Economic Sanctions

AuthorJohn H. Currie; Craig Forcese; Joanna Harrington; Valerie Oosterveld
Economic Sanctions
In this chapter, we discuss economic sanctions as a tool used by states, acting either multi-
laterally or alone, to respond to violations of international law.
Recall that Article  of the Charter of the United Nations provides that
The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are
to be employed to give eect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the
United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interrup-
tion of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means
of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.
The measures short of force authorized by the UN Security Council (UNSC) pursuant to
Article  have typically focused on the “complete or partial interruption of economic rela-
tions,” or, in more common parlance, economic “sanctions.” Economic sanctions usually
impose constraints on the exchange of goods and services with, and on investment in a
state considered by the Security Council to be in violation of its international obligations in a
manner that poses a threat to international peace and security. Such sanctions may be very
broad in nature, prohibiting most forms of economic exchange with the target state, or may
be more tailored in scope, limiting, for example, trade in arms or commodities suspected
of fuelling local or regional conict. In fact, far from necessarily being a blunt instrument,
sanctions under Article  may be specically targeted at certain key individuals or interests
thought to be responsible for endangering international peace and security, as suggested in
the following excerpt from a legal opinion given by the Legal Bureau of the Canadian Depart-
ment of Foreign Aairs, Trade and Development (now known as Global Aairs Canada):
William R Crosbie, “Canadian Practice in International Law at the Department of Foreign
Aairs, Trade and Development in ” ()  Can YB Int’l Law  at –
The wording of Article  contemplates the ability to take actions beyond the blanket
sanctioning of states or state actors. First, Article  refers to actions comprising “com-
plete or partial interruption of economic relations.” It does not say that the economic
 June , Can TS  No , in force  October  [UN Charter].
Reprinted with permission from The Canadian Yearbook of International Law, Volume , edited by
John H Currie, © The Canadian Yearbook of International Law, . All rights reserved. [Emphasis in
relations have to be with the state itself, and it also anticipates that only a portion of any
economic relations might be disrupted. Second, the article explicitly anticipates inter-
rupting “rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio and other means of communication.” In
many states, such enterprises are (and were, at the time of the drafting of the UN Char-
ter) owned or controlled, in whole or in part, by private entities and individuals. It thus
cannot be said that Article  only anticipates that actions will be taken against states.
Article  also does not indicate that the disruption of economic relations or other ser-
vices can only be reactions to the actions of a state. The impetus for decisions taken under
Article  is found in Article , the wording of which is clear that actions taken under Arti-
cle  need not be limited to curtailing actions by states. . . . Article  allows the Security
Council to determine the existence of any threat to the peace or breach of the peace, and to
decide what measures shall be taken to maintain or restore international peace and security.
The possibility that non-state actors (including individuals) could be the target of such
measures has been widely accepted and welcomed by UN member states. The UNSC has
used Article  to take measures with direct eect on the liberty of individuals, such as the
creation of ad hoc criminal tribunals. With respect to economic sanctions, UNSC practice
has moved towards more “targeted” (rather than comprehensive) sanctions designed to
mitigate collateral impacts and avoid humanitarian consequences as much as possible.
When sanctions are adopted by a decision of the Security Council pursuant to Article ,
respect for such sanctions is mandatory for all UN member states by operation of Articles 
and  of the UN Charter. Consider the following summary of Canadian practice with respect
to the implementation of mandatory sanctions imposed by the Security Council:
Alan H Kessel, “Canadian Practice in International Law at the Department of Foreign Aairs
and International Trade in –” ()  Can YB Int’l Law  at –
As a member of the UN, Canada has the international legal obligation to implement into
domestic law the binding provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolutions
[UNSCRs]. In some cases, no action is required as the substance of the binding provi-
sion has already been implemented into Canadian law (i.e. in Export and Import Permits
Act (“EIPA”), Criminal Code, Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”) etc.). For
example, Canada need not take further steps to implement the travel bans required by
certain UNSCRs as they are already assured by provisions of the IRPA. However, if the
terms of the UNSCR create a binding obligation upon Canada that is not already imple-
mented in Canadian domestic law, it has an international obligation to act. It is in these
cases it turns to the UN Act [United Nations Act, RSC , c U-].
Article  of the UN Act states:
When, in pursuance of Article  of the Charter of the United Nations, set out in the sched-
ule, the Security Council of the United Nations decides on a measure to be employed to
give eect to any of its decisions and calls on Canada to apply the measure, the Governor
in Council may make such orders and regulations as appear to him to be necessary or
expedient for enabling the measures to be eectively applied.
Reprinted with permission of the Publisher from The Canadian Yearbook of International Law, Volume
, edited by Donald M McRae, © University of British Columbia Press, . All rights reserved by
the Publisher.

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