Select Committee on Economic Affairs Second Report


Purposes of sanctions

7.  Sanctions can be applied for a variety of reasons, including to punish or weaken a target, to signal disapproval, to induce a change in policy, or to bring about regime change. They can be imposed to try to avoid war or to pave the way to war. Domestically, they may be aimed at mollifying domestic pressure groups or giving the public the impression of decisive action but without any expectation that the target will suffer significant costs or change its behaviour. In practice, those who apply the sanctions may have multiple objectives, although one objective may be of over-riding importance. Similarly, the primary objective may be ambitious, such as US unilateral sanctions aimed at inducing a target to end its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, as with Libya in 2003, or they may be relatively minor, as in 1999, with UN sanctions aimed at inducing Libya to hand over for trial two of its citizens suspected of involvement in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. Negotiated regime change is an objective that is pursued relatively rarely, and sanctions tend to be used as part of a package of measures. This was the case in 1994 in South Africa, for instance, when apartheid gave way to majority rule.

8.  The UN Security Council imposes mandatory sanctions under articles 39 and 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Article 41 specifies measures that include "complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations". Article 39 states that the purpose of such measures is "to maintain or restore international peace and security".

9.  The EU has a much wider range of formal objectives in relation to sanctions than does the UN. Mr Karel Kovanda, of the External Relations Directorate of the European Commission (EC), quoted the EU sanctions principles as follows:

He added that:

    "It does not exclude autonomous sanctions to promote or preserve the European Union or international security, for example, in instances where the UN Security Council, for political reasons which are well known to all of us, might not be able to reach a decision." (Q 255)

10.  In assessing the impact of sanctions, key analytical issues are measuring success and failure and then separating out the role of sanctions from other policy instruments in that outcome. The simplest situation to analyse is when there is a single over-riding and clear policy goal, when the outcome can be characterised neatly as either complete success or complete failure and when policy-makers relied almost exclusively on sanctions in pursuit of that goal.

11.  However, the evidence we received indicates that influence attempts involving sanctions do not necessarily conform to that pattern. There can be multiple, sometimes competing, policy goals being pursued by different actors; success and failure can be a matter of degree; and sanctions are often combined with diplomacy, incentives and threats of force.

UK sanctions policy principles

12.  The FCO emphasised in its evidence the importance of the 1998 Whitehall Review of Sanctions Policy and the principles derived from that review (p 2). In March 1999, the Government reported to Parliament that the guiding principles of sanctions policy were as follows:

"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 neighbouring countries;

?  avoid unnecessary adverse impact on UK economic and commercial interests."[2]

We took evidence to assess whether the Government's sanctions policy does in practice adhere to these principles.

EU sanctions policy principles

13.  A number of those giving evidence, including Mr Stephen Pattison, Director, International Security, FCO, emphasised the importance of EU sanctions and the statement of principles underpinning EU policy to which the UK subscribes as a Member State (Q 19). These were agreed in 2003 and the latest guidelines were issued in December 2005.[3] In their evidence to us, the EC stated that these public documents:

    "… have been effective in improving EU decision-making in sanctions and in increasing consistency of the use and wording of sanctions instruments. They have also been influential beyond the EU, given that they address issues at a considerable level of detail and represent the consensus view of the 25 Member States. Many states either choose to associate themselves with EU sanctions, or at least follow developments in EU sanctions 9." (p 87)

14.  The EU principles emphasise that objectives should be clear and consistent with overall EU strategy and should respect human rights and fundamental freedoms (including due process) and be proportionate to the objective. They should also have clear criteria for selecting and deselecting targeted persons and entities, and have case-by-case humanitarian exemptions. The EU presents its use of sanctions as being part of an integrated and comprehensive package of measures including diplomacy, incentives and threats of force rather than as alternatives to them.

15.  According to the EU principles, sanctions should be reviewed if relevant political circumstances change, should have a review or expiry date, and should be lifted only when the objectives or specified criteria have been fulfilled. As UN Security Council mandatory resolutions are binding, EU implementations of such resolutions do not have an expiry date and humanitarian exemptions do not exceed those granted by the UN. The EU principles are fully compatible with those enunciated by the Government.

The UN Context

16.  We received much evidence emphasising the significance of the UN in relation to UK sanctions policy.[4] By virtue of its position as a permanent member of the Security Council, and its more general commitment to involvement in these issues, the UK has been a major actor in UN sanctions.

