Sanctions from the perspective of International Law


by Hans Köchler

In this lecture….. I will deal with the legal implications of economic sanctions. I will not cover diplomatic sanctions, which are rather straightforward from a legal standpoint. Diplomatic sanctions entail acts of state sovereignty such as the withdrawal of diplomats, reduction of the number of accredited diplomats which one country allows another to send, and alike. This diplomatic tit-for-tat game, so-to-speak, is not the concern of my presentation today.

Regarding economic sanctions the difference between unilateral and multilateral sanctions is crucial. In order to avoid terminological misunderstandings, I refer to specific examples as an introduction: the sanctions imposed by the US on a regular basis, especially since the end of the Cold War, are unilateral. Also the economic sanctions by intergovernmental entities, such as those which the European Union imposed on Russia, fall under this category.

As far as the legal implications of sanctions are concerned, one needs to bear the following difference in mind: Unilateral means that one state or a group of states – acting as an organization (such as the EU) or as an ad hoc coalition – imposes sanctions as measures of economic “punishment.” Such acts don’t result from any legal, let alone internationally binding, obligation.

Multilateral sanctions, on the other hand, are measures imposed to exert economic pressure within the United Nations system of collective security; they are binding for all UN member states. From the legal standpoint, this is completely different. “Multilateral” in this context means that sanctions are, so-to-speak, imposed by the international community and therefore are legally binding on all its members – unlike unilateral measures by one state or a group of states.

“Sanctions are a tool of international politics which is incompatible with the ideas of diplomacy and peaceful co-existence of the nations. As the regulations of Chapter VII of the UN Charter clearly state sanctions are just one stage below armed conflict. Morally speaking this kind of coercive measures share the character of war. […] Unilateral, sanctions are merely a relic of the rule of the jungle, the ‘old’ international law in which the ius ad bellum, the ‘right to wage war’, defined the sovereign state. However, we all tend to agree that this viewpoint has been transcended since the end of the First World War.”

I. Unilateral Sanctions

As far as unilateral sanctions are concerned, it goes without saying that reconciliation is the ideal way how states should settle their disagreements. They should resolve contradictory positions and conflicts of interest by means of negotiation. Diplomacy would be the conduct of choice between states in an ideal world. In the real world, however, states often tend to pursue their foreign policy, and assert their national interests, by way of pressure.

This is especially so in cases when there exists an imbalance of power. Unilateral economic sanctions are nothing else but one state trying to force its will on another. The temptation to assert one’s interests by means of sanctions will obviously be greater if a state is much more powerful than another state, and vice versa. The Republic of San Marino, for instance, will never dream of imposing sanctions against the United States of America.

“As a matter of realpolitik, sanctions only make sense if there is an imbalance of power”

In other words, as a matter of realpolitik, sanctions only make sense if there is an imbalance of power. There is empirical evidence for this. Over the last few decades, the United States, the most powerful country on earth at this point in history, has imposed more sanctions than all other states together. Detailed statistics would go beyond the scope of this presentation.

What comes to mind, in this regard, is the aspect of arbitrariness, even blackmail, as an instrument of foreign policy. Often, the attitude is one of self-righteousness, which leads the sanctioning state (or group of states) to act as if issuing sentences of collective punishment. This has been particularly obvious in the case of the Russian sanctions.

One should bear in mind that this kind of inter-state conduct risks further increasing political tensions instead of calming the situation. Sanctions belong to the arsenal of power politics and are generally counterproductive when it comes to the establishment of a sustainable order of peace. Furthermore, with the degree of global economic interconnectedness today, the impact and consequences of sanctions are more serious as compared to the time after World War II when the economy was less globalized.

A violation of the free trade regime

As far as the legal evaluation is concerned, unilateral sanctions are incompatible with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) free trade regime. Especially in the Western world, these regulations have always been considered as paradigm for the conduct of international economic relations.

Precisely that country that most vigorously promoted the free trade doctrine at the time of the foundation of the World Trade Organization (as the successor to GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), namely the United States, is now the country most frequently violating the free trade principles codified by the WTO. The US does so in all instances where it uses the economy for political purposes.

The principle of non-discrimination in international trade and, more generally, the maxim that the state should not interfere with the economy (whether domestic or international), stands at the core of the rules and regulations of GATT, and now of the WTO. This is also in conformity with the common sense expectation that the trading partner beyond the borders should be dependable and predictable. This obviously cannot be the case if unpredictable governmental decisions make the continuation of trade and economic relations – and the fulfilling of contracts – impossible.

Imprecisely formulated exceptions

A further problem for the legal evaluation of unilateral sanctions lies in the exceptions from the free trade rules under the WTO regime. These exceptions are phrased in such an imprecise way that states may decide more or less arbitrarily, i.e. in a self-serving manner, on whether the conditions for an exception are met or not.

I can only summarily refer here to the respective regulations. Crucial in this regard is Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), now incorporated into the body of rules of the World Trade Organization. Another relevant provision, in this regard, is Article XIV bis of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which was negotiated in the course of the establishment of the WTO.

States that impose unilateral sanctions use these provisions in order to circumvent free trade regulations in specific cases. What do these exceptions mean? A WTO member state may invoke these exceptions when its “essential security interests” are at stake. This specifically relates to the following: trade with fissionable materials, “traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war,” and any action of a state taken “in time of war or other emergency in international relations.”

Exceptions from free trade rules also apply in regard to the obligations of states under the provisions of the UN Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security. This specifically applies to binding resolutions of the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. All member states must comply if the Council imposes economic sanctions on a country. According to the Charter, the Security Council is the supreme executive organ of the United Nations.

Consequently, decisions under Chapter VII of the Charter overrule free trade regulations of other intergovernmental organizations as well as treaties between member states. Certain interested parties have claimed in the past that exceptions from free trade rules, resulting from their obligations under the UN Charter, may also be invoked independently of Chapter VII resolutions. This interpretation of obligations under the UN Charter is highly questionable. It invites arbitrary action by states that are more interested in the pursuit of power politics than in ensuring respect for international law.

Finally, regarding the exemptions from free trade rules, the codification work of the International Law Commission of the United Nations must be taken into account. In particular, I would like to refer to the Commission’s Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, a document that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in resolution 56/83 of 12 December 2001.

Though legally non-binding, it may be considered as a guideline for the interpretation of international law nonetheless. Article 49, Par. 1 of the Draft Articles provides that a state may, under certain conditions, “take countermeasures against such a State which is responsible for an internationally wrongful act in order to induce that State to comply with its obligations.” Recently, this provision was invoked to justify unilateral sanctions against Russia in connection with the armed conflict in Ukraine and the question of territorial sovereignty over a part of Ukraine in particular.

“As far as legal implications of sanctions are concerned, one needs to bear the following difference in mind: Unilateral means, that one state or a group of states acting as a supranational entity – either as an organization (such as the EU) or as an ad hoc coalition – impose sanctions as measures of economic “punishment”. Such acts don’t result from any legal, let alone internationally binding, obligation.”

Gates wide open for the abuse of power

The crucial problem with these exception rules – that are the only avenue for the legal justification of unilateral sanctions – is their imprecision. According to WTO regulations, states are not required to give any reasons or provide specific evidence for the existence of a threat to their essential security interests. How a sanctioning state makes use of an exception from free trade rules is at the sole discretion of that state.

The criteria for “self-judged security exceptions” are not subject to the scrutiny of an independent body. This again illustrates the earlier mentioned problem of self-righteousness. Exception rules of this kind almost unavoidably invite abuses of power. Within the framework of the WTO, there are indeed mechanisms to resolve disputes between member states (“Dispute Settlement Body”).

There is also an “Appellate Body” in Geneva consisting of seven persons. As far as I could verify, however, matters related to unilateral sanctions have so far not been referred to it. For a state targeted by unilateral sanctions, this leaves essentially only an option of realpolitik: namely to take retaliatory action, in other words: to impose “counter-sanctions” – provided that state feels strong enough to take such measures.

Serious violations of international law

Economic sanctions, quasi-legitimized by the exception rules of the WTO, may nonetheless amount to serious violations of international law. This relates to the prohibition of interference in the internal affairs of states, but also to the principle of sovereign equality (Article 2[1] of the UN Charter). Apart from these general aspects of international law, economic sanctions may also result in violations of fundamental human rights of the population in the targeted country – though this is often more difficult to prove than the aforementioned violations of general principles of international law. (In recent years, this was an issue with multilateral sanctions in particular.)

