The UN Charter and the Legitimacy of Economic Sanctions

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nabi Sonboli
Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) Research Fellow

To justify Economic Sanctions and pressures, Chapter seven of the UN charter is mostly referred to by the US and EU.  According to Article 41 “The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, …these may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations ….”  If we limit the UN charter to Chapter VII, the US and EU claims may be justifiable. However, the UN Charter is not limited to this Chapter and member states have accepted the UN Charter as a whole not just one article. What the US and EU has done with regard to the nuclear dispute with Iran is contrary to the soul of the UN Charter and in violation of the following chapters and articles.

According to the preamble of the Charter, the main purpose of the UN is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, respect fundamental human rights, to establish conditions under which justice and respect for obligations be maintained, “to promote social progress and better standards of life”, to live together and maintain international peace and security, and to promote economic and social advancement of all peoples. Economic sanctions implemented by the US and EU do not contribute to any of these objectives. If continued for a long time, economic sanctions will contribute to shortage of different goods and commodities that having access to them is among the fundamental human rights. Furthermore, crippling sanctions undermine social progress and are far from maintenance of justice as a UN objective. They weaken international peace and security and, by weakening social cohesion and creating shortage of necessary living sources, may contribute to local instability.

Chapter one defines purposes of the UN as:  “To maintain international peace and security”, “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights”, “To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character”…

This Chapter asks member states to act based on the following principles to achieve above mentioned purposes:

1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

2. All Members, …, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.

3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means... All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force…”

Based on Article 24 (2) “the Security Council shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.” Contrary to the first principle, EU and the US have followed the policy of zero nuclear technology for Iran during the past three decades, while they have extensively used nuclear energy for themselves.  The US, UK, France and Germany cancelled their nuclear contracts with Iran after the revolution in 1979 and did not fulfill their obligations. Contrary to the second principle, economic war lunched by the US and EU endanger the life of millions of people and cannot be regarded peaceful means to solve political disputes. Economic sanctions on Iraq during 1990s let to loss of life of 600000 people, mainly women, children and elders, much more than those who lost their life by nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.  The phrase “all options are on the table” that everyone has repeatedly heard from the US authorities and their allies, is contrary to the third principle.

According to article 33 “The parties to any dispute …shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation… or other peaceful means of their own choice.”  According to the article 37 (1), “Should the parties to a dispute of the nature referred to in Article 33 fail to settle it by the means indicated in that Article, they shall refer it to the Security Council.” While the main dispute has been between Iran and the US and the nuclear issue is also part of those disputes, Washington refrained from participating in the negotiations from 2003 to 2007. In 2003, Iran suggested the US to solve all problems through negotiations, including nuclear issue but the US rejected the offer. After joining 5+1 negotiations also, the US has been more interested in expanding and strengthening crippling sanctions than using peaceful means to solve the disputes. Economic war, cyber attack, terror of scientists, proxy war … have been used against Iran by the US, EU and Israel. All of them are clear violations of the UN Charter.

According to Article 37 (2) “If the Security Council deems that the continuance of the dispute is in fact likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, it shall decide whether to take action under Article 36 or to recommend such terms of settlement as it may consider appropriate.” During the past 10 years the dispute has been escalating and Iran has been repeatedly threatened by the US and Israel. However, the UNSC has not done anything to condemn and prevent those threats.

Chapter VII is applicable if “actions with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression” happen. As it is clear from the Statement by the President of the Security Council (S/PRST/2006/15), and Resolution 1696 (2006) the Iranian nuclear issue was sent to the UNSC for two reasons: resumption of peaceful nuclear activities and outstanding issues. None of them could be regarded as an act of aggression or a threat to international peace and security.

According to Article 39 , “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”  Both suspension of nuclear activities and implementation of Additional Protocol were voluntary not obligatory. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with peaceful activates to be seriously concern about.  Even in the first resolution, UNSC refrained from saying seriously concerned and instead says mindful of… and then issued the resolution according to Article 40 (not article 41 and 42) and says “being determined to prevent an aggravation of the situation”.  It means that from the beginning those who drafted the resolution did not believe that Iranian nuclear program is a threat to international peace and security. Then the Resolution asked Iran to postpone peaceful activities and resolve outstanding issues. Iran solved those issues in 2007; however the sanctions intensified. (The content of the resolutions and reports will be analyzed separately).

Article 51 says: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” The US and Israeli authorities have repeatedly threatened Iran with military strikes. As far as the US, benefiting from veto power in UNSC, is also main supporter of Israel, it is not expected that the UN Security Council be able to take any step to prevent aggression of its member states or their allies against Iran. Consequently, based on the article, it is inherent right of Iran to take any necessary step to defend itself.

Based on Article 55, “… creation of conditions of stability and well-being are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations … and the United Nations shall promote:

1. Higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;

2. Solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems;…and

3. Universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

The US and EU crippling sanctions are clearly violating the article. They not only have undermined the wellbeing of Iranian people but also as far as Iranian economy is closely linked to other countries in the region, especially Afghanistan (more than two million Afghans live and work in Iran and send their revenues to their families in Afghanistan), these sanctions have decreased the standard of living in the region and has contributed to regional instability. These are all in contradiction with the UN Charter. Rule of law at international level will not be promoted by these violations. It seems that the more Western countries feel their powers and influence eroded, the less they are interested in respecting international laws and regulations that they have played an important role in developing them.

More By Nabi Sonboli:

*Economic Sanctions and Human Rights:

*Iran and Resultless Negotiations with Watchdog:

*Who Needs Red Lines: Iran or Israel?: