For the United Nations, sanctions are an important instrument for enforcing peace and security. As a UN member state, Switzerland is obliged to adopt and implement sanctions decided by the UN Security Council. A distinction is to be made between general and targeted sanctions.
General sanctions apply equally to states and to their citizens. They often have a considerable negative humanitarian impact on the civilian population and third countries.
Sanctions imposed by the UN can be accessed via a UN app financed by Switzerland. In addition to an archive of all UN targeted sanctions since 1991 together with summaries, chronological developments and an effectiveness rating, the app offers a “policy checklist” as a guide for drawing up sanctions resolutions and for submission procedures. An “analogy finder” makes references to decisions regarding similarly structured sanctions currently in force.
Targeted sanctions are aimed at specific individuals and legal entities considered to be a threat to peace or to international security. Targeted sanctions are thus usually both more effective and have few or no side-effects on the civilian population or on third countries.
As a result of the negative experiences with the sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, the UN now restricts itself to targeted sanctions. Examples of targeted sanctions include:
- Freezing of assets
- Imposing travel restrictions on specific individuals
- Restrictions on trade in certain goods, e.g. diamonds, oil, weapons
Targeted sanctions are also used to combat terrorism.
Lists of names
The key instrument for implementing targeted sanctions decided by the Security Council to combat terrorism is the list of names drawn up by UN sanctions committees (subsidiary bodies set up by the Security Council to implement specific sanctions regimes). Since adding the name of a person or group of persons to this list has serious consequences for them, 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.
To overcome the shortcomings of sanctions regimes from the point of view of the rule of law, Switzerland together with other states is working to improve these procedures. In December 2009, the Security Council decided to create the post of UN ombudsman to oversee the delisting procedure in relation to the Al Qaeda/Taliban sanctions list, thus taking into account the central concern of Switzerland and its partners and marking an important step towards a fair and transparent procedure compatible with the rule of law. The next step is to introduce the ombudsman procedure to other sanctions regimes.
Switzerland is also active in designing targeted financial sanctions. In 1998 and 1999, at the invitation of the Swiss government, international experts met in Interlaken to discuss improvements in this field. The results of this “Interlaken Process” were published as a manual in 2001.