Sanctions' Effects on Human Rights Violations

Katherine Gallagher

Purpose of Paper

This paper first examines two case studies: South Africa during apartheid and post-Gulf War Iraq to determine the impact of sanctions on human rights violations. The paper then analyzes the sanctions’ ability to achieve the aims for which they are implemented, and lastly evaluates the most effective strategy available to international organizations and states trying to decrease human rights violations.


Human Rights

When assessing the merits of imposing sanctions numerous areas of human rights law deserve of consideration.  Historical documents, such as Britain's Magna Carta (1215) and the United States' Bill of Rights (1789), delineate certain individual rights but apply only to particular nations.[1]  Internationally, agreements such as the Geneva Convention (1864) and the Hague Convention (1899) focus on human rights, albeit primarily in the context of war.[2]  Transgressions against human rights during peacetime failed to receive significant international recognition until after the massive violations of World War II, which provoked the adoption of the widely accepted Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Geneva Conventions of 1949.[3]  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 217,[4] specifically entitles every individual to:


The right to life (art. 3), the right to freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment (art. 5), the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care, social security (art. 25), as well as the rights of…mothers and children [and]…prisoners. [5]

Also of importance are the provisions contained in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights which guarantee the "right to health (art. 12) and the right to education (art. 13)."[6]  The Geneva Conventions (1949) are particularly relevant to the implementation of sanctions, because they ensure "free passage of medical provisions and objects necessary for religious worship.”[7]

In the last few decades, sanctions have arisen as an alternative to military intervention or diplomatic censure as a method of enforcing numerous international covenants designed to define and protect the rights of the individual.  Sanctions affect the aforementioned rights in two significant ways.  First, international organizations or individual nations may impose sanctions in the attempt to halt government-sponsored violations of human rights.  Alternatively, the employment of sanctions in pursuit of another political or economic goal may result in unintentionally detrimental human rights consequences.  The impact of sanctions on a country's human rights situation needs to be evaluated both prior to and during the sanctions' enactment.


Types of Sanctions


Working positively or negatively, sanctions provide inducements or threats to the offenders to encourage compliance.  Sanctions are imposed on either a multilateral or unilateral basis; multilateral sanctions are considered more legitimate and more effective by the international community.  However, one possible drawback to the involvement of additional countries is the necessity of more complex decision-making methods.[8]  In the U.N. Economic and Social Council report evaluating the consequences of sanctions on human rights violations, analyst Marc Bossuyt identifies five types of sanctions: economic, travel, military, diplomatic, and cultural.[9]

Economic: Increased worldwide economic interdependence has greatly expanded the popularity of economic sanctions.  As the most frequently used type of sanction, these sanctions are employed in both of case studies examined in this report.  Economic sanctions are divided into three categories: limiting exports to a country, limiting the imports from that country, and imposing financial sanctions.   Financial sanctions entail:

[The] blocking of government assets held abroad, limiting access to financial markets and restricting loans and credits, restricting international transfer payments and restricting the sale and trade of property abroad, [as well as]…freezing development aid.[10]

The first of these three options is the easiest to implement because exports are more easily controlled, while the source of imports can be difficult to identify.[11]  Generally, financial sanctions are more effective than export controls because the sanctioned nation can purchase the exports from another country.  However, import controls have the greatest impact on a nation’s economy, severely limiting financial growth.[12]

Travel: Travel sanctions limit the travel capabilities of particular individuals as well as their mode of transportation, reducing air travel significantly.[13]  These sanctions are also imposed on both countries examined. Such narrowly applied sanctions more effectively punish the government officials and military leaders responsible for the human rights violations, limiting their ability to conduct overseas business and political dealings.

Military: These sanctions specifically target the non-compliant government by imposing "arms embargoes or…terminating military assistance or training."[14]  The most prevalent issue of debate connected to the use of military sanctions is the impairment of the sanctioned country's self-defense capability.[15]  South Africa and Iraq have both subjected to these sanctions.

Diplomatic: Diplomatic sanctions focus specifically on "rulers of a sanctioned State: diplomats and political leaders may have their visas revoked and may be forbidden to participate in international bodies and organizations."[16]  International actions taken against South Africa, such as Pretoria's exclusion from the U.N. General Assembly and specialized U.N. agencies between 1961 and 1994, exemplify this genre of sanction.[17]  The effectiveness of diplomatic sanctions, which use shame and consertation to influence the actions of state leaders, increases when these leaders wish to retain international standing for economic and nationalistic purposes.

