Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Sanctions (via VTC)

David Lee
Deputy Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 25, 2020


Thank you, Ambassador Zhang, for providing the United States the floor.

The United States imposes sanctions to address bona fide threats to national security and foreign policy interests, such as to deter threats to international peace, stability, and security, including to counter terrorism, deter nuclear and conventional weapons proliferation, constrain abusive and radical regimes, and to promote accountability for human rights abuse and corruption.

These objectives are central to much of the Security Council’s work, but sadly we are so often blocked from taking meaningful action on the Security Council. As a result, we are sometimes forced to rely on domestic sanctions authorities, in coordination with our partners, to advance these objectives to continue promoting international peace and security.

Some of the co-hosts of this event are attempting to warp the narrative on sanctions by suggesting that they are the great champions of human rights and humanitarian action. All this while some of them block humanitarian access to vulnerable populations, and divert humanitarian assistance in order to profit from conflict, and punish those who dare challenge their authority.

Those who point to sanctions as the problem advance a false narrative, in our view. Sanctions do not imprison millions based on their faith or eliminate political rivals.

Sanctions like those under the U.S. Global Magnitsky program, commonly referred to as GloMag, target corrupt actors like the Gupta brothers, who stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the people of South Africa. GloMag targeted the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation, and other actors involved in oppression in Xinjiang. As well as those responsible for serious human rights abuses and atrocities in Burma, such as Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and other military officers.

In a similar vein, sanctions authorities like the U.S. Hong Kong Autonomy Act have protected regional actors’ citizens whose individual liberties and right to peacefully demonstrate have recently come under attack, unfortunately. Such rights have been shamefully ignored through PRC aggression, as represented by the October 27 arrest of a pro-democracy protestor in front of the U.S. consulate general.

In fact, it is sanctions that unite many of us today in joint action to promote accountability for the very acts some of the hosts of this meeting seek to cover up – the Assad regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, the poisoning and brutal murder of those uncovering corruption at the highest levels of their government in Moscow, and the oppression of an entire people in Xinjiang for being Muslim and a generation in Hong Kong simply seeking to exercise the freedoms the PRC promised them.

The United States does not stand alone in this belief and is proud to be the first among a growing community of nations that has created dedicated sanctions to combat the impunity of our hosts and others’ heinous acts that sow division and impose brutal costs upon millions.

We will not allow those who endanger the national security of the United States and the international community to exploit the COVID-19 emergency to achieve sanctions relief.

Our sanctions programs are focused on constraining the ability of bad actors to take advantage of our financial system or threaten the United States, our allies and partners, or civilians.

They are not focused on humanitarian-related trade, assistance, or activity.

We often, and in many circumstances proactively, exclude this type of activity from our sanctions programs, We work closely with humanitarian organizations to address unintended negative consequences.

In fact, humanitarian crises we see in places like North Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere, are rooted in the policies and misguided priorities of their leadership. Moreover, when we try to enable humanitarian aid into affected countries, particularly Syria, some of the co-hosts have repeatedly blocked such action in the Security Council.

States have the sovereign right to determine their economic relations and protect legitimate national interests, including taking actions in response to national security concerns.

Economic sanctions are a legitimate way to achieve foreign policy, security, and other national and international objectives, and the United States is not alone in that view or in practice. Though we and our partners do so to promote international peace and security, some countries unfortunately employ them to punish others who criticize their domestic and international actions, that are inconsistent with international law, particularly human rights.

This Arria is part of concerted effort by some of its co-hosts to undermine the international community’s ability to respond to such acts, including those that are offensive to international norms.

We urge our partners in the international community, and Member States who share genuine concern about how we can work together to advance human rights and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, to join us in blunting the effort to focus on so-called unilateral coercive measures and demand more from the Security Council to advance shared objectives, including through sanctions.

I thank you, Mr. Chair.