This was the main message Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary A. DiCarlo conveyed to the Security Council on Monday during Monday’s sanctions debate, which focused on the unintended consequences that flow from them. , particularly in the humanitarian context. .

According to Ms. DiCarlo, there are currently 14 Council sanctions regimes in place around the world.

These sanctions measures support the resolution of conflicts in Libya, Mali, South Sudan and Yemen; deter unconstitutional changes of government in places like Guinea-Bissau; and curb the illicit exploitation of natural resources that finance the activities of armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

They also limit the proliferation activities of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the terrorist threat posed by Islamist terrorist groups (ISIL), Al-Qaeda and their affiliates.

According to the UN’s political affairs chief, however, the sanctions “are not an end in themselves”.

“To be effective, sanctions must be part of an overall political strategy, working in tandem with direct political dialogue, mediation, peacekeeping and special political missions,” she explained.

Targeted measures

In recent years, the Security Council has tried to avoid adverse consequences for civilian populations and third states, Ms. DiCarlo said.

In the case of arms embargoes, for example, exemptions are routinely granted for the import of non-lethal material needed for humanitarian relief.

In the case of travel bans, exemptions are provided for medical or religious reasons or to participate in peace processes; exemptions for asset freezes allow payment for food, utilities or medicine.

The Security Council has also created permanent humanitarian exemptions in Somalia and Afghanistan, as well as case-by-case exemptions in Libya, Yemen and the DPRK.

Sanctions are also ‘continuously adjusted’ in response to changes on the ground, political leader says, highlighting how Council ended sanctions on Eritrea and significantly reduced conditions for arms embargo in CAR .

Following these changes, only one member state said it had faced “particular economic problems” as a result of Council sanctions over the past decade.

Humanitarian goals

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefs members of the UN Security Council, by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The past 10 years have also shown that sanctions can do more than limit the flow of arms and ammunition or the financing of armed groups. Almost all regimes now attempt to meet international humanitarian standards.

In 2020, for example, humanitarian obligations helped release women and children abducted from military bases in South Sudan; in the DRC, it opened a space to negotiate the release of children from armed groups.

‘Unmistakable signal’

Sanctions have also become more targeted, with more than 50 listed individuals and entities.

This was the case of Sultan Zabin, the director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Sanaa, Yemen, sanctioned for torture and sexual violence in times of conflict; and Ahmed Ag Albachar, the self-proclaimed “president of the humanitarian commission” from Mali’s troubled Kidal region, for obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The imposition of penalties solely for such acts is a relatively recent and welcome step. Its use sends an unequivocal signal“, pleaded Ms. DiCarlo.


For the Under-Secretary-General, the shift from comprehensive to targeted sanctions marked a step change, but concerns remain.

The continued difficulty in reviving the banking process for making humanitarian transfers to the DPRK, since its collapse in 2017, is a prime example of the challenges ahead, she said.

“Financial actors and other service providers may impose additional conditions, increase their costs, or simply refuse to provide requested goods and services, thereby impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Ms. DiCarlo said.

Women, children and other vulnerable groups are more likely to have their human rights affected by unilateral sanctions.

© UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Women, children and other vulnerable groups are more likely to have their human rights affected by unilateral sanctions.

Arguing that more can be done, she shared the example of Resolution 2615, which was passed late last year to create a humanitarian exemption to help the Afghan people.

“Similar permanent exemptions in other sanctions regimes could go a long way toward addressing the critical needs of civilian populations,” she concluded.

daily work

Humanitarian Affairs chief Martin Griffiths also highlighted the exemptions approved for Afghanistan, saying they allowed operations to continue.

The humanitarian chief explained that sanctions can be smart and targeted, but respect is still a daily part of the work of the UN and its partners.

They can have an impact on our logistics, our finances, our ability to deliver. They can delay or block humanitarian projects. And some can threaten the well-being of entire sections of civil society.“, he said.

Griffiths, who also serves as the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, said sanctions applied by member states themselves are often broader in scope than those imposed by the Security Council.

Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Relief Coordinator, discusses humanitarian issues with Taliban leaders in Kabul, Afghanistan.


The humanitarian leader then shared some of his concerns, such as the difficulties in dialogue with listed individuals or entities, who sometimes hold significant control over the lives of entire populations.

He also said that banks and other commercial operators, aiming to avoid any risk of sanction, can effectively refuse services to humanitarian clients; commercial operators selling food, fuel or other necessities may also decide to err on the side of caution, leading to shortages and price hikes.

Finally, when ministries and departments are headed by listed individuals, sanctions can limit the provision of social services and economic stability – a clearly unintended consequence.


To alleviate this problem, the Assistant Secretary General suggested some areas of action.

Mr Griffiths called on the Council to build comprehensive humanitarian exclusions into each scheme from the outset, rather than the current case-by-case clearance procedures which can be “cumbersome and inefficient”.

According to him, these exclusions and exceptions should be “transformed smoothly into national legislation”, to alleviate the concerns of humanitarian donors, NGOs and private companies.

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