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Intervention by H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
before the Second Committee of the 54th Session
of the General Assembly of the United Nations
on Item 99

Sustainable Development and International Economic Cooperation

New York, 19 October 1999

Mr. Chairman,

Under Agenda Item 99, the Holy See wishes to address a particular question in sustainable development and International Economic Cooperation, namely the negative effects of sanctions. The topic in question has been the object of discussion in various General Assembly Sessions, but a solution to the problem was often postponed or neglected.

Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations makes provisions for the Security Council “to decide what measures, not involving the use of armed force, are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and to call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures”.

After the end of the Cold War era, almost a dozen times, the Security Council, invoking Chapter VII of the Charter, has imposed sanctions on countries not complying with its decisions. Several of them included economic measures, affecting the entire population of the country under the sanctions regime. Though precise measures directed against a regime or leadership which poses a threat to international peace and security and which, after repeated requests from the international community, shows no signs of compliance, could become unavoidable and justifiable, economic sanctions affecting an entire population in general and the most vulnerable groups in particular, demand special attention and different consideration. Such consideration should take into account the following:

1. The fact that the leadership of a country has posed a threat to international peace and security and put obstacles to restoring peace, does not require that the entire population of that particular country, should be brought to suffer because of evil decisions of its leadership. As Pope John Paul II stated on 10 January 1998, in his speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See “The weak and the innocent cannot pay for mistakes for which they are not responsible”.

The question of Economic Sanctions, in fact, constitutes one of the unfinished chapters of contemporary international law. Indeed it is a chapter which requires significant refinement, both in theory and in practice. Sanctions are not simply an easy way to placate an outraged public opinion. Their primary aim is not to punish, but rather to coerce the targeted government into a change of behavior.

As coercive, though non-military measures, sanctions must observe the letter and the spirit of humanitarian law. As with other coercive measures, they should not have indiscriminate or disproportionate effects on the civilian population. Sanctions should not destroy the ability of a people to attain the achievement of the essential internationally recognized human development targets. Sanctions which damage the functioning of essential services, or inhibit their effective maintenance, cannot be justified.

The Holy See considers that, on any future occasion in which the imposition of economic sanctions is proposed, the following aspects should always be considered:

  • The goals and objectives of sanctions be clearly defined, so that it will be possible to objectively evaluate the progress being made by the targeted nation. Step by step as the objectives of sanctions are reached, the sanctions regime should be appropriately eased. Hidden or creeping agendas concerning the objectives of sanctions, especially if fostered only by individual nations, should be avoided.
  • Before any further economic sanctions are imposed, detailed attention should be given - in advance and with specific attempts at quantification - to foresee and, where possible, avoid or mitigate possible humanitarian consequences. The results of this evaluation process and concrete proposals for their implementation should be explicitly incorporated into all resolutions applying economic sanctions. Likewise, any such resolution should include effective evaluation and corrective measures, which verify over the course of time the humanitarian consequences of such sanctions.

2. In most cases, the population becomes a victim of these conflicts. It has previously suffered under a rigid leadership, it has gone through the dangers and miseries of a conflict and finally is brought to suffer under economic measures. This brings humiliation and exclusion to a population which is psychologically shaken and economically impoverished. By weakening the fabric of civil society, economic sanctions can delay the long term possibility of establishing a democratic and participatory society in the targeted State.

3. If we were to learn from recent history, regimes which have pushed their countries into aggression or unwarranted conflicts are often politically strengthened and not weakened by the imposition of long-standing sanctions. The attention of the people is thus distracted from violations of fundamental human rights and directed to a so called “common enemy”. A psychologically and economically weakened population holds to their leadership, as the only way out. Thus economic sanctions become convenient and protective shields for the very persons against whom they were intended. Indeed it is not unknown that interests close to the official targets of economic sanctions have been implicated in lucrative illicit trading through the breach of sanctions.

4. The tremendous humanitarian impact of economic sanctions on an entire population is not a matter to be easily overlooked by the international community. No doubt, impunity of atrocities and crimes cannot be tolerated. But justice demands that only the guilty be punished for their wrong- doing and not the innocent. The existing mechanism of economic sanctions causes only additional sufferings on the population in general and especially on members of vulnerable groups of the society, such as children, women, the sick and the elderly. If under economic sanctions the entire agrarian sector and other infrastructures in a country are destroyed, if the child mortality rate increases over 200 per cent, if 25 percent of babies are born under-weight due to malnutrition of mothers, if school-enrolment of children declines to 53 per cent, if the majority of schools and hospitals can not operate, if potable water in a country is reduced to 50 percent and medicine has become scarce, then Mr. Chairman, economic sanctions have not been effective. They are difficult to fine tune in such a way as to exert pressure on those whom the international community wishes to target, rather they exert pressure on an innocent civilian population. At times they may even punish an innocent future generation for the faults of the past.

5. The negative impact of economic sanctions on third countries should also not be ignored especially those third parties States whose economies are closely interlinked, for geographical or historical reasons, with that of the targeted State. Such third parties may suffer devastating trade, economic and social consequences, without receiving any compensation or recognition of this burden. Most of them are developing countries striving towards development. The detrimental effects of sanctions may cause economic and political destabilization in an entire region. This issue has been addressed by the international community more than once. But the problem is still unresolved.

This should not be the policy of a United Nations which in its Charter expresses the firm determination “ reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person...and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. The measures imposed by this organization standing for such high moral ideals should not cause starvation or death to any single person anywhere in the world. Nor should an entire age-group of children suffer from serious health damage or lack of schooling. Neither should the sick be deprived of due care and medicine. Provocation of such consequences is inhuman and immoral. A new global awareness in this regard seems to emerge and that is a very positive sign.

Humanitarian aid-projects approved parallel to economic sanctions may appear to help alleviate the sufferings of a particular population under a sanctions regime. But as the recent past has shown, the complexities and bureaucratic knots involved in such projects may even aggravate the crisis. Well intended projects then pose further challenges to peace and unity within the international community.

Mr. Chairman,

Provisions set by the Charter of the United Nations, where the principle of equity is expected always to prevail, should not become instruments in the hands of the rich to punish the poor, nor should they be weapons in the hands of the powerful to strike against the powerless of the world. This unique international organization should not become the venue for some States to safeguard their so called “national interests” to the detriment of others nor should they be given the right to inflict added sufferings on innocent people. When serious human rights violations of some go purposely unnoticed, how can lesser violations of others become punishable with sanctions?

Mr. Chairman,

While holding fast to the principle that grave transgressions can not be tolerated, the Holy See appeals to the conscience of the international community and requests it to reconsider the negative consequences of the present mechanism of indiscriminate economic sanctions. A different and more just mechanism could be worked out as the Second Interlaken Seminar on Targeting United Nations Financial Sanctions (29-31 March 1999) recommended. Adopting such a solution will not be difficult for an international community united by a strong political will. Such steps will certainly find the support of the Holy See.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.