Global Policy Forum

Symposium on Targeted Sanctions: Speech by Ambassador Antonio Monteiro, Permanent Representative of Portugal


UN Plaza Hotel, New York,
7 December 1998.

Two years ago, when Portugal became member of the Security Council, I was appointed Chairman of the 661 Committee. The Committee was established in 1990 to monitor one of the most comprehensive sanctions regimes ever established by the UN. It comprises an economic embargo of products originating in Iraq, as well as prohibitions on imports of goods by that country, with the exception of food, medicines and other products for essential civilian needs. Iraqi assets and accounts outside Iraq have been frozen, flights to and from Iraq have been restricted.

This set of measures was conceived in 1990 to compel Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait and compensate this latter country for the aggression it suffered as a consequence of the invasion. These measures were intended to produce results in the short term.

However, they did not. Military force did bring Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.

But, eight years later, sanctions are still in force. The same sanctions which were imposed to put an end to the invasion of Kuwait, were kept after the cease-fire, that is after Iraq accepted resolution 687, with another purpose, however: to compel that country to fulfil the obligations resulting from that resolution. In particular, recognition of the border with Kuwait, destruction of prohibited weapons, compensation issues, and return of Kuwaiti persons and property.

Once again, these measures did not produce, until now, the intended result. Meanwhile, the international community became aware of the gradual negative impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi people. Five years after the end of the Gulf War the difficult humanitarian situation in Iraq led the Council to recognize that urgent solutions had to be found for alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people those most affected by this situation - as result of the comprehensive measures kept in effect. This was the reason why the oil for food programme was agreed.

Established by Resolution 986 (1995) and accepted by Iraq by the end of 1996, the oil for food programme is technically an overall exception to the prohibition of export of Iraqi oil and import by Iraq of humanitarian goods, within the limits authorized by the Council, on humanitarian grounds. The oil for food was conceived, therefore, to reduce, to the extent possible, the negative impact of sanctions on those who are not responsible for non-compliance.

When I initiated the functions as Chairman of the 661 Committee, in January 1997, the Committee was taking the first steps in the implementation of what is now recognized by all as the most comprehensive humanitarian operation ever planned by the UN. My experience during these two years has allowed me to develop an acute awareness of the difficulties associated with such a comprehensive type of sanctions, and, on the other hand, a more accurate perception of the efficacy of these sanctions as appropriate tools to compel States to respect international peace and security.

The agreement on the oil for food was a consequence of sanctions imposed against Iraq being general, not targeted. The circumstances that I indicated in the beginning of my intervention explain why this occurred. We understand they were meant to remain in place for a short period of time, the time necessary for Iraq to fulfill the obligations under resolution 687, which was deemed achievable in just a few monts. But we must recognize today that, far from targeting the effects of sanctions on those who have the power to decide and putting pressure on them to fulfill the obligations, the measures imposed on Iraq had conversely a bigger impact on the general population. (This is the reality, even if we take into consideration the alleviating effect of resolution 986, as recently recognized by the Secretary-General in his latest report on the implementation of resolution 986, and by members of the Council).

However, this general and comprehensive type of sanctions was the last established by the Security Council. This is a fact that the Chairmen of the Sanctions Committees highlighted, in a recent document they prepared and circulated to members of the Council. Allow me to read an excerpt of it, in a part devoted to aspects of refinement and targeting of sanctions:

Targeted sanctions such as arms embargoes, flight bans, travel bans, freezing of financial assets, etc., are adopted to achieve certain political objectives without inflicting unnecessary hardship on the general population. They represent a valuable alternative to other, more comprehensive types of sanctions. The experience of targeted sanctions gained so far merits careful study and analysis. Specific initiatives in that regard would be extremely welcome.

And the document continues,

The Security Council should address the basic policy issue of flexibility and graduality in the imposition of sanctions. The experience of recent years and practice of the Security Council confirm that in many situations - although not necessarily in all of those requiring the imposition of sanctions - it is preferable to use the approach of a targeted and 'flexible response' as opposed to "massive retaliation' Given that all sanctions currently in operation, with the exception of those imposed on Iraq, are targeted sanctions, it would be useful to take stock of the experience gained and to formulate general guidelines for future decision-making on sanctions.

