If we are to identify the raison d'etre of the United Nations (UN), it should be no other than the maintenance of international peace and security. Other goals such as promoting international cooperation, solving economic and social problems at the international level, and protecting human rights are assigned with a less prominent standing at the hierarchy of UN objectives. As enshrined in the UN Charter, UN Security Council (SC) assumes the royal, almost privileged, task of deterring potential aggressors and restoring international peace and security once they are breached. The legislative scope within which the SC operates is almost without bounds. In case the SC establishes that a particular state is in breach of international peace, it may set in motion a storm of resolutions ranging from the imposition of economic and diplomatic embargoes to the taking of collective military action. That the SC has the monopoly of competence over the issues of war and peace is obvious enough. But it is equally significant to bear in mind that the architects of the UN Charter did not consider it useful or necessary to bring checks and balances to the Herculean powers assumed by the SC under the founding treaty. Concentrating power in the hands of 15 states, 5 of which being the victors of the Second World War that have permanent membership with the accompanying power of veto, means that "undesirable" draft resolutions cannot get through the SC.
It is all-too-well-known that power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. This description well fits the case with the SC whose newly gained activism in the early 1990s following the passing of the Cold War and the collapse of socialist regimes in Europe and the ex-Soviet Union, fostered hopes for a new world marked by peace, freedom and prosperity. However the experience of the last 20 years or so has dashed such hopes in the greater part of the world. The insatiable greed of the US -aided in particular by Britain in the SC--for hegemonic power that verged on a desire to become a world empire has manifested itself along the myriad of mandatory resolutions which the SC issued under the rubric of Chapter VII of the UN Charter: threats to international peace and security. The arbitrariness and harshness which characterized many of the SC decisions, particularly in the 1990, to institute economic sanctions against countries like Iraq, Haiti, Liberia and Afghanistan were widely condemned by human rights activists and international organizations. Likewise, UN-authorized military interventions against selected group of states accused of military aggression or those that were justified on humanitarian grounds under the title "humanitarian intervention", as in the case of the Gulf War against Iraq or the Somali campaign (1992-94) have drawn widespread condemnation from a large segment of international society.
This article focuses on the process that paved the way for the forming of consensus around what is commonly called "smart sanctions" which have today become the prevailing format of acceptable sanctions introduced by the UN SC. Indeed, today, instead of wholesale embargo, the states which are targets of UN sanctions are confronted with "targeted arms embargo", "financial sanctions on entities and individuals linked to the government", and "travel restrictions on listed individuals". This is presently the case with regard to target countries such as Iran, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. This article will proceed along the line of questions posed below:
a) Why are UN economic sanctions incompatible with international law, morality and human rights?
b) How "smart" are targeted/selective economic/financial sanctions from the perspective of international law, morality, and human rights?
The System of Collective Sanctions in the UN Charter
Before we begin to examine the UN sanctions (or, embargoes), it is apt to draw on other types of sanction: regional sancti ons, and unilateral state sanctions. …