Cultural: Similar to diplomatic sanctions, cultural sanctions aim to disgrace a nation.  The mildest manner of sanctioning, cultural sanctions involve banning "athletes…folk dancers, musicians, and other artists…[as well as] restrictions…on educational and tourist travel."[18]  The ban on South African athletes from Olympic competition from 1970 to 1991 exemplifies a cultural sanction.[19]


Objectives of Sanctions


As previously detailed, analysis of the relationship between sanctions and human rights has two components, depending on the goal for which the sanctions were imposed.  Evaluating sanctions implemented to decrease human rights violations is simpler because such sanctions inherently consider their impact on human rights violations.  The recent increase, particularly in the 1990s, in the use of sanctions imposed to minimize human rights violations is due in part to greater international cooperation in the post-Cold War era.[20]  Moreover, according to political scientist David C. Hendrickson, the United States's enthusiasm for the "promoting of democracy and human rights through economic sanctions," coupled with its considerable economic and military prowess, has additionally augmented the use of this avenue of intervention.[21]

Rarely, however, are human rights violations the primary impetus for imposing sanctions. Sender states (the sanctioning states) may choose to use sanctions to "avoid the use of military force, [to] appear to take action…[and to] create incentive for collective action on global environmental problems."[22]  With regard to specific foreign policy goals, Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliot, researchers at the Institute for International Economics, present five possible sender country objectives.

Objective One: Altering "target country policies in a relatively modest way…illustrated by the human rights and nuclear nonproliferation cases."[23]  Though the authors acknowledge these alterations have great significance during the sanctions regime, they categorize the changes as modest in the scope of the nation's history.  Modest policy changes are often sought in concert with another objective.

Objective Two: Destabilizing the target government.[24]  Often an implicitly understood aim, sender countries rarely overtly identify the overthrow of another nation's government as a primary goal.  The sanctions imposed against Iraq by the U.S. are classified in this category, one of their main objectives being the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

Objective Three: Sanctions may also be enacted to "disrupt a minor military adventure."[25]  Sanctions in this category are used to dissuade a government from pursuing expansionist objectives, particularly through invasion.  The sanctions enacted against South Africa illustrate a category three objective because they attempt to terminate South Africa’s control of Namibia, which it occupied from 1915 until 1988.[26]

Objective Four: Reducing the military capabilities of the target country.[27]  The deployment of weapons inspectors in Iraq exemplifies sanctions used to achieve this end.  Like military sanctions, this objective is problematic in that it may conflict with a nation's right to defend itself.  Furthermore, enforcement of this type of sanction often leads to human rights violations due to the sanctioning of basic survival goods that have a dual use in a military capacity.

Objective Five: The final objective of sanctions is changing target country’s policies in a "major way," possibly involving the surrender of territory or the alteration of an important custom.  The international efforts to end apartheid in South Africa typify major policy changes.[28]


Case Studies


The classification of sanctions and strategies identified above is useful in structuring an analysis of contemporary sanctions regimes.  The following case studies involve a brief history of the nation's situation/violations of human rights and a discussion of actions taken by international actors to decrease human rights violations in these specific instances.  The case study analyses further examine sanctions imposed for other objectives, the factors contributing to their success or failure, and the effect these sanctions have on the human rights situation.  It is important to note that the sender states' success or failure to achieve their implicit or explicit goals and the contribution of the sanctions to these outcomes can only be measured imprecisely.  In this report the terms "success" and "failure" will be subjectively applied according to whether the stated goals have been achieved.  Furthermore, because the tangible contributions of sanctions are not readily apparent, their impact has been estimated based on an evaluation of relevant economic data, statements of sender and target country officials, and critical analyses by political scientists.


South Africa


History of Human Rights Violations: From 1948 until its first democratic elections in 1994 South Africa lived under a reign of apartheid (Afrikaans for "separateness"), during which the white minority “used its overwhelming political, economic, and military power to oppress a disenfranchised black majority formally under a complex legal, social, and political system of racial discrimination and separation.”[29]  This was a time characterized by terror and shame for the Bantu (black) and Coloured (those of mixed descent) South African majority, during which “hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes and millions from their land [and] all [non-white] African adults were forced to carry passes…from dawn to dusk.”[30]

Throughout the apartheid era, black workplaces and education facilities operated at a substandard level.  During the Pretoria-imposed State of Emergency, running almost continuously from 1985 to 1990 in most areas,[31] police had the right to "detain anyone up to six months without charge [or representation in the racially biased judicial system] and could brutalize or murder suspects" without fear of repercussion.[32]  Violence, illustrated by torture-induced confessions from illegal opposition political party members as well as by the 1960 Sharpeville and 1976 Soweto racially motivated massacres was commonplace.[33]  The above violations attracted global attention and led to severe repercussions for the Pretoria regime.