This document is now under informal discussion among members of the Council, and we hope to be able to incorporate further contributions from those Council members who, while not chairing any Committee, have invaluable experience and views on this and other issues pertaining to sanctions. We have been receiving important and positive reaction by Non Governmental Organizations interested in this matter, which have volunteered their comments and suggestions. I thank them for that. We hope as well to benefit from the views of other entities, such as the ones who kindly organized this symposium. The full participation of Chairmen of the Sanctions Committees, and other members of the Council, reflects the keen interest we all attach to this useful exchange of ideas.

I must also underline, in this context, the initiative of the Swiss Government (the Interlaken Group), supported by an increasing number of participants, precisely on the issue of targeted sanctions. We are confident that the expertise invested in these matters will bear important fruits in the near future.

Sanctions against Iraq may be, indeed, the last of its kind.

Since 1990, the Council adopted different type of mandatory measures, focusing their effects, narrowing their targets. All sanctions regimes created thereafter, and in force, are arms embargoes. But in the case of Libya (to a certain extent), Angola and Sierra Leone, the Council adopted even more focused and targeted measures. Travel restrictions, freezing of assets, prohibitions on import or export of items with impact in specific economic or industrial areas, are examples of measures used more recently by the Council. They do not have a direct impact in the humanitarian situation of the countries concerned, they are designed to hurt those directly responsible for non-compliance.

Even in the case of Iraq, let me recall that the Council has also had, recently, an experience in imposing targeted sanctions. Indeed, through resolution 1137(1997), the Council approved travel restrictions on those responsible for non-cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA. These sanctions never entered into force (the relevant provisions of resolution 1137 were terminated in May 1998, following a letter from Ambassador Butler on the level of cooperation accorded by Iraq), but they served as a means of pressure until Iraq, subsequently, resumed cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA. This illustrates another way sanctions can be used: to put pressure, to be effective, even before they are in force.

Finally, let me highlight another important aspect underlined in the above-mentioned document of the Chairmen of the Sanctions Committees:

" The Security Council should be able to adjust sanctions regimes to certain legitimate needs such as the humanftarian needs of the affected population, implementation of economic, social and cuftural rights, the legitimate needs of the neighboring States, etc. It is necessary that when such legitimate needs require refinement and modifications of sanctions, the modifications be adopted within a reasonable time".

This aspect reflects the need for continuous adjustments in order to maintain the intended focus of sanctions. This requires, of course, periodical assessments by the Council on the impact and efficacy of sanctions in force.

The time accorded to my intervention has already elapsed. I would therefore try to conclude it with four brief remarks:

1. Recent practice in sanctions matters shows that targeted sanctions are already today the tools used by the Council when it has to adopt mandatory measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

2.There is a need, however, to take stock of the experience gained and to formulate general guidelines for future decision-making on sanctions.

3. Moreover, to ensure that sanctions remain duly targeted, periodical assessments should be made by the Council, or by the Sanctions Committees. To be effective, targeted sanctions require the Council to be able to, whenever necessary, adjust sanctions regimes in order to keep the intended focus of their effects.

4. Finally, it is very important to prevent violations of sanctions through an effective monitoring by Committees in coordination with States, regional organizations and other relevant organizations. Efficacy of sanctions, in particular targeted sanctions, can only be achieved by a strict observance of the rules legitimately adopted by the Council on behalf of the international community.

These, and other aspects, are currently the object of a thorough discussion among members of the Council, following the initiative of the Chairmen of Sanctions Committees, who tried to gather in a document they circulated by members of the Council, their experience in dealing with different sanctions regimes.

For our part, we have tried our best to reflect in it the aspects which we consider, as a result of our experience these last two years in the Council, should be further developed.

My country will conclude very soon its mandate as a member of the Security Council. This does not mean, however, that we will remain idle on these matters. On the contrary, we will follow attentively these developments and try further to contribute, actively, in all instances where these matters will be discussed.


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