- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

Do sanctions work?
The chairmen of four of the U.N. Security Council's sanctions committees gave this question some serious thought last week, and came up with "sometimes."
Conceived as a middle-weight alternative to military force, U.N. sanctions vary widely. At their most targeted, the council might impose a travel ban against certain leaders or freeze specific bank accounts. At the other end of the scale is the blunt economic blockade against Iraq that by 1996 had plunged millions of civilians into unspeakable poverty.
It will be years before scholars can evaluate whether the Iraq sanctions were worth the cost to Iraq, to the United Nations or to the chief enforcer, the United States. But council members don't have the luxury of time, and last week tried to conduct a kind of public accounting of the sanctions regimes in place.
Clearly, it wasn't easy for them.
It fell to Norwegian U.N. Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby to oversee the mother of all sanctions committees. One senses, after listening to his evaluation on Thursday, that he will be very happy to walk away from the panel next week when Norway ends its two-year stint on the council.
The work of the 12-year-old sanctions committee continued to increase during his tenure, Mr. Kolby said. He counted 33 formal meetings during the past two years, and frequent closed-door sessions.
"Due to the complexity of issues, the meetings had been characterized by frank discussion and sometimes controversy," Mr. Kolby noted diplomatically. "Results on all issues had not been achieved."
This is a reference to the still-debated "goods review list" of merchandise that Iraq must get permission to import. The 400-page list is subject to political realities and economic pressures, and is likely to be a thorn for Germany, as well, when it takes over the committee in January.
Easing restrictions on humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine, was to have reduced the council's backlog and sped relief to the Iraqi people. And it has although the degree of success is measured subjectively, as is everything else related to Iraq.
The committee overseeing Afghan sanctions had to cope with rapid political and military changes since its creation, said its chairman, Alfonso Valdivieso, the Colombian ambassador to the United Nations.
The attacks of September 11 "turned the focus of the committee to a global scope," he said, as "terrorism became one of the major challenges to international peace and security."
Mr. Valdivieso sounded frustrated when speaking of imposing an arms ban against a largely undefined movement, a travel ban in a region where names are so easily changed and financial control over a group such as al Qaeda, which has considerable resources. He urged governments to be more forthcoming with information and more enthusiastic in their cooperation.
Singapore's U.N. ambassador, Kishore Mahbubani, said the arms, travel and diamond-exporting embargo against Liberian officials contributed to the peace process, even though the government and others continued to import tons of weapons and sell conflict-supporting diamonds. He advocated a "naming and shaming" policy that some council members quietly rejected.
Mr. Mahbubani also warned that Monrovia was using sanctions as an excuse for the worsening humanitarian situation, even though the travel and arms bans were not affecting most Liberians.
Irish U.N. Ambassador Richard Ryan claimed success for the Angola sanctions committee, which was disbanded this year after the collapse of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Created in 1993, this committee restricted the travel of UNITA leaders, investigated its funding, froze bank accounts and tried to impose an arms ban on the rebel side.
"I believe it is right to say the council's efforts have had some influence on the events in Angola," Mr. Ryan said, adding that lessons were learned that could be applied to similar conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia. He urged further refinement of sanctions against nongovernment groups and, like Mr. Mahbubani, stressed the importance of creating a policy to deal with violators of sanctions.
Jagdish Koonjul, the Mauritian ambassador to the United Nations, who headed an ad hoc group on conflict prevention in Africa, said that the issues of that continent take up much of the Security Council's time, yet there rarely are opportunities for in-depth discussion of the problems. These committees, except for the Angola sanctions panel, will be taken over by new members in January.
Betsy Pisik can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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