There are no effective legal mechanisms at the international level to investigate and prosecute violations of law, in particular fundamental human rights, resulting from unilateral sanctions. The International Court of Justice in The Hague may be, so to speak, the “court of the United Nations,” but it is irrelevant in this context. The Court may only deal with legal disputes and propose a settlement if states have explicitly recognized its jurisdiction or referred the respective dispute to the Court for arbitration.

US Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against sanctions

As regards the legal evaluation of unilateral sanctions, there is also an important domestic aspect. Once a state imposes sanctions against one or several other states, that state also interferes with the rights of companies operating from its own territory. With the sanctions, the state hampers trade activities of these companies and may in the extreme case drive them into bankruptcy. In this regard, the position of the United States Chamber of Commerce is particularly revealing. In September 2016, the Chamber issued a statement entitled “Oppose Unilateral Economic Sanctions,” arguing that sanctions “have often damaged U.S. economic interests at home and overseas.”

Moreover, the Chamber states, the extraterritorial enforcement of sanctions could “incite economic, diplomatic and legal conflicts” with other states, including allies of the US. This statement, which was issued before the election of Donald Trump, explicitly refers to the sanctions against Cuba, in place since 1960. It is politically quite significant, though hardly noticed abroad, that the Chamber of Commerce of the United States – the country that uses the instrument of unilateral sanctions rather excessively – is an outspoken opponent of this very policy.

Unilateral sanctions – especially as regards export limitations – cause damage to the economy of the sanctioning state in general. Since sanctions reduce its own domestic income, as far as tax revenue is concerned, the sanctioning state “cuts off the nose to spite the face.” If a state is as convinced of free trade as the United States claims to be, recommending that principle to the whole world, such a state should refrain from interfering with its export trade. Private entrepreneurs should not allow themselves to be held hostage to their state´s power politics.

This indeed seems to be the attitude of entrepreneurs in the United States if one reads the statement by the Chamber of Commerce. For the overall cost-benefit equation, losses due to retaliatory measures of the sanctioned state need to be taken into consideration as well.

“As far as the legal evaluation is concerned, such sanctions, more or less covered by WTO exception rules, may in fact amount to severe violations of international law, specifically the general prohibition to interfere with internal matters of another state but also the principle of sovereign equality of states (Article 2[3] of the UN Charter).”

Problem of extraterritoriality

The most serious problem of unilateral sanctions, as far as international law is concerned, is the above-mentioned extraterritoriality, i.e. the violation of economic rights – or sovereignty rights, respectively – of third parties. Under no circumstances is it acceptable in legal terms that third states – which are not involved in a dispute a state may have with another state – are subjected to unilateral sanctions of that state against the second state.

Third-party states must not be drawn into a bilateral conflict by way of an extraterritorial enforcement of sanctions. No state has the right to dictate to other states, or companies in other states, how they should go about their business. Exactly this was the controversy surrounding the so-called Helms-Burton Act of the US Congress (“Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996”) by which the United States enforced its unilateral sanctions against Cuba also vis-à-vis companies from other countries.1

Using laws such as the Helms-Burton Act, the US assumes the right to take action against foreign companies doing business with a sanctioned state (such as Cuba or Iran) if they have branches in the US or undertake financial transactions via US banks. An example for this kind of political interference with international economic relations are the difficulties which the European Airbus Consortium has faced with its business in Iran insofar as the exported planes contain elements produced in the US.

The sanctioning state usually ignores the legal problems caused by such an exaggerated assertion of national sovereignty (namely the extraterritorial enforcement of sanctions). Lip service at the United Nations notwithstanding, the overriding goal is not the promotion of the international rule of law, but simply to induce the sanctioned state to change its policy. As such demands are almost always made in situations where there exists an imbalance of power relations, appealing to a judicial tribunal is a waste of time for the sanctioned state. The only effective response will be retaliatory measures by the sanctioned state (on its own, if this is at all an option, or in alliance with other states).

