The use of embargo by the UN Security Council

Declaration concerning the use of the economic embargo

The European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights is deeply concerned about the increasingly frequent resort to the economic embargo as a measure of sanction by the United Nations Security Council, and about the concrete outcome of such embargoes when enforced.

Although such embargoes are intended to apply economic pressure against States in order to bring about changes in policies which have been condemned by the international community, in reality they have the greatest effect on the weakest and poorest residents of such States, by reducing their living standards, distorting the international market, an encouraging corruption and speculation. Humanitarian aid, which is always linked to such an embargo, is intended to mitigate this unjust effect. But in practice this aid is only an acknowledgement of the injustice, and is inadequate as a remedy. Such aid rarely reaches those who really need it, and is often subject to unfair deals.

In most cases the ruling elite are well able to make use of the embargo as propaganda in order to strengthen national unity, an to lay the blame for economic difficulties upon the United Nations. There are also cases in which a State’s economy has been successfully adapted in order to withstand the embargo, so that the planned effect of the embargo is neglected, and the position of the ruling elite is stabilized.

The is another important consequence of embargo: those third-party States which observe the embargo often suffer grave economic consequences, and are sometimes more seriously injured than the State under embargo. The States most at such risk are those bordering the State under embargo, when their main import and export transport routes run through that State. Unfortunately, in such cases the United Nations seems powerless to find an effective mechanism for compensating those third-party States unjustly affected by an embargo. Loyalty to the United Nations and to United Nations policy proves unjustifiably expensive, and leads to unjust loss for bordering States, in addition to their already difficult situation.

The frequent resort to embargo as a sanction is evidence of the inability of the United Nations to find diplomatic solutions to problems worrying the international community. The august mission of the United Nations imposes a strict prohibition on the use of force, and permits force only if it has been established that all possible means for a peaceful solution of a problem have been tried through diplomatic channels, to no avail.

It is unacceptable that at the end of the 20th century, when human rights and freedoms are universally recognized as having pride of place in the achievements of contemporary civilization, that the United Nations, through the use of the embargo, in fact contributes to the aggravation of the economic crisis of the country under embargo, and in many cases, of the countries observing the embargo.

The ELDH proposes that the Secretary General of the United Nations will initiate an impartial and thorough investigation and analysis of it’s practice of imposing embargoes, and of its efficacy, and, taking the result of such an enquiry into account, to consider whether imposition of an embargo should be restricted only to those cases where its use is absolutely necessary, and on condition that there is a practicable mechanism for compensating those third-party States unjustly und injuriously affected by their observation of the embargo.


May 1995