Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Enhancing the Effectiveness of United Nations Sanctions

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
August 3, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President, and I thank Assistant-Secretary-General Zerihoun for his briefing. And we welcome this opportunity to highlight the importance and potential of sanctions, one of the few nonviolent tools this Council has to protect international peace and security.

Someone once said that patience is the art of concealing impatience. There are times when I think this saying can be uniquely applied to the United States. We feel strongly about our principles and our sovereignty because they come from us, the people. When we see a threat to our national security, or when we see violations of human dignity, we want to act – sooner rather than later. Most often we stifle that urge and show patience. But beneath our patience is a fundamental unwillingness to passively accept insecurity and injustice.

Sanctions require us to be patient, but they are one of the most important things the United Nations can do. When they are formulated with wide participation and implemented swiftly and consistently, multilateral sanctions are effective. An excellent example is the sanctions that this Council recently strengthened against ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliated groups. The United States and Russia worked together in formulating these sanctions and in making sure they are adapted to the latest terrorist threat. To ensure that these sanctions are implemented fully and fairly, the resolution reaffirmed our support for the monitoring team. The vote approving them was unanimous. And because the Security Council spoke with one voice, these sanctions are showing results. The flow of funds and other support to these terrorist groups has been reduced.

By the same token, when sanctions lack wide support, and when they lack enforcement, they are meaningless. Worse than meaningless, they degrade the credibility and effectiveness of this Council. Not only do they fail to stop the threat they are supposed to address, they make the next threat to peace and security more likely.

What can be the argument against seeing that sanctions, once imposed, are enforced? And yet, this Council has been unable to come together to agree on routine reporting on sanctions. Even agreeing on a format to discuss cross-cutting sanctions issues seems to be beyond our capability. When it does this, the Council shoots itself in the foot. It takes away – from itself –

one of the best tools to achieve what we’re all supposed to be here to achieve: peace, security, and respect for human rights.

If widespread support and strict enforcement is the way to do sanctions right, the way to do them wrong is unfolding right in front of us. When a UN Member State is subject to multiple

Security Council resolutions and we allow it to violate these resolutions with impunity, it will not change its behavior. When UN Member States don’t comply with the sanctions leveled against an aggressor, the Council’s threats become hollow. When UN Member States violate human rights and crack down on their own people for exercising their God-given freedoms and this Council says nothing, it loses credibility. When this Council threatens again and again, but refuses to follow up, nothing changes.

The United States prefers to impose sanctions through the UN Security Council. Security Council-imposed sanctions have – or should have – universal reach. They represent our political unity. But when this Council fails to act, the United States is not going to wait.

When this Council closes its eyes to repeated violations of its sanctions resolutions, the United States begins to lose patience. The United States will act to address threats to our security. We will act to defend universal human rights. From Venezuela to Zimbabwe, and from the situation in Crimea to the war crimes in Syria, we will do what we have to do to defend ourselves,

our allies, and our values. That is the inevitable choice of a nation facing a dire threat. It is the promise of a people no longer able to conceal their impatience. And it is my great hope that my country and this Council continue to work together so that we never reach this point.

Thank you, Mr. President.