II. Multilateral Sanctions

In their very nature, sanctions are hostile measures on a scale of escalation which culminates in armed conflict. This is especially true of multilateral sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter the world organization is authorized to maintain or restore international peace and security. Article 39 of the Charter assigns this task to the Security Council, which acts in the name of all member states. Sanctions are one of the tools, which the Council may employ within the UN system of collective security.

Accordingly, multilateral economic sanctions have a totally different legal status as compared to the above-mentioned unilateral measures taken by single states or groups of states.

Sanctions imposed by the UN are per definition always measures to secure the international rule of law, insofar as the prohibition of aggression (Article 2[4] of the UN Charter) needs to be enforced. In this regard, the Security Council, as the sole competent body under the Charter, is vested with vast coercive powers. Economic sanctions are one of the tools, which the Council is authorized to employ. According to Articles 41 and 42, the measures range from complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of means of transportation and communication to the use of armed force.

The underlying rationale of the system of collective security is that of gradual escalation. Initially, the aim is the pacific settlement of disputes for which the Security Council may make recommendations under Chapter VI of the Charter. Should the Council, however, come to the conclusion that negotiations have failed, and determine the existence of a threat to the peace or breach of the peace, it may make use of its coercive powers under Chapter VII – in order to maintain or restore international peace and security. Which measures to apply is at the discretion of the Security Council alone.

The Security Council’s monopoly on violence and the corrective of power politics

The political reality or, in fact, human nature is such that domestic peace or the rule of law will only be guaranteed as long as the monopoly on violence (“Gewaltmonopol”) rests with the state, as Max Weber classically phrased it. Internationally, the Security Council possesses this monopoly. Unlike in the case of unilateral sanctions, there exists at least some sort of a corrective to arbitrary decisions in this statutory framework – a “corrective of power politics,” so to speak. First of all, it is not just one state, however powerful it may be, but a group of 15 states2 that decides on the imposition of coercive measures. Any decision of the Council requires a majority of 9 (out of 15) votes. Moreover, at least on the level of non-permanent membership, all regions of the world are represented in the Council. Secondly, for a decision on sanctions to be binding, there must be no veto by one of the five permanent members.

Under the current circumstances, this is the special corrective of power politics. Sanctions need to be decided by way of consensus among the five permanent members (the great powers of the post-war era). This explains why – compared to the practice of unilateral sanctions – the number of multilateral sanctions has been relatively small since the foundation of the UN.

Legal problems with Security Council decisions

However, in this framework, even greater legal problems may arise as compared to unilateral sanctions. This is due to the interrelatedness of the decision-making rules of the Charter (Article 27) with norms (Articles 24-25) establishing the legal primacy of the Security Council, a body, which John Foster Dulles once referred to as a “law unto itself.”3 The statutory position of the Security Council is indeed the most striking example of the lack of a separation of powers within the UN.

As mentioned above, decisions on (multilateral) sanctions can only be made if no permanent member casts a veto. At the same time, all states are bound by these decisions, because they are based on Chapter VII of the Charter. They also prevail over domestic law. There is no way to appeal.

The International Court of Justice has recognized the primacy of the Security Council in this regard. When Libya appealed to the International Court of Justice to request provisional measures in connection with a dispute about the interpretation of the Montreal Convention of 19714 concerning the 1988 terror attack over Lockerbie (Scotland), the Court confirmed that it was competent to judge resolutions of the Security Council only if they are not based on Chapter VII of the Charter, which includes coercive measures to maintain or restore peace (ruling of 27 February 1998). In other words, in the United Nations system there exists no option for legal revision as soon as the Security Council exercises its coercive powers. This applies to the imposition of economic sanctions as well as to the use or authorization of military force.

Human Rights violations through sanctions

A twofold legal problem arises from this. First: How should a situation be judged in which the Security Council itself, by means of its sanctions regime, violates human rights? The International Progress Organization was the first non-governmental organization to raise the question before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in the summer of 1991.5 In 1990, the Security Council had imposed a comprehensive sanctions regime on Iraq. The Council maintained these punitive measures, with increasing severity, over a period of more than 10 years. According to a 1996 survey of the “Harvard Study Team,” the sanctions caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people.6

The facts are shocking and disillusioning: The Security Council passes a resolution that results in a grave violation of the basic human rights of an entire nation – the right to life, the right to health, etc. There is no way whatsoever to challenge this resolution by legal means. Political options are very limited due to the weakness – often also cowardice and opportunism – of other member states. Power politics knows no conscience – also, and even more so, when it hides behind the cloak of “collective security”. The only figure of global significance who dared to speak out at the time was Pope John Paul II.

