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UN expert warns against harsh effects of sanctions and blockades on civilians

Effects of sanctions on human rights

13 September 2018

GENEVA (13 September 2018) – Sanctions must not degenerate into blockades which expose innocent people to the ravages of economic war in peacetime without the protection of the Geneva Conventions aimed at safeguarding civilians in war time, says Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the effect of sanctions on human rights.

“While sanctions have usually led to countries, or groups of countries, refusing to trade with the targeted State, the imposition of blockades has the additional sting of preventing trade with other willing trade partners,” said Mr. Jazairy in a presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Special Rapporteur told the Council there was a clear risk that Iran, Syria, Gaza and possibly Venezuela were having to cope with a blockade situation.

“There is a need for differences between States to be resolved through peaceful means as advocated by the UN Charter, while avoiding exposing innocent civilians to collective punishment,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the increasing resort to unilateral sanctions, and in particular the banning of business or trade with companies and corporations from third party countries not involved in imposing the measures.

Mr. Jazairy also reported on his mission to Brussels for talks with European Union officials. While welcoming efforts made by the EU to ensure its restrictive measures have due process and human rights protections, the Special Rapporteur urged the EU to consider ways of limiting the extra-territorial effect of “secondary sanctions” which go beyond the targeted country.

With regard to Syria, the Special Rapporteur concluded that however grave the human rights situation is in the country, the imposition of further suffering on innocent civilians through unilateral sanctions only further worsens their situation. He said he would focus on making humanitarian exceptions to internationally imposed measures effective, until States lift all sanctions that are harming human rights.


Mr. Idriss Jazairy was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. He took office in May 2015. Mr. Jazairy has extensive experience in the fields of international relations and human rights with the Algerian Foreign Ministry, the UN human rights system and international NGOs. He holds a M.A. (Oxford) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and an M.P.A. (Harvard). He also graduated from the Ecole nationale d’Administration (France). Mr. Jazairy is the author of books and of a large number of articles in the international press on development, human rights and current affairs.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human