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What are U.N. sanctions?

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Question: What are U.N. sanctions?
Answer: In order to further a political objective, countries may unilaterally or as part of a coalition take out diplomatic, economic or military sanctions on a country or countries. This can involved revoking diplomatic ties and recalling an ambassador, placing bans on financial or trade transactions, or arms embargoes.

At the United Nations, the Security Council can impose sanctions as voted on by the member nations of the council. Five permanent members of the council hold veto power and thus can derail sanctions efforts: China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. The sanctions imposed by the council are intended to work toward a peaceful and stable end and exclude military force -- the intention is to apply enough pressure to a state to force its hand without resorting to military means.

As the U.N. describes these efforts:

    "The Council has resorted to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed. The range of sanctions has included comprehensive economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial or diplomatic restrictions.

    At the same time, a great number of States and humanitarian organizations have expressed concerns at the possible adverse impact of sanctions on the most vulnerable segments of the population. Concerns have also been expressed at the negative impact sanctions can have on the economy of third countries.

    In response to these concerns, relevant Security Council decisions have reflected a more refined approach to the design, application and implementation of mandatory sanctions. These refinements have included measures targeted at specific actors, as well as humanitarian exceptions embodied in Security Council resolutions. Targeted sanctions, for instance, can involve the freezing of assets and blocking the financial transactions of political elites or entities whose behaviour triggered sanctions in the first place."

Some examples of U.N. sanctions are:

  • 1992: An assets freeze, arms embargo and travel ban against Somalia (Resolution 751)

  • 1997: An arms embargo against Sierra Leone and travel ban against the leading members of the former military junta and of the Revolutionary United Front (Resolution 1132)

  • 1999: As assets freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo against al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and associated entities (Resolution 1267)

  • 2003: An arms embargo and assets freeze update against Iraq in relation to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait (Resolution 1518)

  • 2003: An arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban against Liberia (Resolution 1521). The arms embargo was terminated in 2009.

  • 2004: An arms embargo, assets freeze, and travel ban on all foreign and Congolese armed groups and militias operating in the territory of North and South Kivu and Ituri, and on groups not party to the Global and All-inclusive agreement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Resolution 1533). The sanctions have been both broadened in the Congo and become more targeted with several subsequent resolutions.

  • 2004: An arms embargo, diamond sanctions, travel ban and assets freeze targeted at the Ivory Coast (Resolution 1572).

  • 2005: In response to the genocide in Sudan (which the U.N. did not label as such), an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze against non-governmental entities and individuals, including the Janjaweed, operating the states of North Darfur, South Darfur, and West Darfur (Resolution 1591).

  • 2005: A travel ban and assets freeze on individuals designated by the international independent investigation commission or the Government of Lebanon as suspected of involvement in the Feb. 14, 2005, bombing in Beirut that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others (Resolution 1636).

  • 2006: An arms embargo, a nuclear, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction programs-related embargo, a ban on the export of luxury goods, and targeted travel ban and assets freeze on North Korea (Resolution 1718).

  • 2006: A proliferation-sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile programs-related embargo, an export ban on arms and related materiel, and individually targeted travel bans and assets freeze against Iran (Resolution 1737).
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