17.  Up to the 1990s, the Security Council had imposed Chapter VII mandatory sanctions only twice—on Southern Rhodesia in 1966 and South Africa in 1977. Since 1990, the UN has imposed such sanctions on Afghanistan, Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and Eritrea, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, North Korea and Iran.[5]

18.  UN sanctions, economic and/or non-economic, continue to be applied to Côte d'Ivoire, the DRC, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, North Korea and Iran. Previous measures against Sudan were lifted, but new ones were put in place in 2005. In the case of Iraq, only some prohibitions related to the sale or supply of arms and related material and trade in cultural property remain. Sanctions on Afghanistan were lifted, but those relating to al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain in force. In addition, the Security Council requires all countries to impose financial freezes on suspected terrorists and their supporters, and to impose financial freezes and travel bans on those suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the murder of 22 other people in February 2005. Sanctions on Burma are currently being considered by the Security Council.

The EU Context

19.  The EC drew attention to the fact that, in addition to enforcing existing UN mandatory sanctions, the EU has an additional 12 "autonomous" sanctions regimes on non-member states or other actors: 16 of the 21 affect trade in goods and services and/or the free movement of capital (Q 253).[6] This means that the UK, as an EU member state, is routinely involved in sanctions outside the UN framework. In recent years, the Government has not formally used sanctions outside of the framework of EU policy, but there are cases, such as in relation to Burma, in which the UK has applied sanctions beyond the agreed EU Common Position. As with the UN, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of sanctions by the EU since 1990, and a number of those giving evidence to the inquiry emphasised the increasing importance of the EU as a sanctioning body.[7]

20.  The EU policy principles state that sanctions should normally be aimed at securing a change in policy in line with the EU Common Position agreed on any particular issue as part of EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), although they can also be used as a preventative measure against terrorism. However, in many cases of EU autonomous sanctions it does not seem to be the case that the EU is seriously trying to bring about policy change in the target state. Instead, it seems that the EU often uses sanctions to symbolise disapproval. It is plausible that the EU could achieve as much, or more, by a simple public declaration of that disapproval.

21.  Lord Renwick argued that "'slap on the wrist' sanctions do more harm than good" (Q 278). The danger is that they begin to symbolise weakness if nothing substantial is achieved and, particularly when there is little multilateral support, it may be the country applying the sanctions rather than the target that appears isolated. Policy-makers should therefore be alert to the possibility that the application of symbolic sanctions may undermine their own credibility.

22.  In addition, it should not be assumed that symbolic sanctions will necessarily assist the domestic opposition in a target state. This needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

23.  Although the EU labels some of its sanctions as "autonomous", this does not alter the fact that they are unilateral sanctions in the sense that they are not authorised by the UN. In his evidence to us, Dr Kern Alexander, of the Judge Business School at Cambridge University, labelled those sanctions as "unilateral". He provided a valuable explanation of their legal basis. He explained that:

    "Member states are also free to adopt their own national sanctions laws against non-EU states insofar as such sanctions do not conflict with express EC policy". (p 28)

This suggests that the EU and the UK can deploy legal justification for their use of unilateral sanctions. Indeed, Dr Alexander pointed out that the UK did so in relation to Argentina after its invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

24.  Mr Jeremy Carver, Head of the Public International Law Group at Clifford Chance, proposed that:

    "Above all, the Government should seek to ensure that sanctions are adopted only where the circumstances fall within Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and the specific measures adopted can realistically expect to resolve the threat to international peace and security." (p 133)

This approach would involve an abandonment of the use of economic sanctions by individual states or groups of states for any other purposes. Mr Carver regards this approach as necessary to increase the effectiveness of UN sanctions for their Chapter VII purpose and to avoid the negative consequences arising from the use of sanctions outside the UN framework. While we see such a drastic curtailment of sanctions practice as improbable for the foreseeable future, we note that the Government's support for the use of EU autonomous sanctions is not unchallenged.

2   Written answer, House of Commons 15 March 1999-FCO Minister of State Tony Lloyd. Back

3   Council of the EU, Guidelines on implementation and evaluation of restrictive measures (sanctions) in the framework of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, 8 December 2005. Back

4   In addition to written and oral evidence from the Government (passim), in particular written and oral evidence from Carne Ross (passim), and written evidence from Manuel Bessler (pp 175-176), Rachel Barnes (pp 117-129), Margaret Doxey (pp 138-142), Alex Vines (pp 107-109), Jeremy Carver (pp 129-133) and Kern Alexander (pp 24-29). Back

5   Written evidence from Alex Vines (p 108), Kern Alexander (p 25), and Margaret Doxey (pp 138-139). Back

6   See also written evidence from Kern Alexander (pp 25-27). Back

7   Principally written evidence from the Council for Arab-British Understanding (pp 133-137) and Kern Alexander (pp 24-29) and oral evidence from Alex Yearsley (Q 156), John Hilary (QQ 194-198) and Joakim Kreutz (QQ 231-250). See also Joakim Kreutz, Hard Measures By a Soft Power? Sanctions Policy of the European Union, Bonn International Centre for Conversion, Paper 45, 2005. Back

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