What are United Nations Sanctions Anyway? : Tell Me More The United Nations has leveled new sanctions on Iran, hoping to stem the country's production of nuclear fuel.  But how exactly do sanctions work and could they work?  Human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar offers an explanation.
NPR logo What are United Nations Sanctions Anyway?

What are United Nations Sanctions Anyway?

Earlier this week, the United Nations Security Council leveled its fourth round of sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, seeking to halt Iran’s production of nuclear fuel. President Obama hailed the resolution as the toughest sanctions yet against the Iranian government.

But the resolution was not as tough as American and European officials had hoped, and it passed without the symbolic weight of a unanimous decision. Twelve of the 15 nations on the Security Council voted in favor of the measure, but Brazil and Turkey — which had negotiated a deal with Iran to swap some of its nuclear fuel — voted against, and Lebanon abstained.

The sanctions took aim at military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls Iran’s nuclear program and has taken a more central role in running the country and the economy.

But, what does the term ‘sanctions’ really mean under international law?

Under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council can take enforcement measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such measures “range from economic and/or other sanctions not involving the use of armed force to international military action”.

The use of mandatory sanctions is intended to apply pressure on a state or entity to comply with the objectives set by the Security Council without resorting to the use of force. Sanctions thus offer the Security Council an important instrument to enforce its decisions. The universal character of the United Nations makes it an especially appropriate body to establish and monitor such measures.

The Council has resorted to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed. The range of sanctions has included comprehensive economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial or diplomatic restrictions.

So with the recent sanctions against Iran, the UN Security Council is hoping to bring our planet one step closer to being a nuclear-free world.

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and regular weekly contributor for the Barbershop segment of Tell Me More.