International Sanctions Forum

Following the success of the latest LCILP conference on “International Sanctions: Legal, Policy and Business Challenges” held in London on the 19th March 2015 (following the training workshop on the same matters held in London on the 17th-18th March 2015), this forum aims to provide all those interested in the law and practice of international sanctions with timely updates and relevant materials (international agreements and other instruments, domestic legal and regulatory texts and statutes, case law, official statements, press reports, etc.) on the most important developments in this area.

Updates on this forum will concern all actors affected or concerned by, or otherwise having an interest in, legal aspects of the various sanctions regimes in force, and shall cover significant developments affecting the whole range of concerned countries and industry sectors, as well as all relevant international legal aspects.


The term “sanctions” is commonly used in international law and international relations to refer to restrictive measures, not involving the use of force, imposed by the United Nations, by regional organisations, by groups of countries or unilaterally by a single country against a specific country or, in some cases, against specified non-State actors (corporations, militant or terrorist groups, individuals), in pursuit of various objectives.

Sanctions in practice may comprise a wide range of actions [2]:

  •  Economic sanctions: trade sanctions (e.g. restrictions on imports and exports to and from the target country) and financial sanctions (e.g. the freezing of government assets held abroad, the prohibition or limitation on access to financial markets, loans and credits, international transfer payments, or development aid). Both trade and financial restrictive measures can be comprehensive, as in the case of Iraq in the 1990s, or they can be selective, targeting only certain goods or types of transactions.
  •  Arms embargoes and the limitation or termination of military assistance.
  •  Travel sanctions: may include sanctions against the travel of certain individuals or groups, and sanctions against certain kinds of air transport.
  •  Diplomatic sanctions: measures affecting diplomats and/or the participation of State officials in meetings of international bodies and organizations, etc.
  •  Cultural sanctions: restrictions on participation to international sports competitions or on tourist travel, etc.


UN Security Council sanctions

The Security Council, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, can take enforcement measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such measures range from economic and/or other sanctions not involving the use of armed force to international military action.

Upon formal determination of the existence of a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, made pursuant to Article 39 of the Charter, the Security Council may resort to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool.

The Security Council has imposed a wide range of sanctions in line with the powers conferred to it by Chapter VII of the Charter to both a number of countries and entities including companies and individuals. A list of all entities currently affected by UN sanctions can be found here.

European Union sanctions

The EU imposes autonomous sanctions and embargoes to further its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) objectives. EU measures can be imposed to uphold respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. [4]

A list of entities currently affected by EU financial sanctions can be found here.

More information about EU Sanctions can also be found on the following blog edited by Maya Lester and Michael O’Kane.

Unilateral Sanctions

Under the collective security system embodied in the UN Charter, recourse to international sanctions is a prerogative of the Security Council. However, some States frequently resort to sanctions as part of their foreign policy or to further their economic objectives. Unilateral sanctions are to be distinguished from « multilateral » sanctions (i.e. those decided by the UN Security Council). Following such distinction, a number of experts hold the view that the term “unilateral” may be used in a broader sense to include States, group of States and “autonomous” regional organizations (such as the EU), unless such measures are authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The UN Human Rights Council has referred to these measures as “unilateral coercive measures”, defined as “the use of economic, trade or other measures taken by a State, group of States or international organizations acting autonomously to compel a change of policy of another State or to pressure individuals, groups or entities in targeted states to influence a course of action without the authorization of the Security Council” [6].

Unilateral sanctions raise specific issues regarding their legality under international law, and their impact on human rights and development.



[2] See UN Commission on Human Rights, The adverse consequences of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights, Working paper prepared by Mr. Marc Bossuyt (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33),

21 June 2000, at