Almost impossible to revise decisions of the Security Council

The second serious legal problem arises from the decision-making rules in the Security Council. All decisions – except those about questions of procedure – require the consent of the five permanent members. This means that, once passed, a resolution can only be amended or rescinded if the permanent members agree. This also applies to decisions on the suspension or lifting of sanctions. In all non-procedural matters, the Security Council is, so-to-speak, the hostage of its own initial resolution.

Accordingly, it is at the mercy of the veto-wielding powers that have initiated the imposition of sanctions. This was exactly the dilemma in the case of the Iraq sanctions. Albeit their effect (intended by the Council) and humanitarian impact were periodically reviewed in conformity with the Council’s resolutions, because of the veto the Council was unable to draw the necessary consequences.

There had been demands in the Council – especially by Russia – to discontinue the sanctions, considering their adverse humanitarian impact, but this proved to be impossible due to the above mentioned statutory reasons. The sanctions would have remained in effect forever had the United States not decided at some point that it was “satisfied” with their results. This was the case when the US had occupied the country in 2003. Without further ado, the sanctions were lifted – after the government of Iraq had been removed by force. Thus, “régime change” must have been the real motive for the sanctions to be kept in place for more than a decade.7

This paradigmatic case of power politics under UN auspices has demonstrated that it is impossible to take any measures of redress once a resolution on coercive measures has been passed. The international community is utterly powerless in a situation where at least one permanent member objects to the revision of a previous resolution (in the particular case, the lifting of comprehensive economic sanctions). The voting strategy is entirely at the discretion of the respective permanent member. It is not under any legal obligation to give reasons for its decision. In that sense, the rules and regulations of the UN Charter reveal a kind of circular reasoning, or systemic contradiction.8

Furthermore, in the UN system of collective security, the rationale of sanctions is to induce the sanctioned state to change its behavior. This requires that the conditions for the lifting of sanctions are precisely defined. This is essential for the international community to accept coercive measures as an instrument of collective security. States under sanctions – and the people affected by sanctions – must be able to see light at the end of the tunnel, and not only for humanitarian reasons.

Once the circumstances in a country have changed, it must be possible to end a comprehensive sanctions regime (which is, strictly speaking, tantamount to collective punishment). This must be done according to clearly defined criteria, independently of considerations of power politics. Just to give one example: when a state – such as Iraq – has ceased to be a threat to international peace, when this state has withdrawn its troops from occupied territory long ago (in the case of Iraq: in 1991), and has abandoned all weapons of mass destruction, it is intrinsically immoral and in violation of international humanitarian law to continue to subject the population of this state to collective punishment.

In the early 1990s I drew attention to this problem in a paper about the ethical aspects of the Security Council’s sanctions policy.9 Following a statement by the International Progress Organization on the question of the compatibility of the Iraq sanctions with human rights before the UN Commission on Human Rights (1991),10 and after further initiatives by international NGOs, that body commissioned a report on this matter, which reached similar conclusions.11

“Being as convinced of free-trade as the US apparently are – who keep recommending this principle to the whole world – a state should refrain from political interference with their export trade and private entrepreneurs should not allow themselves to be hold hostage to their state’s power politics. […] For the over-all cost-benefit-equation the losses due to retaliation measures of the sanctioned state need to be taken into consideration as well.”

III. Conclusion

Sanctions are a tool of international politics, which must be seen as incompatible with the ideas of diplomacy and peaceful co-existence among nations. As is obvious from the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, sanctions are coercive measures just one stage below the use of armed force. In moral terms, measures of this type indeed share the characteristics of war.

Unilateral sanctions belong to the law of the jungle

If unilaterally imposed, sanctions belong to the law of the jungle. In that regard, they fit better into the “old” system of international law where the jus ad bellum, the “right to wage war,” was the prerogative of the sovereign state. However, there appears to be a consensus among scholars that, since the end of the First World War, the international community has gone beyond this “absolute” understanding of sovereignty.

