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Sanctions are an important instrument for ensuring peace and security. As well as the Security Council of the United Nations (UN), regional organizations such as the European Union also make use of sanctions. As a UN member state Switzerland is obliged to implement the sanctions decided upon by the Security Council.
General sanctions apply equally to states and to their citizens. They often have a significant negative humanitarian impact on the civilian population and on third countries. As a result of the negative experiences with the sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s the United Nations today restricts itself to so-called targeted sanctions, which are aimed at specific individuals and legal entities considered to be responsible for disturbing the peace or a threat to international security. These targeted sanctions are thus both more effective and have little or no side effects on the civilian population or on third countries.
Examples of targeted sanctions include:
- Freezing of assets
- Imposing travel restrictions on certain persons
- Restrictions on trade in certain goods (e.g. diamonds, oil, weapons)
Smart sanctions are also used to combat terrorism.
Switzerland has promoted the concept of targeted financial sanctions. In 1998 and 1999, international experts met in Interlaken at the invitation of the Swiss government to discuss ways of improving this instrument. The results of this “Interlaken Process”, as it is known, have been summarized in a manual.
The essential instrument for implementation of targeted sanctions decided by the Security Council is the list of names drawn up by the UN Sanctions Committees (subsidiary organs for a specific sanctions regime of the Security Council). Since the addition of a person’s name to such a list has serious consequences it is of the utmost importance that the principles of the rule of law are duly observed both at the time of listing and of delisting.
In an effort to overcome the shortcomings of sanctions from the point of view of the rule of law, Switzerland together with other states is working to improve the procedures for adding individuals, or groups of individuals, to sanctions lists. In December 2009 the Security Council decided to create a UN Ombudsman to oversee the delisting procedure in relation to the Al Qaeda/Taliban sanctions list. The Security Council has thus taken into account the concerns at the centre of the initiative of Switzerland and its partners and moved towards a more adequate, fair, and transparent procedure, compatible with the rule of law.