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Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures
15 July 2022
Human Rights Council and the General Assembly
Issued by Special Procedures
Unilateral coercive measures
In the present report, the Special Rapporteur, Alena F. Douhan, provides an overview and assessment of secondary sanctions as a means of enforcing unilateral sanctions extraterritorially.
Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 27/21 and 45/5 and General Assembly resolution 74/154, the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights is requested in fulfilling her mandate, inter alia, to gather all information relevant to the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; to study relevant trends, developments and challenges; and to make guidelines and recommendations on ways and means to prevent, minimize and redress their adverse impact on human rights; as well as to draw the attention of the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and the High Commissioner to relevant situations and cases.
As unilateral sanctions continue to proliferate despite their dubious legality under international law, the Special Rapporteur takes note of the increasing use of two general means of enforcement: the imposition of secondary sanctions, or sanctions against presumed violators of unilateral sanctions; and civil and criminal penalties for circumventing unilateral sanctions. Because many unilateral sanctions regimes are complex and compliance may be difficult or costly to ascertain, and as penalties for violations are sometimes heavy, these means of enforcement are known to deter even permitted interactions with targeted countries, sectors, entities and individuals by counterparties that lack the expertise or resources to ensure full compliance, or that fear the consequences of inadvertent breaches.
It has been established that unilateral sanctions can negatively impact the human rights of direct and indirect targets. The use of these means of enforcement, combined with the voluntary over-compliance with sanctions, can exacerbate the harm they cause to the rights of affected individuals. Moreover, the extraterritorial enforcement of unilateral sanctions regimes, which is also questionable under international law, expands the geographic scope and consequently the number of individuals around the world whose rights are negatively impacted by both the sanctions and the over-compliance.
These enforcement trends are occurring in parallel with an increasing global reliance on cyber technologies and the growth of unilateral sanctions that involve the cyber world. Unilateral sanctions may be imposed against states or entities accused of engaging in or providing support for cyber-attacks and other malicious activities in the cyber sphere. In addition, cyber activities may be used as a means of enforcing unilateral sanctions, or of circumventing them. Moreover, the sanctions themselves may take the form of denying the possibility of engaging in cyber activities: prohibiting exports of hardware and software to a targeted state or individual, or restricting access to the Internet, either generally or by banning access to social media accounts, on-line meeting and conference services, academic and other publications, scientific databases, etc. The growing role of cyber activities in the application of unilateral sanctions can harm a broad range of human rights, and the scope of this impact can range from individuals to entire populations.
The circumstances listed above have led the Special Rapporteur to undertake two thematic studies: one on “Secondary sanctions, civil and criminal penalties for circumvention of sanctions regimes, and over-compliance with sanctions” as well as one on “Unilateral sanctions in the cyber world.” In accordance with the established practice of thematic mandate-holders, the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Alena Douhan, welcomes inputs by States, UN agencies, regional and international organizations, businesses, banks, national human rights institutions, civil society, scholars and research institutions, and others who may wish to submit input for one or both studies, guided by the questionnaire below. Recommendations, evidence and case studies are most welcome.
In addition to the key questions below, we encourage specific organizations such as Arbitration and Compliance Bodies, Banks and Banking Agencies, Companies and Businesses, NGOs and IGOs to please provide information based on the specific call for contribution tailored to their industry, available in the following section:
Specific call for contribution for:
“Secondary sanctions, civil and criminal penalties for circumvention of sanctions regimes, and over-compliance with sanctions”
“Unilateral sanctions in the cyber world”