Multilateral sanctions, in theory at least, are an instrument to secure the international rule of law, and in particular to strengthen the ban on the use of force and, subsequently, to maintain peace among nations. Multilateral sanctions are portrayed in this positive light notwithstanding the fact that, as far as the Council’s permanent members are concerned, the very states that are responsible for their imposition – and, by virtue of the veto, their indefinite prolongation – enjoy, due to that same privilege, de facto legal immunity as regards the political and humanitarian consequences. Strictly speaking, this kind of arbitrary rule borders on despotism. Furthermore, because of the permanent members’ very right to veto, these statutory provisions are not likely to change in the foreseeable future.12 As long as there exists no better alternative to the existing organization, we must reluctantly live with the fact that multilateral sanctions regimes entail the risks we have described above.

Balance of power in the Security Council the only hope

One can only hope that a global power constellation such as that in the early 1990s – after the end of the Cold War – will not repeat itself. What matters here is a balance of power in the Security Council itself. As for the UN Charter, the veto right of the permanent members embodies the rationale of such a balance (among those five states). But this is not the point. What is needed is a balance of power in real, not merely procedural (statutory), terms. This actually did not exist in 1990 and the following years – when the Soviet Union was in the final stages of disintegration and, subsequently, Russia had a president whose policies thrusted the country towards the edge of the abyss. In a situation where no country is strong and bold enough to stand up against a dominant state – in this instance, the US, there is, almost inevitably, the risk that all participants at the negotiating table will duck and not dare to say “no.” In the years after 1990, this became apparent, in particular, in the voting behavior of small and medium states (as non-permanent members in the Security Council). Just to give one example in connection with the Iraq crisis: In back door meetings at UN headquarters, representatives of the most powerful member state confronted envoys of some developing countries with the prospect that military or economic aid would no longer be forthcoming should the country vote against a certain Security Council resolution.13

The use of multilateral sanctions as a tool of foreign policy by the only remaining superpower had only been possible because this country was able to exploit the absence of a global balance of power. In more than one case, this resulted in a massive violation of human rights of the population in the targeted countries. Against this background, it is absolutely essential that permanent members of the Security Council, being vested (under current regulations) with the power to prevent the imposition of coercive measures, actually are strong enough, in economic as well as military terms, to withstand any potential pressure from their more powerful peers – or from the most powerful member state (depending on the constellation). In the harsh environment of global power politics, this corrective of realpolitik will be indispensable as long as legal provisions are not ultimately effective. In this regard, the only reason for hope lies in the gradual emergence of a new multipolar balance of power at the global level.

* Translated from the German by Current Concerns.

** The text printed here is based on a lecture delivered at the international conference “Mut zur Ethik” (Courage for Ethics) on 2 September 2017.

1    For details see, inter alia, Alfredo Puig, “Economic Sanctions and their Impact on Development: The Case of Cuba,” in: Hans Köchler (ed.), Economic Sanctions an Development. Studies in International Relations, Vol. XXIII. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1997, pp. 65-69.
2    The number of Security Council members was increased from 11 to 15 when the UN Charter was amended in 1963.
3    War or Peace. New York: Macmillan, 1950, p. 194.
4    Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation.
5    Statement of the delegate of the I.P.O. before the Human Rights Commission, Geneva, 13 August 1991: The Iraq Crisis and the United Nations: Power Politics vs. The International Rule of Law. Ed. Hans Köchler. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 2004, pp. 23-26.
6    Report of the “Harvard Study Team”: Unsanctioned Suffering: A Human Rights Assessment of United Nations Sanctions on Iraq. Center for Economic and Social Rights, May 1996.
7    For a documentation of the legal and political problems of the Iraq sanctions and the paralysis of the UN due to the Security Council veto see Hans Köchler (ed.), The Iraq Crisis and the United Nations: Power Politics vs. the International Rule of Law. Memoranda and declarations of the International Progress Organization (1990 – 2003). Studies in International Relations, Vol. XXVIII. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 2004.
8    For legal details see the papers of the author: The Voting Procedure in the United Nations Security Council: Examining a Normative Contradiction and its Consequences on International Relations. Studies in International Relations, Vol. XVII. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1991; and: “Normative Inconsistencies in the State System with Special Emphasis on International Law,” in: The Global Community – Yearbook of International Law and Jurisprudence 2016. Ed. Giuliana Ziccardi Capaldo. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 175-190.
9    Ethische Aspekte der Sanktionen im Völkerrecht: Die Praxis der Sanktionspolitik und die Menschenrechte. Studies in International Relations, Vol. XX. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1994. English edition: The United Nations Sanctions Policy and International Law. Penang (Malaysia): Just World Trust (JUST), 1995.
10    Statement of 13 August 1991 (see footnote 5 above).
11    Marc Bossuyt, The Adverse Consequences of Economic Sanctions on the Enjoyment of Human Rights. United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33.
12    According to Article 108 of the UN Charter any amendment of the Charter requires the consent of the permanent members of the Security Council.
13    Regarding the Gulf War resolution of 29 November 1990 see the comment of Erskine Childers “Empowering ‘We the Peoples’ in the United Nations,” in: Hans Köchler (ed.), The United Nations and the New World Order: Keynote addresses from the Second International Conference On A More Democratic United Nations. Studies in International Relations, Vol. XVIII. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1992, pp. 27f.

ABOUT AUTHOR:  Hans Köchler has served as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Innsbruck (Austria) from 1990 until 2008. Today he is Chairman of the Austrian Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Wissenschaft und Politik, (Working Group for Siences and Politics), Co-Chairman of the International Academy for Philosophy and president of the International Progress Organization, which he co-founded in 1972. At this point we are only able to emphasize a few aspects of his very rich work. Köchler’s research focuses are among others Legal Philosophy and Political Philosophy, Philosophical Anthropology, in which his research findings in many points do correspond with the views of the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the late Pope John Paul II.

Since the early seventies Hans Köchler has been issuing numerous publications, undertaking journeys, delivering speeches and contributions to various international organisations; this way he has been committed to the dialogue of cultures, especially to a dialogue between the West and the Islamic World. In 1987 Professor Köchler along with Nobel Prize winner Seán MacBride launched the “Appeal by Lawyers against Nuclear War”. As a result Köchler contributed with his advisory opinion so that the International Court of Justice later declared a potential use of nuclear weapons would be a breach of international law. Time and again Hans Köchler commented on the reform of the United Nations and called for its democratization. He especially commented on the question how international law could be implemented and he vehemently opposed the instrumentalisation of the norms of international law by playing power politics.

As special envoy appointed by the then UN-Secretary General Kofi Annan to the “Lockerbie Trial” he wrote a critical report which was published as a book entitled “Global Justice or Global Revenge? International Justice at the Crossroads” in 2003. His impression was, that the Lockerbie-Trial was influenced by political guidelines. Therefore he demanded a the strengthening of the seperation of powers and the complete independency of international criminal jurisdiction.

For more than 20 years Hans Köchler has been dealing with the problem of unilateral and multilateral sanctions. As early as 1994, he published a basic 50-page publication on the subject: Ethi­sche Aspekte der Sanktionen im Völkerrecht: Die Praxis der Sanktionspolitik und die Menschenrechte. Studies in International Relations, Vol. XX. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1994. English edition: The United Nations Sanctions Policy and International Law. Penang (Malaysia): Just World Trust (JUST), 1995.


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  1. I enjoyed that article, particularly how the writer lays out the flaws in the SC processes. I agree with the conclusion as well, the real problem is/was the lack of real balance of power in the world. Enforcing unilateral sanctions beyond your own borders, and the illegality of it, was also good to read about.

  2. Choking enemy supply lines, is standard military action prior to advance or assault. Many times, the starving people emerge from their holes with their hands up. Self sufficiency thus, is critical to the security of any community in the world. Defense budgets should prioritize local food security even over the arming of the citizenry. If your community requires more than 15 % of your sustainable food supply to be imported, you are vulnerable. Thus, the initial assault, could easily be veiled in becoming the external food source. I don’t need to buy cat food, if I buy bird and rodent food.

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