Global Policy Forum

Notes for an Address by the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations Security Council


Notes for an Address by the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy,
Minister of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations Security Council

"General Issues Relating to Sanctions"

New York
April 17, 2000


Sanctions are a potent means to promote peace. They are a way to prevent or stop violence against civilians. They are a method to curb those who systematically violate the rights of others. They are a means to save human lives in the face of brutality and destruction. They are, in short, a vital tool for the Council to protect and advance the safety of people.

However, after a decade of unprecedented recourse to this instrument, the record is decidedly mixed. The successes are well known. So too are the shortcomings. Sometimes, sanctions have served as an inappropriate default in the face of an immediate crisis and in the absence of the political will for stronger measures. Too often, sanctions have suffered from hasty or ambiguous design, a loose commitment to implementation, inadequate monitoring and lax enforcement.

Most importantly, the costs in human terms are sometimes too high. While the harmful impact of some sanctions, particularly comprehensive measures, on innocent civilians may be unintended - it is no less real or damaging for those who feel the sanctions' effects. In these cases, sanctions can hurt, rather than help people. As a result, the risk is real that the legitimacy, credibility and utility of this important tool of Security Council action will be increasingly questioned in the eyes of the international community. That would be wrong. But there is little doubt that, in some instances, this is already happening.

Our meeting today is recognition that Security Council members, indeed the majority of Member States, understand the need to address a fundamental challenge: maximizing the effectiveness of sanctions while minimizing the harm to civilians. Sanctions have worked where the clear political will and resources existed to make them work. This in turn depended on applying the right sanctions with the most appropriate mixture of punitive and deterrent measures, incentives for compliance and the highest humanitarian concern. In our view, there are five considerations to getting these sanctions right.

Strategy. Sanctions are likely to succeed only if they are integrated into a broader Council strategy of conflict prevention and resolution. This means ensuring that all the terms of a sanctions regime not only be clear, but clearly linked to a process of negotiation.

Targets. The aim of sanctions should be to change the behaviour of wrongdoers, to deprive them of the wherewithal to wage war and to brutalize the innocent and, in the process, to avoid harming the very people the sanctions aim to help.

In today's conflicts, this means more targeted sanctions, not only against abusive national elites, but terrorists, rebel movements, modern day warlords and other non-state actors who perpetuate or profit from human suffering.

It also means improving the use of smarter sanctions against them - financial, travel and others restrictions. The effective use of arms embargoes demands particular attention. More rigourously drafted texts, more closely monitored implementation and greater Council support for other efforts, such as the development of a convention on arms trafficking, would go some way to better addressing the very destructive flow of small arms to conflict areas.

Targeted sanctions should be combined creatively with targeted incentives. Foreign assistance, concessionary loans and credits, debt relief, technology transfers, trade benefits and security assurances are all carrots that might compliment the stick of sanctions in directly influencing behaviour or encouraging those most likely to support change.

Where comprehensive sanctions exist, the need for extreme vigilance with regard to the humanitarian impact must be a priority. Humanitarian assessments before such measures are imposed, along with streamlining humanitarian exemption requests, ongoing monitoring and flexibility once they are in place, are all important.

The Iraq sanctions regime is among the most comprehensive and complex ever imposed. The objectives were and remain clear - to coerce the Iraqi leadership to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and to desist from pursuing such programs.

However, the unintended humanitarian impact of these measures has been borne by Iraqi civilians, rather than the Baghdad regime. The utility and credibility of the sanctions have also been damaged by the impasse in discussions - attributable to the Iraqi leadership - over compliance with these measures.

Resolution 1284 is an attempt to put the Council's objectives back on track. The Council must continue to make all efforts to address the humanitarian impact. To do so, the Council should consider establishing a mechanism, such as a Humanitarian College of Commissioners with a limited time mandate, to lend profile and transparency to humanitarian issues, to regularly review the humanitarian provisions of 1284 and to make concrete recommendations on ways to improve or adjust the humanitarian program as required.

In the meantime, we all need to do our utmost to assist the Iraqi people. In that respect, I am pleased to announce that Canada will provide one million dollars in assistance through non-governmental channels for the rehabilitation of schools and to meet other basic human needs.

Engagement. If sanctions depend on the will of the international community to implement them well, then they must reflect the will of the international community - not just the interests of its more powerful members.

To that end, when sanctions are imposed, a more equitable sharing of the burdens of implementation and enforcement is important. This is especially the case for third party countries or regions close to the conflict who often suffer most, but can least afford it.

When considering the creation of sanctions, the Council needs to take its views into account, and the members concerned should be able to fully avail themselves of Article 50. Donor country conferences to address the needs of particular member states adversely affected by sanctions may be one measure to address this.

Capacity. The efficacy of sanctions regimes is determined, no more nor less, than by the capacity to implement them. The ability of the UN Secretariat to properly and fully assist the Council in the implementation of sanctions needs to be significantly upgraded. Sanctions committees also need resources to function efficiently. Many member states need help to develop enabling legislation. Others, including Canada, could do more to improve theirs. The deployment of international monitors and the establishment of special commissions to examine adherence to sanctions have proven useful in the past - a practice that should continue with greater institutional capacity and legal authority to investigate violations, particularly with regard to arms embargoes. The enforcement of targeted sanctions, especially financial or arms embargoes, is also notoriously complex. But the know-how exists, and with sufficient commitment, enforcement is not impossible.

Without doubt, all of this is expensive, in both time and resources. Sanctions are far from enforcement on the cheap. But compared to the costs of other measures like military intervention or the long-term costs in terms of human suffering of inaction, the price may not be so high. And if we are serious about making sanctions work, it is a price we can ill afford not to pay.

Framework. Our acquired experience in the use of sanctions is vast. Yet as some observers suggest, sanctions have little or only controversial standing in international law - falling into a grey zone between humanitarian law and the rules of warfare.

Many of the dilemmas associated with the use of sanctions could be addressed through the codification of legal standards. Perhaps the time has come to consider the development of an explicit legal regime for this purpose. In other areas of global activity, legal regimes serve to establish norms, and by reflecting international consensus, increase the prospects everyone will adhere to their terms.

Clearly, this idea will need to be examined closely. However, it could make sanctions more effective. Like the Convention on Landmines in disarmament matters or the creation of the International Criminal Court, it might also serve to strengthen the growing international legal framework aimed at protecting civilians.

To that end, Canada will convene a conference of experts to develop such a regime to govern the use of sanctions, including standardized policy guidelines and operational principles. The creation of a working group on sanctions is a promising step by the Council to improve the use of sanctions. It will have Canada's full support, both in seeking concrete ways to enhance the effectiveness of current regimes and in guiding future practice. I am especially encouraged that it will seek outside advice in dong so. To that end, I was pleased to join with the Secretary General this morning to launch a Canadian sponsored independent study on sanctions by the International Peace Academy - a study that expands on many of the points I have made today.

We need to apply the experience of the past decade of sanctions - good and bad - to ensure that this powerful tool is used correctly, creatively and coherently so that the result does not diminish, but rather advances, human security. Sanctions are economic statecraft in action. When purposefully used and implemented to prevent or stop aggression, violence and abuse, it is statecraft in the service of people. Thank you.


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