Welcome to the United Nations
  • Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council.
Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun. UN Photo

Security Council Briefing on Enhancing the Effectiveness of UN Sanctions, Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun

Thank you, Mr. President for the opportunity to address the Security Council on issues related to United Nations sanctions.

This Security Council discussion on sanctions is set against a backdrop of wide-ranging and sustained challenges to international peace and security.   New crises are straining the collective capacity to respond, while older conflicts are simmering, without resolution, and with the potential to reignite.   

It seems timely therefore to take stock of the efficacy of UN sanctions, as was recently done for peace operations, peacebuilding and the women peace and security agenda.  Just as the causes of conflicts are complex and interlinked, the  responses must be effective, complementary and mutually reinforcing.  Sanctions are not an end in themselves. At their most effective, sanctions should contribute to a comprehensive political strategy, working in tandem with other Charter-based instruments, to prevent and peacefully resolve conflicts.

Today, 13 Security Council sanctions regimes[1] play an enabling role in preventing conflict, countering terrorism and constraining the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  The Council has adopted tailored and calibrated sanctions measures to deter unconstitutional change of governments, the illicit exploitation of natural resources which fund the activities of armed groups, as well as violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular sexual violence in conflict as an act of terror.  Conversely, sanctions measures have been adopted to support implementation of peace agreements and peacebuilding efforts.  The Council’s sanctions regimes on ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida, as well as its 1718 regime on DPRK are central to international efforts to tackle terrorism and non-proliferation, respectively. Both have been continually adjusted to meet specific and evolving challenges, with due regard to the impact on civilian populations.

Security Council sanctions are also a flexible instrument, subject to regular reviews, adjustments and terminations. In 2016, three sanctions regimes (Iran, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia) were terminated. While the Council has adopted 26 sanctions regimes since 1966, it has also terminated 15 regimes to date, invalidating the often-heard criticism that the Council establishes but does not terminate its sanctions regimes. 

In this commitment to continually review its sanctions regimes, the Council has also requested the Secretary-General to take stock of various elements of the sanctions regimes.  Since 2014, the Secretary-General has provided assessments to the Council on the arms embargoes in Somalia and Central African Republic, as well as the sanctions regimes in Liberia and Guinea-Bissau. In his next report  to the Security Council on small arms and light weapons, the Secretary-General will provide  lessons learned on the implementation of arms embargoes in field missions. 

Reviews of sanctions regimes have also resulted in strengthening responses to growing threats. Last year, the Council adopted two resolutions 2270 (2016) and 2321 (2016)) which considerably strengthened the existing sanctions regime on DPRK. In Libya, the Council expanded the prohibitions on the export of petroleum products, and designation criteria were adopted this year for acts of sexual violence in the Central African Republic, as well as in the  ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida sanctions regimes.  

Moreover, the Council has combined robust sanctions enforcement with due respect for human rights through the Focal Point for Delisting in the Secretariat and the Office of the Ombudsperson for the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida sanctions regime. Over the last decade, the Council has made important strides in its due process commitments when imposing targeted sanctions on individuals and entities.


Mr. President,

Effective UN sanctions require the broad-based support of Member States and the international community at large. Even the best designed UN sanctions resolutions are not self-implementing. Member States would need to fulfill their implementation obligations.  And while there may have been different assessments of the implementation gap of UN sanctions, it is undeniable that the diversity and complexity of targeted UN sanctions regimes have imposed a considerable implementation burden on Member States and other implementing entities.

To mitigate these difficulties, the Security Council and its sanctions committees have enhanced outreach to Member States, and especially to regional countries affected by sanctions. Sanctions committees routinely meet with regional countries to discuss implementation challenges. Chairs of sanctions committees have also held open briefings, including for regional groups, to promote awareness of Council sanctions regimes.  These are supplemented with the travel of committee Chairs to countries and regions impacted by sanctions, to gain first-hand understanding of the effectiveness of sanctions measures. Furthermore, all Security Council sanctions lists[2] have been made available in the six official languages, with linkages to UNSC-INTERPOL Special Notices[3], where available. The Secretariat has also been working on the implementation of an enhanced data model of UN sanctions lists to deepen the information base for more accurate screening of individuals and entities by relevant national and international authorities.

While these are all useful means to enhance the application of sanctions, the implementation of UN sanctions is necessarily a “whole of government” endeavor and Member States would benefit from even greater “in-country” assistance.  Sanctions are adopted in New York, but they are mainly implemented at border crossings, ports, and airports as well as in banking and financial institutions, bringing together a multitude of governmental institutions at various levels as well as the private sector. Beyond Member States, the positive experience of Council’s partnership with INTERPOL (especially through the use of the [UNSC-INTERPOL] Special Notices) should be applied to other important partnerships, especially the aviation and financial sectors. 


Mr. President,

All previous States-led reviews of UN sanctions have stressed the importance of coordinated UN system-wide support to Security Council sanctions regimes. Since 2014, under the leadership of the Department of Political Affairs, the UN Inter-Agency Working Group on UN sanctions, comprising 26 UN entities, has continued its work to ensure system-wide support to UN sanctions. The Working Group is an important forum for promoting better understanding of UN sanctions regimes, facilitating the preparation of sanctions assessment reports, as well as promoting productive interactions among UN entities, sanctions committees and sanctions experts.  

The Department of Political Affairs, through its Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD), has also continued its support to the Security Council in the design, implementation and evaluation of UN sanctions.  In recent years, SCAD has further enhanced its support to the Council, sanctions committees and their experts on substantive, procedural and technical issues.  Sanctions workshops and regime-specific briefings were organised for incoming members of the Council to explain working methods and procedural issues, as well as the substantive aspects of each sanctions regime. Furthermore, advisory support was also provided to Member States to facilitate implementation of UN sanctions regimes, in particular regarding exemption requests and implementation reports.   

SCAD also plays a key role in the support to, and management of, the nine sanctions monitoring groups, team and panels[4], which comprise 59 sanctions experts.  Since 2013, the Division has organized an annual inter-panel workshop for all sanctions experts.  And since 2015, it has organized an investigative techniques workshop for relevant experts, in partnership with the UN Office for Internal Oversight and Audit. 

The importance of our support to sanctions experts was brought into sharp focus, tragically, with the killings in March this year of Ms. Zaida Catalan and Mr. Michael Sharp, members of the DRC Group of Experts.  Even as we continue to press for full accountability for these abhorrent crimes, we need to also reassess the security arrangements governing the work of sanctions experts to ensure that such crimes never happen again.  In this regard, the findings and recommendations of the board of inquiry will be instructive, and we look forward to the support of the Security Council in the implementation of the necessary changes that may be required. 


Mr. President,

United Nations sanctions are a formidable instrument for global peace and security.  It is important that they continue to be deployed in tandem with other Charter-based instruments, in the service of clearly established objectives, and with respect for due process and human rights.

Thank you. 


[1] Somalia and Eritrea, ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida, Iraq, DRC, Sudan, 1636 (Hariri investigation), DPRK, Libya, 1988 (Taliban), Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Yemen, and South Sudan.

[2] As of 31 July 2017, the UN Security Council Consolidated Sanctions List contains 1031 entries (654 individuals and 377 entities)

[3] As of 31 July 2017, there are 583 UNSC-INTERPOL Special Notices

[4] The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team (supporting the 1267 and 1988 Sanctions Committees), the Group of Experts on the DRC, and the Panels of Experts on Sudan, DPRK, Libya, CAR, Yemen and South Sudan.