NY Times
UN Council to review its policy on sanctions


April 18, 2000

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council, faced with growing criticism of embargoes that fail to deter dictators but often hurt civilians, decided unanimously Monday to take a hard look at how sanctions are applied and how they can be improved.

In a long debate, no council member or representative of other nations expressed unqualified approval of the way sanctions are now used. The council president, Robert Fowler of Canada, announced that a working group, drawing on outside experts, would begin a six-month policy review.

The move reflects a wider sanctions re-examination taking place around the world, including studies by committees in the British and Canadian Parliaments and expert studies for Germany and Switzerland.

There are many calls for "smart" sanctions that would be more precisely directed against leaders and their entourages.

Monday morning, speaking to a conference of United Nations officials, diplomats and scholars, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there was a "general lack of understanding and skepticism in the general public about the rationale and usefulness of sanctions." Even among nations not affected by sanctions, he said, "there appears a growing distrust of this instrument, and its ability to bring about change at a fair cost."

The United Nations is having a hard time responding to critics of sanctions against Iraq, where, according to a new estimate from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 80 percent of the civilian population has been negatively affected.

The Clinton administration has been largely absent from this worldwide debate, diplomats say. It has instead continued to use sanctions or the threat of sanctions widely, sometimes pressing the Security Council to back up Washington's measures, to the increasing discomfort of other nations.

Some diplomats say that barring a particularly terrible outrage by a leader somewhere, it will be very difficult to win a vote for sanctions -- especially for a comprehensive economic embargo like that imposed on Iraq a decade ago -- in the foreseeable future.

"The Security Council has imposed sanctions 12 times since 1990 and only twice before then," Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador here, said during Monday's council debate," adding that the increase justified a reassessment of sanctions policy.

"The Sanctions Decade" is the title of a new book by two American scholars, David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum and George Lopez of Notre Dame. The book (International Peace Academy/Lynne Reinner Publishers) studies 12 cases and summarizes suggestions for improving sanctions that have been made by experts around the world.

Monday, the French and Russians added a call for limited durations for sanctions, forcing complete reviews rather than rollovers at periodic intervals.

James B. Cunningham, the deputy American representative, said, though, that sanctions once imposed should be kept in place until the leader against whom they are directed changes behavior.

Security Council sanctions, carrying the possibility of military enforcement, are in effect in Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Yugoslavia, the last for President Slobodan Milosevic's actions in Kosovo. Sanctions against Libya were suspended after two suspects were turned over to a Scottish court for trial in the 1988 bombing of Pan American flight 101.

Original article