International Response to Human Rights Violations: Contemplation of sanctions began as early as 1959 when Albert Luthuli, former African National Congress (ANC) president, “urged the international community to impose an economic boycott of South Africa to 'precipitate the end of the hateful system of apartheid.'"[34]  In 1962, the U.N. General Assembly passed non-binding Resolution 1761 calling for a "break in diplomatic relations with South Africa."[35]  1963 saw the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 181, which “called on all states to cease shipment of arms to South Africa."[36]  In March 1977 several major companies adopted the Sullivan principles, aimed at promoting equal opportunity, and by December an oil embargo had been enacted.[37]

Boycotts of businesses with interests in South Africa, including Shell Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank, sprang up across the world.  Churches, universities, and entire American states became fervently involved in the anti-apartheid campaign.[38]  Such grassroots pressure led to the withdrawal of many businesses from South Africa, since "consumer boycotts, shareholder resolutions, and adverse publicity of these [citizen] groups 'altered the interest calculations of companies.'"[39]

Such zealous activism also influenced national legislation.  Reversing President Reagan's policy of constructive engagement, the United States Congress enacted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAAA, 1986) which "halted the domestic sale of Krugerrands (the South African Gold Coin), ended all flights between South Africa and the United States, banned imports of [several critical products, especially technology]…and barred American firms from making any new investments" in South Africa.[40]  The CAAA had five qualifications for repeal.  The South African government had to lift the State of Emergency, legalize political parties and allow for their free formation, agree to "enter into good faith negotiations with…the black majority without preconditions," release all political prisoners, and repeal the Group Areas Act (1950) and the Population Registration Act (1950).[41]

Sanctions enacted for other purposes: The complementary objective of many international actions taken against South Africa was to free Namibia, which had been under South African rule since the end of the German colonial period in 1915.  Such actions included U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2145 (1966) and Security Council Resolution 276 (1970), the aim of both being “to terminate South African mandate for Namibia."[42]

Effectiveness of Sanctions: All categories of sanctions available to the international community were imposed against South Africa to achieve the goal of governmental change.  South Africa's black majority now has a political voice and the requirements delineated in the CAAA have been met.  Thus, it appears that U.N. and U.S. actions have achieved their aims.  But, how influential were these sanctions to the destruction of the existent systematic racial oppression?  To what extent did internal conditions contribute to the political revolution?

The debate regarding the effectiveness of sanctions in dismantling South African apartheid remains volatile and unresolved.  Some critics attribute apartheid's failure to inherent systematic flaws that impeded market forces, i.e., the inability to employ a skilled workforce (limited to the white population).[43]  Other analysts believe "apartheid was a doomed policy from the start [because the]…repression…could eventually be maintained only at the price of more violence than most whites could tolerate."[44]  The falling price of gold in the international market and the conflict over Namibia, both of which further exacerbated South Africa's sanction induced economic catastrophe, were important external factors leading to white South Africans’ dissatisfaction with the Pretoria regime.[45]

However, most analysts agree that despite the inevitability of apartheid's demise, sanctions helped facilitate the system's end.  South Africa's heavy reliance on foreign capital made it particularly vulnerable to the impact of sanctions,[46] especially trade sanctions, because it functioned as an export dependent economy, reliant on exportation of raw materials such as gold and uranium for a significant fraction of its GDP.[47]  Furthermore, cultural sanctions, such as the International Olympic Committee's 1970-1991 ban on the participation of South African athletes, hurt the psyche of many whites, causing them to feel like pariahs in world society.[48]  Moreover, sanctions "accelerated the splitting [and fragmentation] of the white community as conflicting demands [regarding apartheid's persistence as opposed to economic growth and international good will] could not be met."[49]

Economically, the Trust Bank of South Africa estimated that "real incomes [in 1989] were 15% lower than they would have been without sanctions and disinvestment."[50]  Furthermore, the debt crisis inspired by the trends of disinvestment in the late 1980s created a downward spiral of increasing inflation and unemployment rates, devalued the Krugerrand, and decimated South Africa's credit rating.[51]  South African Federated Chamber of Industries summarized the financial effect of sanctions in this 1986 statement:


Sanctions can damage the South African economy rather more seriously than appears to be generally perceived both inside and outside South Africa [but the economy] will not be crippled and can indeed survive, albeit at much lower level of economic activity and welfare.[52]

In sum, the sanctions regime damaged the economic, social, and political capabilities of South Africa in general and of the Pretoria government in particular.  Combine this economic devastation with the embarrassment of the white ruling class that resulted from international ostracism and one can conclude that sanctions appear to have played a major role in the dismantling of apartheid and the evolution of South African democracy.

Sanctions' Effects on Human Rights: The sanctions-precipitated demise of apartheid was far from painless.  The economic disaster of the 1980s and 1990s harmed not only South African whites, but blacks and Coloureds as well.  Before the implementation of sanctions, analysts hypothesized that, "if broad new sanctions were to cut deeply into the South African economy, the government's probable response would be to abandon reform, crack down on black protest and make certain that whites got their slice of the shrinking pie first."[53]  Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelize, black leader of the South African Zulu liberation movement, opposed sanctions, asserting that they would limit Blacks' ability to find the jobs which "give them economic and political muscle."[54]  He believed comprehensive sanctions "were a terribly indiscriminate and blunt instrument which hurt the oppressed as well as the oppressor."[55]  Furthermore, there was an intense fear, validated by the conditions of the State of Emergency, that sanctions would lead to more violent and aggressive oppression.[56]  However, while sanctions admittedly contributed to black and Coloured South African suffering by inducing more violence and imprisonment, they ultimately decreased the number of human rights violations in South Africa by ending apartheid.




History of Human Rights Violations: Since Saddam Hussein's rise to power in 1979, the violations of human rights in Iraq have been widespread and severe.  U.N. Special Rapporteur for Iraq Andreas Mavrommatis investigated these violations in 2000, reporting government-advocated breaches of human rights in several areas.  He reported transgressions against "religious dignitaries of the Shia faith" who made allegations, "including harassment of Shia priests in the form of frequent arrests, disruption of religious ceremonies…and restrictions on most ayatollahs."[57]  Furthermore, U.N. Special Rapporteurs discovered evidence of "extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions" for reasons varying from prostitution to regime opposition.[58]   Armed raids on villages, particularly in Southern Iraq, resulted "in loss of life, damage to property and searches and arrests [of individuals] without warrant…on suspicion of political or religious activities perceived as hostile to the regime" who were then denied access to judicial representation and a fair trial.[59]  These arrests formed part of a campaign of large-scale expulsion from Iraq of Kuwaiti and Iraqi citizens, allegedly of Iranian ancestry.  Also expelled or relocated by the government have been a large number of "non-Arabs" including "Kurds, Turkomen and Assyrians" whose previous areas of residence consequently underwent "arabization," i.e. ethnic cleansing, which involved "the provision of…incentives to Arabs to move to [these areas and]…intimidation, arrest, economic hardship…and eventually forced expulsion" for non-Arabs.[60]

Lastly, "allegations to the effect that suspects are subjected to ill-treatment, psychological pressure and torture during questioning" in police custody have arisen.  Such methods of torture include electric shock, beating, the amputation of both ears and the branding of a "6 to 7 centimeter-long oblong brand mark on [the] forehead."[61]  Despite the Revolution Command Council of Iraq's 1996 passage of Decree 81, outlawing the amputation and branding of military deserters, these practices are still common punishments for desertion and other offenses.[62]  Alleged government opponents are also tortured, and their families harassed.[63]

International Response to Human Rights Violations: Despite the occurrence of human rights violations prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, international action against such transgressions was minimal.  However, since the invasion of Kuwait, such human rights violations have served as a politically popular reason for enacting, and prolonging, sanctions that allow the U.S. and the U.N. to maintain control over Iraqi oil sales and military potential.  After the cease-fire, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 688 (1991), demanding the Iraqi government stop repressing its people, particularly those of Kurdish ethnicity.[64]  In 1996, the U.N. Human Rights Commission "adopted a strongly-worded resolution condemning 'massive and extremely grave violations of human rights.'"[65]  The U.S. and its coalition partners currently enforce "no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq [in an attempt]…to deter Iraq's use of aircraft against its population" and "facilitate talks between the two major Kurdish groups in an effort to help…resolve differences."[66]  These actions persist in the name of human rights, but their primary motivations stem from the sender countries’ political and security concerns.

Sanctions enacted for other purposes: In addition to the improvement of human rights circumstances, the sanctions were simultaneously motivated by the aforementioned economic and military concerns, as well as by the desires to halt the invasion of Kuwait and to destabilize Saddam Hussein's government.  In August 1990, the U.N. Security Council imposed Resolution 661, condemning Iraq's usurpation of Kuwait, and sanctioned all imports and exports to and from Iraq with the exception of foodstuffs and medical supplies.[67]  Subsequently enacted were Security Council Resolutions 665 (1990) and 670 (1990) which respectively imposed naval and air blockades on Iraq, actions traditionally considered to be acts of war.[68]  After the conflict was resolved the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 687 (1991) which "imposed a comprehensive arms embargo and established a technical commission of experts [United Nations Special Commission] (UNSCOM) to monitor and destroy the weapons of mass destruction of Iraq."[69]

Effectiveness of Sanctions: The majority of sanctions against Iraq continue to be maintained, though international enthusiasm for and participation in the sanctions has waned dramatically, primarily due to the decrease in quality of life since the imposition of the sanctions.  However, despite continued enforcement, the sanctions have failed to fully achieve their objectives.  Iraq’s military venture has been stopped, as evidenced by Security Council Resolution 686 in March of 1991, detailing the terms of the Iraq-Kuwait cease-fire, and Iraq's 1994 recognition of Kuwait's sovereignty.[70]  However, sanctions are not entirely responsible for Iraq's withdrawal; military strikes also contributed to Kuwait's freedom.  Middle East public policy expert Daniel Byman hypothesizes that although "Saddam remained defiant of UNSCOM…his reaction to the strikes indicates that he fears [the]…strikes might decrease support among his power base."[71]

Inducing Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait was part of the U.N.'s plan to promote regional stability; a goal that the U.N. has further pursued by attempts to limit Iraq's military potential.[72]  However, the threat of regional hostility remains prevalent due to Saddam Hussein's continued reign, and the lack of success in limiting Iraq’s military capabilities: arms embargoes and weapons inspections have minimal impact due to black market trading and Iraqi noncompliance with UNSCOM.[73]  According to former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, "U.N. sanctions show no signs of ever having a 'decisive effect' upon Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war."[74]  Nevertheless, minor mitigation of these threats has occurred, "most experts estimate that if sanctions were lifted Iraq would long ago have produced several nuclear weapons and an even more extensive biological weapons program."[75]  Such findings legitimize these sanctions.

Sanctions have also failed to achieve America's desire to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime, illustrated by White House spokesperson Martin Fitzwalter's 1991 statement that "all possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone."[76]  Conversely, some critics believe that intervention has actually strengthened Saddam Hussein's position.  Sanctions analyst Geoff Simons writes, "imposition of sanctions is counter-productive, putting the Iraqi people on Saddam's side because they resent very strongly the way they are being treated."[77]

Sanctions' Effects on Human Rights: The number of human rights violations in Iraq has increased dramatically since 1991.  The U.N. sanctions have produced "nationwide poverty, malnutrition, increased mortality, [factors] compounded by destroyed electricity and water sanitation infrastructure caused by bombing."[78]  The U.N. estimates that the number of "deaths directly attributable to the sanctions…range from half a million to a million and a half, with the majority of the dead being children."[79]  By 1993 the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, in conjunction with the World Food Program, put forth a special report revealing that Iraq demonstrated "pre-famine indicators."[80]  In 1999 UNICEF released statistics revealing "that in the heavily-populated southern and central parts of the country, children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago."[81]  Furthermore, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described Iraq's current health-care system as being "in a decrepit state."[82]

Measures taken to counteract this crisis included the 1996 implementation of the U.N.'s 'oil-for-food' program, which in 1996 allowed for two billion U.S. dollars' worth of oil to be sold every 180 days for food, medical supplies, and reparations.[83]  This program, the enactment of which had been delayed since 1991 by Iraq’s refusal to implement it on the basis that it impinges on national sovereignty, currently allows an unlimited amount of oil to be sold (Security Council Resolution 1284, 1999).[84]  Nevertheless, there has been "a 32% drop in per capita calorie intake compared to before the Gulf War."[85]  Moreover, even if the program worked perfectly, the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has acknowledged that "it is possible that [it would]…prove insufficient to satisfy the population's needs."[86]

The abominable consequences of sanctions prompted former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Hans von Sponeck to comment, "that Iraq's poor record [on human rights] does not give the outside world the right also to abuse the human rights of the Iraqi people, who are now being doubly punished."[87]  For over ten years, the Iraqi people have suffered because of Saddam Hussein's reign as well as a largely ineffective and seemingly endless sanctions regime.  This combination has reduced Iraq, previously a country "with considerable wealth and a healthy and highly educated population…to a pre-industrialized economy, in which the middle class has lost everything [and] the poor have suffered horribly."[88]

Theoretically, continuing the sanctions regime alleviates the persecution of minorities under the Hussein regime.  However, the human rights implications for the entire population outweigh this concern, which could be alternatively addressed by another form of intervention that does not so severely impede humanitarian efforts.  Ultimately, if an alternative method of protecting Iraqi minorities and limiting Hussein’s development of weapons of mass destruction can be found the sanctions imposed on Iraq should be discontinued because they have been unsuccessful in achieving these goals while harming a significant number of Iraqis.

Analysis of Sanctions


The Most Favorable Conditions for the Imposition of Sanctions:

An examination of different sanctions regimes yields a theoretical set of circumstances in which sanctions are most effective.  Congenial prior relations between the target and sender states increase the effectiveness of sanctions because economic interdependence tends to be greater.  Moreover, close ties increase the importance of the sender country's good will to the target state, augmenting the impact of cultural sanctions.[89]  Modest goals further increase the sanctions' chance of success because acquiescing to a modest policy change entails a much lower societal cost for target country, consequently increasing the likelihood of cooperation.

In general, imposing sanctions on an economically weaker and less internationally powerful country increases their success rate because the target country's economy is easier to undermine.[90]  Quick international action further enhances the chance of the sanctions' success, according to Institute for International Economics studies, “a heavy, slow hand invites both evasion and the mobilization of domestic opinion in the target country [and may]…strengthen the target government at home as it mobilizes the forces of nationalism.”[91]  The more comprehensive the sanctions the better they work because their impact is generally felt more quickly and more intensely.

In terms of multilateral sanctions, though international cooperation has benefits, including increased moral suasion and isolation of the target country and decreased political international condemnation, coordinating the efforts of a large number of countries can prove cumbersome and detrimental to sanctions' effectiveness.[92]  Lastly, certainty of the sender country’s objectives prior to the imposition of sanctions and adherence to these goals during the regime may prevent a situation similar to Iraq’s where sanctions continue indefinitely.  Ambiguous goals decrease the target country’s willingness to cooperate because of escalating frustration due to increased requirements.[93]

Economists Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot assert that "the nature of the objective may be the most important political variable of all: sanctions cannot stop a military assault as easily as they can free a political prisoner.”[94]  Generally, despite the mixed results of the two case studies, sanctions enacted for the purposes of modest policy change and the destabilization of a regime are more effective than attempts to disrupt military adventures, impair military potential or cause a major policy change.  However, the success of sanctions “depends [significantly] on the personalities of national leaders, the kaleidoscope of contemporaneous world events, and other factors which are not captured by our variables.”[95]

Sanctions and Human Rights:

Despite the success of certain types of sanctions, some critics maintain that these achievements fall short of sufficient justification for the incidental effects on the target country.  Political analyst David Hendrickson summarizes the major humanitarian problems with sanctions in the following statement:


Acts that inflict foreseeable suffering on civilian populations have always been considered the most objectionable feature of interstate conflict…sanctions always reach in practice items critical to the well-being of the civilian population; the general destruction of economic life that is the avowed purpose of such embargoes swamps the half hearted compensating efforts that accompany them.[96]


Many analysts feel that regardless of the intent of the sender countries "the empirical impact on civilian populations [i.e. devastation] is the same; and for this reason, to knowingly impose hardship and harm on the vulnerable, even where there is a ‘good cause,’ is morally problematic.”[97]  Even Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the U.N., has recognized the contradictory nature of sanctions, stating that in sanctions regimes “it is usually the people who suffer, not the political elites whose behaviour triggered the sanctions in the first place.”[98]

David Hendrickson elucidates that the purpose of sanctions is to “attempt to punish the enemy so badly that it has no choice – on any rational calculation of costs and benefits – but to submit.”[99]  The problem, as illustrated through the case studies examined and the analysts’ commentaries contained in this report, is that those punished are often not those at fault.  Moreover, sanctions may even inadvertently incite nationalism, as in the case of Iraq.

Based on the evidence of both countries evaluated, the only sanctions worth implementing, with regard to human rights concerns, are sanctions enacted solely to improve the human rights situation within the country, for example South Africa.  Despite temporary sanctions-induced suffering, ultimately human rights violations decrease.  However, the human rights violations in Iraq, which was subjected to economically and politically motivated sanctions, increase with the imposition of sanctions.  For no reason should the sender countries continue to promote the suffering of these populations by limiting food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies, or by impeding the actions of humanitarian aid organizations.  The serious drawbacks to imposing sanctions in response to international disagreements necessitate the exploration of other avenues of intervention in search of both a more humane and a more effective method of protecting human rights.


