Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence



1. The Government recently completed a wide-ranging review of sanctions policy, details of which were announced to Parliament on 15 March.

2. The review noted that sanctions have long been an important tool of the UK's foreign policy and concluded that they were likely to remain so. Sanctions are the only coercive measure available to the international community, other than the threat or use of force, to respond to challenges to international peace and security. If diplomacy fails there needs to be a third choice between doing nothing and military intervention.

3. The review also noted that sanctions, particularly comprehensive ones, could be a blunt instrument. They could take a long time to achieve their objectives; and, in the absence of appropriate humanitarian exemptions, could cause human suffering. The review's main conclusion therefore was that there was a need for better targeted "smarter sanctions".


4. The Government's review concluded that comprehensive sanctions should be reserved for occasions when the behaviour of the target regime justifies the toughest measures. Otherwise a targeted package of measures should be preferred.

5. The review concluded that although the circumstances in which sanctions are imposed vary from case to case, there are a number of broad principles that should normally 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.

6. The Government supports the work being done under the auspices of the Swiss Government (the Interlaken process) on the targeting of financial sanctions. It welcomes too the proposal of the German Government to hold a conference on the targeting of small-arms sanctions, travel sanctions and other non-financial sanctions. In a related initiative the Department for International Development intends to follow up the seminar it recently sponsored on the search for smarter sanctions by commissioning studies on how to maximise the benefit of humanitarian exemptions in sanctions regimes.


7. Targeted sanctions, designed to hit the regime rather than ordinary people, should minimise the humanitarian impact and reduce the need for humanitarian exemptions. The Government believes that the humanitarian impact of all sanctions must be taken into account before sanctions are undertaken; and that sanctions should only be introduced where there is a reasonable prospect of success in achieving the international community's objectives without disproportionate humanitarian cost. Account should also be taken of both the short-term and long-term consequences of sanctions on the population, including on their economic and development prospects.

8. The Government notes that it has been the practice of the United Nations Security Council for some years to agree humanitarian exemptions when new sanctions regimes are introduced, even when the sanctions imposed are carefully targeted. For example United Nations Security Council resolutions 748 and 883 imposed a range of sanctions against Libya including an arms embargo, a flight ban and prohibition on aviation goods and services, a ban on certain oil-export equipment, and a freeze on Libyan Government funds. The freeze on funds did not however apply to revenue from the sale of oil or agricultural products, thus minimising the humanitarian impact of the measure. And the flight ban provided for humanitarian exemptions ("medevacs"). The Government supports this trend. The Government also supports the recent note by the President of the Security Council which included recommendations on ways to improve the working of humanitarian exemptions.

9. The only comprehensive sanctions regime in operation is that against Iraq. Humanitarian exemptions allowing for the export of medicine and food were included from the outset. Exemptions for essential civilian need were soon added. The UN's "oil for food" programme under which Iraq is permitted to sell set amounts of oil to fund the purchase of food, medicines, other humanitarian goods and equipment and spare parts to repair the civilian infrastructure has been in place since 1996, although a similar scheme was offered to the Iraqis as early as 1991. Since mid-1998 Iraq has also been allowed to purchase equipment and spare parts for the rehabilitation of its oil industry. Britain has taken the lead since l991 in piloting the oil for food programme through the Security Council, initially by drafting Resolutions 706 and 712 which first proposed the programme,and then by drafting SCR 986 and its successors which set up the programme and expanded it.

10. The oil for food programme has improved nutrition and the availability of medical supplies in Iraq and helped to slow the deterioration of the Iraqi infrastructure. It would have been more successful but for the failure of the Iraqi government to maximise the benefits of the programme. The government of Iraq refuses, despite constant encouragement from the UN, to properly prioritise what it purchases for the humanitarian programme, to target the programme towards the most vulnerable, or to improve the distribution system for humanitarian goods inside Baghdad-controlled Iraq. Over half the medicines and medical supplies which have arrived in Iraq since the start of the oil for food programme (worth $275m) remain in warehouses undelivered. Meanwhile the Iraqi leadership seeks to blame the sanctions for the shortage of medicines.

11. The Government accepts that the oil for food programme is not fully meeting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people (though it was only ever supposed to supplement the Government of Iraq's provision). Britain is therefore spearheading efforts at the UN to identify ways that it can be improved. Ideas we have put forward in proposals to the UN Humanitarian Panel and now in a draft Resolution include:

 — increasing the money in the programme, by removing the limit on the value of oil which Iraq is allowed to produce and bringing Iraq's illegal oil exports into the programme;

 — ensuring more effective use of funds in the programme, and better distribution arrangements, to meet Iraq's priority humanitarian needs;

 — temporary diversion of funds from the Compensation Commission to the oil for food programme;

 — speeding up procedures at the UN by delegating authority to approve food and basic medical contracts from the Sanctions Committee to the Secretariat;

 — increasing value for money from the programme and stimulating the local economy by allowing 986 money to be used to purchase locally produced goods rather than import them from abroad as at present; and

 — allowing local expenditure to repair infrastructure.

