Select Committee on International Development Second Report


9. The UK is a member of a number of sanctioning bodies: the UN (a permanent member of the Security Council), EU, OSCE and the Commonwealth; the UK has also, in the past, imposed bilateral sanctions such as the arms embargo imposed on Argentina in 1982 (lifted in December 1998). The UK therefore has an important role to play in the imposition, maintenance, review and lifting of sanctions imposed by those organisations of which it is a member. More importantly, the UK can exercise great influence in determining the nature and scope of sanctions regimes prior to their imposition.

The Government's Review of Sanctions Policy

10. The Government has recently completed a wide-ranging review of sanctions policy, the conclusions of which were announced on 15 March 1999 in a response to a written parliamentary question. In brief, the review noted that sanctions have long been an important tool of UK foreign policy and were likely to remain so[5] but also acknowledged the potential side-effects of sanctions. It concluded that there was a need for better targeted, "smarter sanctions"[6] and set out a number of broad principles that should, in future, be followed — "Sanctions should:

  • be targeted to hit the regime rather than the people;
  • include exemptions to minimise the humanitarian impact on innocent civilians;
  • have clear objectives, including well-defined and realistic demands against which compliance can be judged, and a clear exit strategy;
  • have effective arrangements for implementation and enforcement by all states, especially by neighbouring countries;
  • avoid unnecessary adverse impact on UK economic and commercial interests."[7]

11. A number of witnesses have commented on the Government's review. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), some of which had already sponsored research into the humanitarian impact of sanctions, were not, at any stage, consulted about the Government's review of sanctions, a point made by ActionAid, "We were somewhat disappointed that there was never an opportunity to input any of our conclusions that led out of that research into the Government's review."[8] Similarly, the review was unable to take account of the full conclusions of a seminar funded by DFID and held by the Overseas Development Institute which had examined the issue of smarter sanctions, a point made by Rita Bhatia of Save the Children, "in December last year [1998] there was a conference on Smarter Sanctions organised by the Overseas Development Institute. I believe that DFID were one of the co-sponsors of that. Some of us thought that the report from that conference would feed into the review, but there has not been a report from that conference."[9] Peter Hain, Minister of State, FCO, argued that whilst NGOs were not at any stage formally consulted, his department was in constant contact with interested parties.[10] The fact that NGOs were not allowed the opportunity formally to provide input into the Government's review of sanctions must be regarded as a lost opportunity.

12. Witnesses also expressed concern that the full results of the review had not been published.[11] Tony Brenton, Director, Global Issues, FCO, explained that this was because "there was material covered in the review which would not be helpful to British interests to publish." Since that time, the Government has decided to make the full contents of the review available to the Committee on a confidential basis. In the following paragraphs we respect the confidentiality of the document and limit our discussions of it to general comments. Whilst we found the review a useful assessment of both existing sanctions policy and possible future alternative strategies, we remain concerned that the Government has published insufficient information to allow for an informed debate on international sanctions policy — both within domestic civil society and within multilateral organisations of which the UK is a member. There is still a need for a comprehensive public statement by the Government of its sanctions policy. We recommend that the Government use the opportunity of its response to this Report to make such a statement in a Command Paper.

5   Ev p.1 Back

6   Ev p.1 Back

7   Ev p.1 Back

8   Q.144 Back

9   Q.144 Back

10   Q.742 Back

11   Ev p.38 Back

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