In Setback for the West, UN Rights Council Passes Measure Opposing Economic Sanctions by Largest-Ever Margin

( – The U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday adopted a resolution opposing economic sanctions such as those used by the United States and its Western allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Chinese government’s atrocities in Xinjiang.

Although it was the fifth year in a row that the Geneva-based HRC passed an annual text on “the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights,” this year’s measure passed by its largest margin ever.

Thirty-three members of the 47-seat council voted in favor of the resolution while 13 – the United States and a dozen European nations – opposed it, and one member abstained.

The 33 countries voting “yes” included five that are targeted in U.S. sanctions – China, Cuba, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan – but also every other HRC member in Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere (apart from Mexico, which abstained).

Presenting the draft resolution on behalf of the Non-Alignment Movement, Azerbaijan Ambassador Kamran Seyfullayev said the NAM objects to all “unilateral coercive measures” including those “used as tools for political or economic and financial pressure against any country.”


(“Unilateral coercive measures” is U.N. jargon for sanctions imposed against a country without Security Council authorization, designed to bring about a change of behavior.)

U.S. Ambassador Michèle Taylor said the resolution before the council did nothing to advance respect for or protection of human rights.

“Instead it serves to highlight that, in the view of some states, the effects of sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses and violations are more important than the abuses and violations themselves,” she said.

Taylor also said the resolution challenges the ability of countries to determine their own economic relations and to protect their national interests.

The U.S. and others use sanctions, she said, to deter abuses, and to promote accountability for abuses, corruption, and the undermining of democracy.

“We emphatically do not accept the premise that sanctions are somehow tantamount to the very human rights violations perpetrated by those who are sanctioned.”

Chinese representative Li Xiaomei said countries imposing sanctions should immediately abolish the “illegal” measures and stop violating the human rights of people of other countries.

Other members speaking in favor of the resolution included Eritrea and Costa Rica. Speaking in opposition were Finland, speaking on behalf of E.U. members on the council, and France.

The HRC has passed the “negative impact of unilateral coercive measures” text every year since it was first introduced under that title in 2019, but the 20-vote margin in favor this year was the biggest. The measures passed in the previous four years by margins of 13, 15, 9, and 12 votes.

The increasing support for the anti-sanctions resolution came after a year marked by significant U.S. and allied sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. sanctions also target governments, individuals, or entities in a number of other authoritarian nations, including Belarus, Burma, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

The resolution text said that “no state may use, encourage or threaten to use any type of measure, including but not limited to economic or political measures, to coerce another state in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights.”

It urged all countries to “stop adopting, maintaining, implementing or complying with unilateral coercive measures.”

The text also expressed concern that sanctions “impede the provision of humanitarian assistance to populations in countries affected by natural and other disasters.”

The U.S. government says it has in place humanitarian exceptions to ensure that sanctions against malign actors, foreign government officials for example, do not have the unintended consequence of harming the ordinary people of those countries.

At a food security summit in New York last September, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. would expand the efforts to ensure that access to food and medicine is not impaired in any of its domestic sanctions programs.

“It’s something that we’re already doing, but we need to do this in a consistent way,” he said.

Three months later the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution, co-drafted by the U.S. and Ireland, establishing “carve-outs” for humanitarian purposes across all U.N. sanctions programs.

Monday’s vote came as the HRC wrapped up its first of three sessions for 2023.

The council membership this year includes the smallest number of free democracies since the HRC was established in 2006. Of the 47 members, just 14 are countries graded as “free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House.

Voting in favor of Monday’s resolution were: Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam

Votes against came from Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States. Mexico abstained.


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