CASI's formal response to `Britain in the world' consultation

On 31 March CASI submitted a formal response to the Labour Party's 'Britain in the World' consultation, a very political summary of which is provided here. The consultation process was designed to shape Labour Party foreign policy in the run-up to the next General Election.

The first consultative document was circulated in Feb 1999, as part of the policy development process, with comments invited from groups and individuals. The views put forward by the groups responding to the first consultative document are stated and analysed in the second consultative document. CASI replied to this second consultation document.

In light of the responses to the second consultation document, a third document will be produced; if approved by the National Policy Forum in July, it will be put to the Party Annual Conference in September. It is intended that, if approved, this document will form part of the Labour Party manifesto for the next election.

The second consultation asked five questions; CASI only responded in any depth to the second. CASI hopes that its remarks will reduce the likelihood of other nations being treated by the UK like Iraq has been through the 1990s. The second question read:

2. Are there any areas not covered in the document that you would like the Britain in the world Policy Commission to develop? Please specify and rank in order of preference.

Its response follows. Readers interested in it might also be interested in the House of Commons International Development Select Committee's report on the Future of Sanctions (10 February 2000) and Save the Children Fund UK's position statement on the impact of sanctions on Iraq's children (25 January 2000).

When economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990 the international community had relatively little experience with these policy instruments and their consequences. In the past decade, the United Nations Security Council has been able to work in co-operation to a much greater extent than before, and has used sanctions in a number of situations when armed force was regarded as undesirable. The extensive use of economic sanctions in the past decade has revealed much about their shortcomings and limitations.

As the Security Council is likely to continue to use sanctions, it is important that this is recognised in the 'Working for global security' section of the 'Britain in the world' document, and for there to be some guidelines about minimising the harm done by sanctions when they are resorted to. The House of Commons Select Committee on International Development has shown that sanctions "are all too often as damaging - in humanitarian and developmental terms - as armed conflict" (' The Future of Sanctions', 10 February 2000). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also acknowledged the need for "smarter sanctions" ( Written Answers, 15 March 1999).

The following remarks suggest steps to ensure that the effects of sanctions on innocent populations are minimised, and do not touch upon the issue of maximising their effectiveness on target populations. These remarks deal only with sanctions regimes authorised by the Security Council, and not unilateral sanctions which are less likely to have a severe impact on the humanitarian situation in a target country. The remarks also distinguish between consequences and processes. Ideally, sanctions' use would be governed to prevent unacceptable consequences, making controls on processes unnecessary. In practice, ideal governance is unlikely and the risk of unacceptable consequences is decreased by process controls.

  1. Consequences: how to assess the impact of sanctions.
  2. 1. The effects of sanctions must be assessed in terms of international humanitarian law standards, to ensure that they comply at least with the standards of proportionality and necessity that apply in armed conflict. At present, the UK government has not affirmed in legal terms that international humanitarian law standards are relevant, given that sanctions are often applied in the absence of armed conflict. A clear public articulation by the UK government that sanctions are to be assessed in this way would acknowledge that there are legal guidelines for their use.

    Furthermore, as all members of the United Nations have pledged through the Charter to promote the international observance of human rights, the UK government must affirm that in implementing sanctions regimes it will refrain from measures that will hamper the realization of economic and social rights in the target state, including the right to education and the right to an adequate standard of living.

    2. Continuous monitoring of the social and economic situation in target countries should be encouraged and facilitated by the UK government. The UK should press for the establishment of an independent body that can monitor conditions in a target country in accordance with international best practice. Moreover, Britain should promote the findings of humanitarian agencies at the Security Council and at relevant subsidiary bodies, with representatives of humanitarian agencies invited to bodies charged with the implementation of sanctions to report on the situation in the target country.

  3. Process: measures to ensure that appropriate consequences are attained.
  4. 3. On imposition, Britain should press for sanctions regimes to have clearly defined and independently verifiable conditions that terminate them unless the sanctioning body chooses to renew them. These conditions could incorporate temporal (e.g. one year), economic (e.g. 50% drop in GDP) and humanitarian (e.g. doubled child mortality rates) elements. This measure particularly reflects the structure of the Security Council. The consensus of all five permanent members required to impose a sanctions regime ensures both that the regime has been subject to careful scrutiny and that, relatedly, it has a certain legitimacy. Without terminal conditions, a sanctions regime may be maintained by a single permanent member, using its veto to prevent termination. This reduction of the checks and balances usually present in the Council increases the possibility of its authority being lent to situations that are not in the interests of global security. The legitimacy of the Security Council is put at risk in such circumstances.

    4. Britain should ensure that all decisions taken by bodies responsible for ruling on imports or exports from a sanctioned country under humanitarian exemptions or programmes are minuted and those minutes made publicly available. Currently the decisions of UN Sanctions Committees are not subject to public scrutiny. There is some hope that the disparate interests represented on such Committees will disclose indefensible decisions but this is an imperfect approximation to proper disclosure standards.

    5. Britain should propose and support the establishment of a standing body within the UN Secretariat to develop and maintain standards for non-military and dual-use items. This body will provide technical advice on the risks associated with a sanctioned country's import of items, and will review the practice of the bodies mentioned in point 4, in terms of these standards.