12. The Government review of sanctions recognised that there was a danger that target regimes might inhibit the effectiveness of humanitarian exemptions for propaganda purposes, or manipulate and divert them to their own advantage to undermine the sanctions regime as a whole. The review also concluded that the international community should, where possible, monitor and ensure the implementation of exemptions on the ground.


13. The Government recognises that sanctions may affect "third countries" in addition to the target state. The seriousness of the impact will depend on a number of factors. Neighbouring states are often the hardest hit, but major trading partners of the sanctioned regime will also be affected. In some cases the international community may consider it appropriate to compensate countries for the negative impact on them of sanctions imposed on another country. The Government believes that the international community should consider requests from affected countries for support on a case by case basis.

14. The Government does not support, however, proposals for the establishment of an automatic compensation mechanism under Article 50 of the Charter. The Government adheres to the principle that there should be no right to compensation for discharging mandatory UN obligations. Instead the Government considers that the International Financial Institutions are best placed to assess the exact needs of countries which have been hit by the imposition of sanctions against a third party. With the assistance of the IMF and World Bank a number of states neighbouring the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia received substantial assistance tailored to their needs as a result of the impact of the sanctions imposed on the FRY in 1993-95. Egypt, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries have also received substantial bilateral aid in recognition of the impact on their economies of sanctions against Iraq.


15. The Government believes that the effectiveness of a sanctions regime will be enhanced by effective arrangements for implementation and enforcement by all states, especially by neighbouring countries. The Government welcomes the emphasis on implementation and enforcement in the recent paper note by the President of the Security Council on the work of the Sanctions Committees. The UK is playing a leading role in the work being undertaken by the Angola Sanctions Committee to tighten the enforcement of the measures imposed by the Security Council against UNITA in its resolutions 864, 1127 and 1173. The Security Council recently endorsed a report by the Committee which contained a series of recommendations. These included inviting neighbouring countries to give their views on how the embargo could be tightened and urging potential donors to consider assisting them in their implementation of sanctions against UNITA. The UK will work through the Committee, and will contribute to the funding of expert studies, to ensure that these recommendations are implemented.

16. The Government also considers it essential for humanitarian exemptions to be monitored and effectively implemented. The Department for International Development is ready to contribute, in collaboration with the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to strengthening the analytical capacity of the UN Secretariat so that it can provide better advice to the Security Council on humanitarian exemptions when new sanctions regimes or modifications to existing ones, are under consideration. To improve the enforcement of humanitarian exemptions it can help build up local understanding of, and capacity to implement, humanitarian exemptions. The importance of taking account of the impact of sanctions on especially vulnerable groups, such as women and children, argues for strengthening collaboration with, and being prepared to assist, relevant UN agencies such as UNICEF.

17. The Government believes that particular care should be taken in the drafting of UN Security Council resolutions (and other texts imposing sanctions, eg EC Regulations) to seek to ensure common agreement on the precise scope of the sanctions, including—if relevant—a tight definition of any goods or services subject to sanctions. This will make it easier for national authorities to draft appropriate legislation—and for national enforcement authorities to enforce them—and will promote consistent application across all countries.

18. In some cases it may be necessary for the international community to set up an international enforcement mechanism, as happened in the case of the comprehensive sanctions imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslav in 1993. The activities of the Maritime Interdiction Force in the Gulf, in which the UK participates, are authorised by a Security Council resolution.


19. The UK generally interprets international arms embargoes to apply to all goods and technology listed in Part III of Schedule 1 to the Export of Goods (Control) Order (1994) as amended, generally known as the Military list. Applications to export dual-use goods to a destination subject to an international arms embargo continue to be considered on a case by case basis unless, as in the case of Iraq, wider sanctions are in force or HMG has made some wider commitment. The effect on development of a ban on trade in dual-use goods as part of an arms embargo is therefore unlikely to be significant.


20. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office leads within Whitehall on sanctions policy. But many other Government Departments also have an interest in sanctions issues, including Customs and Excise, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Department for International Development, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Export Credits Guarantee Department, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury (for whom the Bank of England act as agents on financial sanctions). The FCO is responsible for consulting other Departments as appropriate on issues relating to sanctions against specific countries. The Cabinet Office has a role in coordinating inter-Departmental consideration of wider sanctions issues when required.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

May 1999

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