International Sanctions and Human Rights
What is the legal responsibility for the effects on human rights of sanctions regimes?

» by Heu Yee Leung

The end of the Cold War marked the beginning of a new era for the United Nations. As the ideological conflict which had significantly hampered the actions of the organization came to a close, the UN found itself with greater freedom than it had ever possessed. In particular, ability to carry out its role in the maintenance of international peace and security was significantly enhanced. What was to follow became known as the ‘decade of sanctions’ .

Whereas prior to 1990, the Security Council imposed sanctions in only two cases (Southern Rhodesia 1965, South Africa 1977), between 1990 and 2000 in no less than elevens situations were they been ordered. As the effects of sanctions became increasingly clear many began to question not only the ethical basis of those regimes but also the legal limitations thereof. Significantly, lawyers, human rights activists and political figures alike directed their inquiries at the UN.

This essay investigates the extent to which the UN, as an international organization, is responsible for the effects on human rights of the sanctions regimes it authorizes. Specifically, it explores the idea of legal responsibility vis-à-vis the Security Council. It begins by looking at the extent to which the Council is considered to be bound by international law. Then, having argued that at present there is no clear consensus on that matter it looks at the areas of law which could arguably restrict the way in which the Council exercises its powers under Chapter VII. Finally, it will discuss why the UN, and its organs, should be bound by international law.

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