Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Sanctions and Humanitarian Consequences

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 7, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President. And let me join others in welcoming you to the chair this month and I wish you the best success. And I also want to take the opportunity to thank Norway, again, for a successful presidency during the month of January. Thank you, Under-Secretary DiCarlo and Under-Secretary Griffiths, for your briefings and for your remarks.

Sanctions are a potent tool, and as you heard from Under-Secretary DiCarlo, they can be a vital tool to deter and address threats to international peace and security, and ultimately to enhance the security of vulnerable civilians. They make it harder for terrorists to raise funds via international financial systems. They have slowed the development of certain capabilities of the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs. And they constrain the resources of those who would spoil peace processes, threaten UN peacekeepers, commit atrocities, and obstruct humanitarian assistance. Like any tool, sanctions can be used effectively or poorly. But that’s a reason to deploy them carefully, not to condemn their use entirely.

Today, I want to outline three ways we can ensure sanctions are as effective and targeted as possible: by committing to minimalizing unintended consequences; by working together as a Security Council to deploy sanctions when we know it will help civilians; and by not undermining sanctions and exacerbating the situations that make such measures necessary in the first place.

First, we have to do everything in our power to ensure sanctions are effective and targeted and minimize unintended consequences. The United States is fully committed to this, and toward taking steps to protect the delivery of humanitarian aid. In fact, the United States has led efforts in every instance in which the Security Council established a humanitarian carveout or a process for humanitarian exemptions to sanctions. In certain cases, humanitarian exemptions can strengthen sanctions by ensuring their economic costs are more effectively targeted.

We have done this routinely in the DPRK Sanctions Committee, in Yemen, and in Somalia. Most recently, this Council unanimously adopted a resolution the United States introduced in December to establish a humanitarian carveout for the Afghanistan sanctions regime. These carveouts were important to help ensure lifesaving humanitarian aid continues to flow to people in dire need. It ensures the pain of sanctions is felt most acutely by leaders, entities, and individuals being targeted, not everyday citizens or those trying to help them. These individuals will argue that the people are being hurt, but the truth is they are being hurt, and they are the ones responsible for hurting ordinary people.

We welcome more Council discussions on this topic. And we encourage the sanctions committees to monitor impediments to the delivery of humanitarian assistance and engage with NGOs and other aid providers – engagement that some Council members reject – to prevent and address any unintended impact of sanctions. And in the meantime, the United States will remain in constant dialogue with our humanitarian partners, with UN agencies, and others on how to ensure sanctions don’t impact their work.

Second, the Security Council should continue to use sanctions when appropriate to improve the lives of people in conflict zones, protect civilians, and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. We hear regularly from victims asking us to impose sanctions on human rights violators in their country. The key is to work together to ensure these sanctions are effective. If done properly, sanctions can minimize suffering and counter political corruption, violence, abuse, and repression. They can prevent weapons from falling into the hands of those who would use them to target civilians, while exemption procedures allow legitimate actors, such as host governments, to secure the resources that they need. Together, we can use targeted sanctions to discourage attacks on humanitarian aid workers or organizations, medical workers, and UN personnel. That includes using targeted sanctions to address attacks by paramilitary groups, such as Wagner, whose actions curb access to the most vulnerable populations in humanitarian crises, exacerbate or prolong conflict, and increase suffering.

Which leads me to my third and final point: too often, the Security Council’s routine work on sanctions is blocked or undermined by our own members. Certain Council members have blocked critical designations of peace process spoilers, high profile terrorists, human rights abusers, and sanctions evaders. They have blocked the routine appointment of members of sanctions expert panels, including experts in humanitarian affairs. They make it harder for the tool to work as intended. We need to work together to fix this.

When Member States willfully ignore sanctions evasion activity or fail themselves to live up to the commitments, we have all made to enforce these measures, they undermine the tool’s utility, and the work of the Council itself. Meanwhile, it is the legal and moral right of individual Member States or other multilateral groups to impose sanctions on their own, where appropriate, to achieve these important ends.

The United States – to be clear – far prefers to impose sanctions by multilateral means, such as the UN Security Council. But, as we all know, often the Council can become deadlocked, undermining its ability to maintain international peace and security. Member States, including even those on the UN Security Council, sometimes prove unwilling to uphold the UN Charter by implementing their binding obligations. In such situations, the United States and many other countries in the world are prepared to use the legitimate regulations of our sovereign currencies and domestic financial systems as economic leverage to address urgent global challenges, such as nuclear proliferation, human rights abuses and violations, and corruption.

We are concerned some Council members and other Member States have used this discussion to criticize and delegitimize sanctions imposed by individual Member States, with some even arguing that such sanctions are unlawful. The United States categorically rejects that position. It is well established that sanctions imposed by individual Member States or groups of Member States are consistent with international law. Widespread and long-standing State practice, whether by the United States, by the EU and its Member States, or by numerous other Member States, demonstrates that sanctions imposed by individual States are a lawful and effective tool to respond to a range of actions. So, we fully support partners and regional organizations, such as the European Union, the African Union, ECOWAS, that impose their own sanctions in response to threats. We often coordinate with these partners and regional organizations when deadlock prevents Security Council action.

I recognize that Council members may have ideological differences over when and how to use sanctions. But at the same time, all Council members have voted in favor of sanctions that we know will address global threats such as ISIS. We also all share the same commitment to ensure that these measures do not harm innocent civilians. Building on these areas of agreement, I hope the Council can find a way to work together to advance these objectives and minimize efforts to undermine this critically important tool.

Specifically, on DPRK, this Council heard from OCHA in its December briefing to the 1718 Committee that the number one barrier to sending humanitarian assistance into the DPRK is the DPRK’s self-imposed border closures, not international sanctions, as our colleagues have alleged today. The United States remains committed to addressing the humanitarian situation in the DPRK, which is why we have continued to support the 1718 Committee’s swift processing of sanction exemptions for aid organizations, and it is why we are now working closely with the UN Secretariat to establish a reliable banking channel. We call on DPRK to demonstrate a commitment to the wellbeing of its own people by respecting human rights, defunding its unlawful WMD and ballistic missiles program, and prioritizing the needs of its own people – the vulnerable North Koreans.

Colleagues, we must do more to help countries implement sanctions effectively, reinvigorate the work of the Security Council’s sanctions committees and expert panels, which monitor implementation and provide critical reporting on conflict situations, and better integrate sanctions measures into broader preventative diplomacy, peacebuilding, and conflict-resolution strategies. We look forward to engaging in good faith with our partners on the Council to advance a more productive, positive discourse on these issues.

Thank you, Mr. President.