Global Policy Forum

Boutros Boutros-Ghali on the Negative Effects of Sanctions


"UN Sanctions Cause Suffering"


UN Press Release
5 January, 1996



In a report presented to the UN Security Council on January 5, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has called on the United Nations to reconsider how it uses sanctions. Noting that sanctions are generally acknowledged to be a "blunt instrument," Boutros-Ghali said that their use raises ethical issues concerning the suffering they inflict on innocent victims, especially those most vulnerable, and questions as to whether inflicting such suffering on innocent persons is a legitimate means of bringing pressure to bear on political leaders.

The Secretary General called for the establishment within the UN Secretariat of a "mechanism" which would perform various sanctions-related functions. Its terms of reference would include assessing the effects of proposed sanctions both on the targeted country and on other nations before the Security Council votes to implement them. He also urged that once sanctions have been imposed, their impact should be monitored closely and, when necessary, they should be fine-tuned with a view to maximizing their political impact and minimizing "collateral damage" (unintended effects on the target nation's neighbors or economic partners).

Boutros-Ghali stressed the need for the UN to find ways to ensure the delivery of adequate humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups, particularly to children, the sick and the elderly, in countries under sanctions. He likewise emphasized the necessity of requiring that the purpose of sanctions be clearly delineated in the resolution imposing them. In this regard, he observed: "The objectives for which specific sanctions regimes were imposed have not always been clearly defined. Indeed they sometimes seem to change over time." This situation, he pointed out, makes it "difficult for the Security Council to agree upon when the objectives can be considered to have been achieved and sanctions can be lifted."

Boutros-Ghali emphasized that it is consequently of great importance that when the council votes to impose sanctions "it should at the same time define objective criteria for determining that their purpose has been achieved." He concluded by warning the Security Council that "If general support for the use of sanctions as an effective instrument is to be maintained, care should be taken to avoid giving the impression that the purpose of imposing sanctions is punishment rather than the modification of political behavior or that criteria are being changed in order to serve other than those which motivated the original decision to impose sanctions."

In addition to having a severe effect on neighbors or major economic partners of targeted states, the Secretary General noted that sanctions can also defeat their own purpose by "provoking a patriotic response" against the international community, symbolized by the United Nations, and by rallying the population behind the leaders whose behavior the sanctions are intended to modify.




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