The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Friday that will protect humanitarian assistance from unintended negative impacts across all regimes targeted by U.N. sanctions.
The United States and Ireland initiated the text and led the negotiations. Fourteen council members voted in favor and only one, India, abstained.
“The United States decided to pursue this initiative after extensive thought and deliberation,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during the meeting. “We made a point to proactively reach out and listen to the U.N. and NGO community. We heard about the challenges they face, and how we, as an international community, can best support their lifesaving efforts. They told us that the second-order impacts of some U.N. sanctions were creating an impediment to humanitarian assistance in the field.”
Aid groups say asset freezes in sanctions regimes can affect their ability to access funds and work with banks to carry out their operations. The new resolution exempts “the provision, processing or payment of funds, other financial assets,” or the provision of goods and services “necessary to ensure the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance” from U.N. sanctions.
The International Committee of the Red Cross welcomed the action, saying U.N. sanctions apply in nine of their top 10 operations.
“Once implemented, we hope this resolution will significantly assist humanitarian action in many parts of the world and improve the ICRC’s ability to reach communities affected by conflict,” ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric said in a statement. “Concretely, this means better services for communities, such as medical care, drilling of wells for clean drinking water, or visits to people detained in conflict.”
Ireland’s ambassador said the “landmark resolution” had changed the sanctions paradigm at the U.N.
“As we seek to preserve the peace, target spoilers and counter terrorism, we often turn to sanctions measures. They are necessary,” Ambassador Fergel Mythen said. “But going forward, this council can now do so with new renewed confidence that these restrictive measures will not prevent humanitarian organizations from doing their vital work.”
The resolution only applies to U.N. Security Council-imposed sanctions, not unilateral ones imposed by individual states on another state, individuals or entities.
Thomas-Greenfield said Washington has worked to correct any second-order sanction impacts in its own unilateral sanctions and that humanitarians have said it is very helpful.
The council resolution also includes the sanctions regime relating to al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State for an initial two years, after which it will be reviewed, and the council will decide whether to continue to include it.
Council member India abstained on the resolution, raising concerns that some groups, including in its own region, may try to exploit the humanitarian exceptions.
“There have also been several cases of terrorist groups in our neighborhood, including those listed by this council, reincarnating themselves as humanitarian organizations and civil society groups, precisely to evade these sanctions,” Indian ambassador Ruchira Kamboj said. “These terrorist organizations use the umbrella of the humanitarian space to raise funds and recruit fighters.”
The U.N. secretary-general’s spokesman also welcomed the adoption.
“The issue of ensuring sanctions don’t harm our humanitarian operations, don’t harm people bluntly, is one we have been advocating for a long time,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters.