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Human rights and unilateral coercive measures

The term “unilateral coercive measures” usually refers to economic measures taken by one State to compel a change in the policy of another State. Examples of such measures include trade sanctions in the form of embargoes and the interruption of financial and investment flows between sender and target countries. More recently, so-called “smart” or “targeted” sanctions such as asset freezing and travel bans, have been employed by individual States in order to influence persons who are perceived to have political influence in another State 1. The continuing practice of imposing various forms of unilateral coercive measures and the potential impact of such measures on human rights, has drawn the attention of a large number of Member States 2, UN human rights bodies and mechanisms including Special Procedures, academics and civil society organisations 3.

Several discussions, resolutions and reports presented to the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the former Commission on Human Rights have addressed the issue of the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the full enjoyment of human rights. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action 4, adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 called upon States to “refrain from any unilateral measure not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations that creates obstacles to trade relations among States and impede the full realization of the human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in international human rights instruments, in particular the rights of everyone to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including food and medical care, housing and the necessary social services”. Several United Nations studies have also been carried out on unilateral coercive measures and human rights including the issue of legality of such measures 5. These studies have analysed the legitimacy of unilateral coercive measures from a human rights perspective and the complex and divergent views around this topic. They have also stressed the need to further examine the linkages between unilateral coercive measures and human rights.


Workshop on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights (Geneva, 23 May 2014)


In its resolution 24/14, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to organize a workshop on the impact of the application of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights by the affected populations, in particular their socioeconomic impact on women and children, in the States targeted. This workshop was held on 23 May 2014 in Room XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva. The report on the proceedings of the workshop was submitted to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session, and is available here.

Objectives

The workshop aimed to:

  • Provide a platform for the exchange of views among States, academic and civil society experts, and human rights mechanisms, on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, especially of women and children
  • Follow up on recommendations of the previous workshop held in 2013 and contribute to the current efforts of the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee to identify mechanisms to assess and mitigate the adverse impact of unilateral coercive measures and ensure accountability;
  • Share experiences of contemporary unilateral coercive measures and learn lessons from the past as a first step towards developing basic principles and guidelines to redress adverse impacts of unilateral coercive measures.

Format

The workshop consisted of three panel discussions, which began with presentations from invited experts, followed by an interactive discussion between the experts and participants. The workshop was led by an expert moderator. The concept note of the workshop is available here. The programme is available here.

Participants

Representatives of Member States, UN agencies, academia and civil society and other relevant stakeholders, were invited to the workshop.

Presentations and Statements

Opening Session

Session I: Assessing the impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, in particular of women and children

Session II: Mechanisms to assess and mitigate the adverse impact of unilateral coercive measures and ensure accountability

Session III: Contemporary unilateral coercive measures: Learning lessons from the past to develop basic principles to redress adverse impacts

Statements made available to the Secretariat:

States

Other Stakeholders


Workshop on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights (Geneva, 5 April 2013)


Notes:

1. A/HRC/19/33.

2. GA Resolution A/67/118 “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was adopted by a recorded vote of 188 to 3, with 2 abstentions.

3. See the Report of the Secretary General on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (A/67/327 paragraphs 41, 42). See also the Secretary General’s annual report on Human rights and unilateral coercive measures (A/67/181), Report of the Secretary General, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (A/67/118), Secretary General’s report on Unilateral economic measures as a means of political and economic coercion against developing countries (A/66/138) and the Sub-Commission study E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33.

4. A/CONF.157/23.

5. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33 Working Paper prepared by Marc Bossuyt “The Adverse consequences of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights, 21 June 2000.The Human Rights Impacts of Sanctions on Iraq, Background Paper prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the meeting of the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs, 5 September 2000.
A/HRC/19/33, Thematic study of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, including recommendations on actions aimed at ending such measures, 11 January 2012.
E/C.12/1997/8, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 8 (1997) on the relationship between economic sanctions and respect for economic, social and cultural rights.