The Most Promising Avenue of Intervention and Its Human Rights and its Consequences


Smart Sanctions: Contrary to the indications of the two case studies in this report, the most promising type of international intervention is actually a specific form of sanction.  Of all the various avenues of intervention, ‘smart’ or ‘targeted’ sanctions, which "directly affect the political leaders or those responsible for the breach of peace,” are the most effective.[100]  Smart sanctions involve freezing “the personal foreign assets" and truncating "access to foreign financial markets" of "members of the Government, the ruling elite, or members of the military” as well as subjecting them to travel restrictions.[101]  Arms embargoes "intended to deny wrongdoers the resources needed for repression and military aggression" further comprise this category.[102]

The probability of enacting effective smart sanctions increases if the senders employ U.N. analyst Marc Bossuyt’s “six prong test," which requires sanctions to fulfill specific requirements before implementation.[103]  The tests determine if the sanctions are imposed for a valid reason, such as a threat to international security, as well as if the ‘proper parties’ (elites) and the ‘proper goods’ (luxury items) are being targeted.  Additionally the tests examine if the sanctions are effective and time limited, and finally if “the sanctions [are] free from protest arising from violations of the ‘principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience.’”[104]

David Cortright and George A. Lopez, researchers for the International Peace Academy, detail further suggestions to augment the effectiveness of sanctions including, "preassessment of humanitarian and other impacts" and "streamlining exemptions procedures" to decrease the obstacles facing humanitarian organizations.[105]  Flexibility for the leadership is additionally important because it allows sender states to maneuver and grant partial concessions as rewards for small improvement.[106]  Lastly, the authors emphasize the notion that smart sanctions require a "careful and strategic analysis of the targeted society" to accurately determine the identity of perpetrators of the human rights violations, an identification necessary in order to implement the most effective sanctions.[107]

In sum, the most effective, most humane sanctions are smart sanctions, imposed in circumstances most favorable for the success of sanctions.  When observed in conjunction, these qualifications narrow the use of sanctions to situations where they will ultimately benefit the target country's population, and limit the use of sanctions for solely economic or political gain.


[1] "Drafting and Adoption: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights" The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 27 August 1998, <> (14 June 2001).

[2] “Drafting and Adoption”

[3][3]Marc Bossuyt, "The adverse consequences of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights" U.N. Document E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33, United Nations Economic and Social Council, 21 June 2000. 10.

[4] "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 27 August 1998, <> (14 June 2001).

[5] Bossuyt, 9.

[6] Bossuyt, 9.

[7] Bossuyt, 10.

[8] "The United Nations and Multilateral Sanctions: New Options for US Policy?" The Stanley Foundation, Report of the 33rd Strategy for Peace, US Foreign Policy Conference, 22-24 October 1992, 6.

[9] Bossuyt,  5.

[10] Bossuyt,  6.

[11] Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliot, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy (Washington D.C.: Institute for International Economics, 1985), 28.

[12] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 87-89.

[13] Bossuyt, 6.

[14] Bossuyt, 6.

[15] Bossuyt, 6.

[16] Bossuyt, 6.

[17] "Hot Topics in International Economics: Case Study: South Africa" Institute of International Economics. Excerpted from forthcoming Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 3rd ed., <> (14 June 2001). 2-21.

[18] Bossuyt, 7.

[19] “Hot Topics,” 19.

[20] David Cortright and George A. Lopez, The Sanctions Decade: Assessing U.N. Strategies in the 1990s (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000), 1.

[21] David C. Hendrickson "The democratist crusade: intervention, economic sanctions, and engagement," World Policy Journal, 11, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 18.

[22] “The United Nations and Multilateral Sanctions,”  6.

[23] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 29.

[24] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 29.

[25] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 29.

[26] “Hot Topics,” 14.

[27] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 29.

[28] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 29.

[29] Steven Anzovin, ed., South Africa: Apartheid & Divestiture (New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1987), 48.

[30] “Core document forming part of the reports of States Parties: South Africa” U.N. Document HRI/CORE/1/Add.92, United Nations, International Human Rights Instruments, 23 September 1998. 2.

[31] Herman J. Cohen, "Status report of US sanctions on South Africa" U.S. Department of State Dispatch 2, no. 18 (6 May 1991): 328.

[32] Anzovin, 43.

[33] Anzovin, 57 and 149.

[34] Jennifer Davis, "Squeezing Apartheid," Bullentin of the Atomic Scientists 49, no. 9 (November 1993): 16.

[35] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 346.

[36] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 347.

[37] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 348. Principles advocated by Rev. Leon Sullivan to promote social, economic, and political justice in nations where companies do business.  The principles are endorsed by hundreds of businesses worldwide.

