UN HR Impact of Unilateral Sanctions


On Sep. 16, UN HR called for re-evaluation of human rights impact.


  • UN HR called for critical re-evaluation of human rights impact of unilateral sanctions.
  • Noting consequences of extraterritorial application, over-compliance with sanctions.
  • Impact on Most Vulnerable
  • Increasing number of States, individually and collectively, have resorted to sanctions, which can align, or depart from, the values promoted and protected by the UN Charter.
  • Sanctions can create severe and undue suffering for individuals who have neither perpetrated crimes nor otherwise bear responsibility for improper conduct.
  • When target entire country, or economic sectors, it is the most vulnerable people in that country, those who are least protected, who are likely to be worst harmed.
  • Those sought to be targeted can perversely benefit through gaming sanctions regimes.
  • And profiteering from the economic distortions and incentives introduced by them.
  • Over-Compliance
  • Punitive restrictions on banks and financial institutions, including those based in third countries, routinely leads to over-compliance out of abundance of institutional caution.
  • In some cases, it becomes difficult to import basic food items, health-care equipment and other forms of humanitarian aid, despite the existence of applicable exemptions.
  • Third-country banks refuse to transfer funds, require oft-onerous certification for each transfer, create additional costs/delays that impede assistance, reduce effectiveness.
  • Obstacles to import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by financial institutions, create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities.
  • Lack of Due Process
  • Sanctions that constrain actions of third parties are also problematic when overbroad, impacting people other than those directly responsible for human rights violations.
  • Those affected often have scant legal process prior to being brought under regimes.
  • Frequently have little recourse to any mechanism to appeal liabilities or penalties.
  • These procedures may violate a number of fundamental due process principles.
  • UN Counter-Terrorism Sanctions
  • Challenges also persist in the context of United Nations counter-terrorism sanctions.
  • Despite significant reforms, these can often generate negative human rights impacts.
  • Including disruption of humanitarian action, infringement of rights of those affected by travel bans, asset freezing or confiscation without sufficient basis or options for review.
  • To mitigate their impact on principled humanitarian work, some States have excluded activities of impartial humanitarian organizations from scope of anti-terrorism laws.
  • And have provided humanitarian exemptions to otherwise prohibited travel to areas.
  • Such flexibility is important to facilitate reconciliation of competing policy objectives.
  • Need for Critical Re-Evaluation
  • Growing number of countries are applying sanctions to increasing range of targets for expanding number of reasons, including to bolster human rights, foster accountability.
  • But human rights cannot be adequately protected, indeed they are profoundly undermined, if sanctions and the means of enforcement themselves violate them.
  • Human rights should be taken fully into account when designing sanctions regimes.
  • Effective monitoring should be undertaken throughout period sanctions are in force.
  • Entity imposing sanctions has an obligation to take steps to respond to any disproportionate suffering experienced by vulnerable groups within targeted country.
  • There is a place for asset bans, visa restrictions and other measures against individuals who are credibly accused of perpetrating severe human rights violations.
  • Targeting entire countries or sectors of economic activity should be avoided.
  • Called on sanctioning countries to reassess and critically re-evaluate their use of unilateral coercive measures to avoid human rights-adverse impacts.
  • Also called on countries subjected to sanctions to provide transparent information, accept offers of humanitarian assistance, prioritize needs/rights of vulnerable people.
  • Should adopt measures to guarantee organizations can carry out humanitarian work.

Regulators UN HR
Entity Types B/D; Bank; BS; Ins; Inv Co; MSB
Reference PR, Sp 9/16/2021
Functions AML; Anti-Bribery; Compliance; Financial; Human Rights; Legal; Operations
Countries Global Regulator
Products Banking; Clearing; Deposits; Loan
Regions Global
Rule Type Guidance
Rule Date 9/16/2021
Effective Date 9/16/2021
Rule Id 116009
Linked to N/A
Reg. Last Update 9/16/2021
Report Section AML & Enforcement

Last substantive update on 09/17/2021