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United Nations Sanctions


The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization with 193 member states. It is, with no doubt, one of the major players in several international matters. UN has different objectives but the most important one is the maintenance of international peace and security. The duty to maintain international peace and security is mainly entrusted to one of the most essential organs of the UN, the Security Council (UNSC). 

The Security Council, pursuant to chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, has the authority to take actions to maintain or restore international peace and security. The Security Council's authority to impose sanctions comes from this chapter. In particular, Article 41 of the U.N. Charter states: 

In order to use its power under the Article mentioned above, the UNSC, per Article 39 of the Chapter, is required first to determine that there is a "threat to the peace, breach of peace, or act of aggression". Yet in practice, usually when using its power to impose "interruption of economic relations"per Article 41 of the Charter, the UNSC does not separately determine that there is a "threat to the peace, breach of peace, or act of aggression" and it is implied in the resolution creating a sanction regime itself. 

The main objectives of the UN sanctions could be listed as follows:

  • Counter terrorism

  • Non-Proliferation

  • Conflict Resolution

  • Protection  of Civilians

  • Democratization

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Since 1966, the Security Council has established 30 sanctions regimes. 14 of those regimes are still in place today. UNSC has adopted different types of measures ranging from comprehensive economic and trade sanctions (e.g. resolution 661 (1990) concerning the situation between Iraq and Kuwait) to some more targeted measures such as arms embargoes (e.g., resolution 751 (1992) concerning Somalia), travel bans (e.g. resolution 2048 (2012) concerning Guinea-Bissau), and financial or commodity restrictions.

Per Article 25 of the UN Charter, “the Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter”. Therefore, based on an international treaty, it is obligatory for the Member States to comply with the UNSC resolutions. The mandatory nature of the UNSC resolutions was also confirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970).

It should be noted that sanctions imposed by the UNSC need to be implemented by each member separately before they can take effect. Whether Member States respect those UNSC resolutions establishing sanction regimes or not is another topic. Recently, with the reports published by some sanction committees and the overseeing of other international organizations, we see that Member States are more committed to the implementation of UNSC sanctions within their respective countries. 

In general, when UNSC passes a resolution creating a sanction regime, it also creates a committee that is tasked with the following responsibilities: Assisting Member States with implementation, examining the reports of the Monitoring team, overseeing the implementation, dealing with exemptions, designations, reporting to the UNSC, delisting requests, list reviews, and conducting outreach activities

For each of the 14 active programs of the UN, there is a committee. You can click on each program to know more about it.

Click on each flag to go to its dedicated page.
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