the United Kingdom Government to ensure that financial sanctions are effectively designed and rigorously implemented. The United Kingdom is a world financial centre and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. If the United Kingdom does not take financial sanctions seriously, this fatally weakens the prospects for effective international action. The Committee recommends that an Office of Foreign Assets Control, on similar lines to that in the USA, be set up in the United Kingdom.


The Committee has heard that, despite the imposition of sanctions on the sale of diamonds from and arms to UNITA, Jonas Savimbi has earned between US$3 and US$4 billion from the sale of diamonds over the past eight years and has been receiving between five and seven supply flights each evening. The failure to enforce effectively the sanctions regime against UNITA is a scandal which must be urgently addressed by the international community.

The international community must give a higher priority to enforcing arms embargoes in regions affected by conflict. Whilst the Committee welcomes the extra priority that the Government is now giving to intelligence gathering in this regard, other UN member states should be encouraged to be more active in the monitoring and enforcement of UN sanctions regimes.


The current debate on the future of sanctions is a welcome product of the renewed international commitment to the political, economic and social rights of the poor. We are convinced that these rights are infringed by the blunt instrument of comprehensive economic sanctions and find it difficult to believe that there will be a case in the future where the UN would be justified in imposing comprehensive economic sanctions on a country. To target sanctions against those truly responsible, to gather the necessary intelligence and invest in the required technology, require an internationally coordinated investment of both money and effort. The United Kingdom must take a lead by putting in place a system which can target and monitor sanctions effectively, instead of the present, somewhat casual approach. As importantly, the United Nations should convene an international conference to ensure a global commitment to a fairer and more effective sanctions policy.

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Prepared 10 February 2000