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UN: Members Debate Reducing Effects Of Sanctions On Third States

  • Robert McMahon

Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine have introduced a draft resolution in the UN General Assembly calling for steps to help states that have been the unintended victims of UN sanctions. Citing the impact of Yugoslav and Iraqi sanctions on neighboring countries, supporters of the measure are urging that the issue of targeted sanctions be clarified in the UN Charter.

United Nations, 16 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey estimates that its losses due to the 10-year UN sanctions against neighboring Iraq are $30 billion.

Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine all say they are still feeling the strong effects of sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia through much of the 1990s.

These cases highlight a growing concern among UN member states about the far-reaching impact of sanctions, which the UN Security Council is authorized to impose. The reform of such sanctions regimes dominated a debate in a General Assembly committee last week (Oct 11-13) dedicated to strengthening the United Nations in promoting peace and security.

Bulgaria and Ukraine joined Russia in introducing a draft resolution last week that urges the Security Council to consider the impact on third-party nations when setting sanctions. It calls for the council to maintain contact with these affected states through the duration of sanctions and to include UN agencies, the donor community and other international organizations in a dialogue that would limit the economic impact on third states.

A representative of Turkey's UN mission, Teoman Uykur, told a General Assembly committee meeting on Thursday (Oct 12) that a number of practical steps have been proposed to help third states hit by sanctions. "These relief measures include according commercial exemptions or concessions, consulting with the affected states, establishment of a fund and giving priority to contractors of the third states for humanitarian investments in the target state."

Bulgaria, like Turkey, has repeatedly called attention to the burden it has shouldered for the sake of international controls on Iraq and Yugoslavia. Bulgaria's UN ambassador, Vladimir Sotirov, told the committee that UN sanctions on those two countries, plus the Security Council's sanctions against Libya, had led to trade losses for Sofia of more than $10 billion. Sotirov said that figure was comparable to Bulgaria's entire foreign debt.

"Every effort should be made to prevent or minimize the possible adverse implications of sanctions on third states. "

Sotirov said he hoped UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would present his views to the assembly soon and accelerate action on sanctions reform. Earlier this year, Annan told the council of his support for what he described as "targeted sanctions," in which ruling elites of countries -- rather than whole populations -- are singled out for punitive measures.

France has been the most vocal supporter among the permanent council members for streamlining sanctions policy.

The sanctions regime against Iraq -- the most extensive in UN history -- has caused growing divisions among council members. In the past month, France and Russia started the first commercial flights to Baghdad in 10 years, saying they were for humanitarian purposes and were not covered by the sanctions regime.

Since then, several other states have sent flights to Iraq, causing concern about an erosion in the sanctions system. This raised again the question of clarifying the UN Security Council's policy on sanctions. Officials from targeted countries such as Iraq and Libya say the problem is an excess of power vested in bodies like the Security Council. They told the General Assembly committee last week that more balance is needed between the Security Council and General Assembly in deciding on matters such as sanctions.

Abdul Munim Al-Kadhe, a representative from the Iraqi UN mission, said the General Assembly must be given the power to consider issues like sanctions and their effects. He said one of the reasons for the continuation of sanctions against Iraq was there were no clear rules in the UN Charter for lifting them. The result, he said, was "a kind of vengeance against an entire people."

But the 15-member Security Council is not likely to share its power to impose sanctions with the 189-member General Assembly. Still, there are signs it will consider concrete steps to help third states cope with the impact of sanctions.

A U.S. representative at the General Assembly committee discussions on Friday (Oct 13), John Arbogast, said it was worthwhile to discuss ways of minimizing the effect of sanctions on third countries. He said the issue is being considered by the Security Council's working group on sanctions.

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