Select Committee on Economic Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

  1.  Sanction regimes pose an increasingly difficult dilemma for the United Nations' dual mandate of preserving peace and protecting human needs. As the UN Secretary-General noted: "Humanitarian and human rights policy goals cannot easily be reconciled with those of sanction regimes".[211] Economic sanctions are "too often a blunt instrument" and may impose hardships on civilians that are disproportionate to likely political gains.[212]

  2.  Becoming aware of this quandary a general consciousness evolved also within the United Nations Security Council that "further collective actions in the Security Council within the context of any further sanction regime should be directed to minimize unintended adverse side effects of sanctions on the most vulnerable segments of targeted countries."[213]

  3.  This led to the realization that comprehensive economic sanctions or broad trade embargoes are coercive measures of the past and that in today's sanction policies strategies for mitigating adverse humanitarian impacts on vulnerable populations have imperatively to be incorporated from the very beginning.

  4.  The UN Security Council and the UN Secretariat have responded positively to this challenge for more humane sanction regimes and have increasingly used more targeted sanctions (eg financial, arms, travel, diplomatic and/or sanctions on specific commodities like oil, diamonds, timber, etc). Also the request of the Security Council for monitoring and reporting mechanisms to assess possible unintended side effects of sanction regimes is a clear proof of the Council's increased awareness of the potential harm sanctions can inflict on the humanitarian, social and economic situation of a targeted country. (eg Security Council resolution 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000) on Afghanistan, resolution 1343 (2001) and 1478 (2003) on Liberia and the most recent resolution 1698 (2006) on the Democratic Republic of the Congo). This development has helped to address some of the concerns about the UN's culpability for sanction-related suffering.

  5.  Today it is an accepted standard that sanction authorities like the UN Security Council or regional organizations bear the fundamental responsibility for mitigating unintended consequences of sanctions they impose and for ensuring that the coercive measures enacted to uphold international norms do not cause suffering disproportionate to the ends served.

  6.  Political gain and civilian pain of sanction regimes cannot be separated anymore from one another or analyzed in isolation. The art of sanction statecraft lies in applying sanction measures that are sufficiently forceful to persuade targeted leaders to move toward political compliance, while avoiding unintended humanitarian and/or socio-economic side effects that undermine the viability of the policy and of the instrument itself.

  7.  Within the UN Secretariat, the Policy Branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that UN sanctions do not negatively impact on the living conditions of civilian populations in targeted states. At the core of these efforts was the development of a sanction assessment methodology, with the goal to make sanctions more effective by assessing possible humanitarian implications in advance of-, during- and following sanctions. Recognizing the increased concern and seeing an opportunity to move away from the previous ad hoc approach of assessing the impact of sanctions on living conditions, OCHA initiated a project in September 2002 to develop a standardized methodology for assessing whether and how sanction regimes can cause unintentional harm. So far OCHA has undertaken assessments of the humanitarian implications of UN sanctions on Afghanistan, Liberia and the former Yugoslavia. For the beginning of 2007, there is another sanction assessment planned: Based on Security Council resolution 1698 (2006), OCHA will have to evaluate possible sanction measures on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  8.  The assessment methodology that OCHA developed aims to address two important challenges that present themselves when assessing the impact of sanctions on humanitarian conditions:

    (i)  accurate evaluation of the current status of humanitarian conditions, and

    (ii)  separation of the effects of sanctions on health and well-being from those due to other causes. Identifying possible humanitarian consequences of sanctions early on can reduce confusion about humanitarian conditions and their causes, and can help mitigate any unintended consequences of the coercive measures.

  9.  The project funded by the Governments of Canada and Switzerland—was undertaken in collaboration with humanitarian agencies within the UN system and beyond. OCHA's project team also engaged in consultations with UN Member States as the methodology was being formulated and refined.

  10.  The project has culminated with the publication of two documents, which I co-authored together with Dr. Richard Garfield and Gerard McHugh: a Sanctions Assessment Handbook and a complementary set of Field Guidelines. Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, strongly urged "those engaged in considering and designing sanction regimes to employ this methodology to minimize their unintended humanitarian consequences." OCHA envisions that this important new approach will make a significant contribution to the protection of civilians in sanctioned countries, and will enhance the capacity of UN agencies and Member States alike to anticipate and prevent deteriorations in humanitarian conditions that may result from sanctions.

24 September 2006

211   Kofi Annan, Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Orgarnisation (1998), A/53/1, United Nations, New York, 27 August 1998, 64. Back

212   Kofi Annan, The Cause of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, Secretary-General's Report to the United Nations Security Council (New York: United Nations, 16 April 1998), 25. Back

213   United Nations Security Council, Letter Dated 13 April 1995, Addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/1995/300, Annex 1. Back

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