[38] Davis, 18.

[39] Kenneth A. Rodman, "Public and private sanctions against South Africa" Political Science Quarterly 109,  no. 2 (Summer 1994): 316.

[40] Robert Kinloch Massie, Loosing the Bonds, (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 620. Constructive engagement means involvement, particularly in a country’s economy, in the attempt to alter a specific policy.

[41] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 347.  The Group Areas Act required black South Africans to reside in certain areas and prohibited interracial marriage.  The Population Act classified citizens by race.

[42] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 347.

[43] Joseph Hanlon, ed., South Africa: The Sanctions Report, (London: The Commonwealth Secretariat, 1990), 145.

[44] George J. Church, “A black and white future” Time 138, no. 3 (22 July 1991): 40.

[45] Kinloch Massie, 636.

[46] Davis, 16.

[47] Kinloch Massie, 623.

[48]  "How do South African sanctions work?" The Economist 313,  no. 7624 (14 October 1989): 45.

[49] Hanlon, 149.

[50] Hanlon, 45.

[51] Kinloch Massie, 634-636.

[52] Hanlon, 182.

[53] Bruce W. Nelan, “Sanctions: what spells success?” Time, 135,  no. 6 (5 February 1990): 31.

[54] Mangosuthu G. Buthelize, "Discerning the Divestment Debate" The South African Quagmire: In Search of a Peaceful Path to Democratic Pluralism, ed. S. Prakash Sethi, (Cambridge,MA: Ballinger, 1987), 165.

[55] Buthelize, 180.

[56] Buthelize, 184.

[57] Andreas Mavrommatis, "Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in any part of the World: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iraq" U.N. Document E/CN.4/2001/42, Commision on Human Rights, United Nations Economic and Social Council, 16 January 2001, 9.

[58] Mavrommatis, “Question,” 10-12.

[59] Mavrommatis, “Question,” 12-14.

[60] Andreas Mavrommatis "Situation of human rights in Iraq" U.N. Document A/55/294, United Nations General Assembly, 14 August 2000, 8.

[61] Mavrommatis, “Question,” 13.

[62] Max Van der Stoel, "Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Iraq" U.N. Document A/51/496, 15 October 1996, 4.

[63] Mavrommatis, “Question,” 13-14.

[64] United Nations Role in Maintaining International Peace and Security, Kuwait-Iraq Case Study, (Kuwait: Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait, 1995), 70.

[65] Bill Clinton, "Letter to Congressional leaders on Iraq," Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents 32, no. 19, (3 May 1996): 795.

[66] Clinton, 795-796.

[67] United Nations Role in Maintaining International Peace and Security, Kuwait-Iraq Case Study, 33-36.

[68]United Nations Role in Maintaining International Peace and Security, Kuwait-Iraq Case Study, 42-44.

[69] Bossuyt,  16.

[70] Geoff Simons, The Scourging of Iraq: Sanctions, Law, & Natural Justice (London: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1996), 65.

[71] Daniel Byman "After the Storm: U.S. Policy Toward Iraq Since 1991," Political Science Quarterly, 115, no. 4 (2000-2001): 510.

[72] United Nations' Role in Maintaining International Peace and Security, Kuwait-Iraq Case Study, 60.

[73] Simons, 63-64.

[74] Simons, 47.

[75] Byman, 502.

[76] Simons, 51.

[77] Simons, 59.

[78] Anthony Amore, ed., Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 163.

[79] Bossuyt, 16.

[80] Simons, 108 and 123.

[81] Bossuyt, 16.

[82] Bossuyt, 17.

[83] Bossuyt, 16.

[84] Bossuyt, 16.

[85] Bossuyt, 16.

[86] Bossuyt, 16.

[87] Sara Powell, "Former UN Human Rights Coordinator Speaks at Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 20, no. 1 (January 2001): 97.

[88] Joy Gordon, "Chokehold on the World," The Nation, 272, no. 1, (1 January 2001): 27.

[89] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 85.

[90] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 83.

[91] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 86.

[92] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 89-90.

[93] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 91.

[94] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 41.

[95] Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, 79.

[96] Hendrickson, 23.

[97] Gordon, 27.

[98] Bossuyt,  13.

[99] Hendrickson, 22.

[100] Bossuyt, 14.

[101] Bossuyt, 15.

[102] Cortright and Lopez, 226-227.

[103] Bossuyt, 11.

[104] Bossuyt, 11-12.

[105] Cortright and Lopez, 226-227.

[106] Cortright and Lopez, 224.

[107] Cortright and Lopez, 240.