for smarter sanctions, not smarting sanctions hitting innocents
NEW YORK - The United Nations has been one of the most vociferous
critics of rebel groups recruiting teenage soldiers — a practice
that remains universally condemned and is in violation of international
But will the Security Council ever follow up with economic and military
sanctions against groups such as the LTTE and the Lord's Resistance
Army for defying the world body by continuing to abuse children?
Or will it even follow in the footsteps of the 25-member European
Union by imposing a travel ban on rebel leaders? Predictably, the
chances are slim.
resistance to sanctions is rooted in the worst case scenario in
Iraq. The UN's appetite for sanctions has continued to decline ever
since an economic embargo on Iraq destroyed that country's oil-rich
economy and triggered a major humanitarian crisis causing the deaths
of hundreds of children deprived of medical care and drugs.
Although sanctions are meant to punish political leaders, governments
and rebel groups, the devastating impact of embargoes has been mostly
on unintended victims. The sanctions that were aimed at punishing
Iraq's political leaders never reached that country's power structure
or the higher echelons of government.
As UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette said last week the
international community learned that such "comprehensive sanctions",
if maintained for any length of time, are even more punitive for
the civilian population than for the government at which they are
Carol Bellamy, the former Executive Director of the UN Children's
Fund (UNICEF) once said that some 4,500 Iraqi children under the
age of five were dying every month from malnutrition and disease.
The deaths were caused by a shortage of food and medical supplies
blamed primarily on UN sanctions.
The widespread unpopularity of sanctions is evident every year when
the General Assembly continues to condemn US sanctions against its
longtime nemesis, Cuba.
Last week, for the 14th consecutive year, the General Assembly voted
overwhelmingly against the US embargo against the Caribbean nation
presided over by Fidel Castro.
Although the resolution adopted by the Assembly was non-binding,
it sent a clear message to the US because it has continued to generate
increased support from member states. Last week's vote count also
indicated the isolation of the US in its continued anti-Castro policy
a General Assembly of 191 members, the resolution was adopted by
a hefty 182 votes in favour with only four against: the US and its
only continuously faithful ally Israel, and supported by two minions,
Marshall Islands and Palau. The Pacific Island of Micronesia, another
non-entity at the UN, abstained on the vote.
The US embargo, which has crippled the Cuban economy and caused
hardships to the people of the country, has remained for 44 years.
But the US knows well it would never succeed in promoting a similar
UN embargo on Cuba.
Still, after the UN sanctions debacle in Iraq, the Bush administration
is now targeting Syria for its "non-cooperation" in tracking
down the culprits responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But how far will the US succeed in
At a news conference last week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said
that if Syria did not cooperate, sanctions were a possibility. But
he cautioned that the Security Council would have to decide what
type of sanctions it will impose.
"Sanctions are a blunt instrument," he told reporters,
"and sometimes, it tends to hurt the innocent. The innocent
being the vast majority of people, and this is why over the years,
there have been quite a lot of studies about smart sanctions, putting
sanctions on individuals whose behaviour one wants to change rather
than a sanctions regime which affects an entire population."
So, if ever there are sanctions in the future, they will be more
sophisticated and carefully-targeted, such as travel bans on political
leaders and the freezing of bank accounts.
Still, there can be loopholes. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
is subject to a travel ban by the European Union. But he has had
no problems going to Rome to attend meetings of the Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) which is based in the Italian capital.
The travel ban does not apply to world leaders attending UN meetings
— be it in New York, Rome, Paris or Geneva. So Mugabe has
been defying the EU travel ban by making sure that he attends every
UN meeting of world leaders — just to annoy the Europeans.
In 1997, a high-level international Task Force faulted the Security
Council for imposing economic sanctions without the means to police
the results of such punitive action. What is needed, the panel said,
was smarter sanctions and targeted sanctions.