Statement by Ambassador Dr. Riyad Mansour before the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestine Question, 22 July 2014 (© Statement by Ambassador Dr. Riyad Mansour before the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestine Question, 22 July 2014 (©
UNSC sanctions on Israel was the second most prefered pathway chosen by Palestinian refugees (50.8%); see p.5
These are dark days for those suffering the loss of country and means of subsistence, displacement, the denial of self-determination and other human rights that accompany the breakdown of peace and security. These days are gravely disappointing also for those seeking a UN Security Council (SC) that fulfills its UN Charter-based mandate to bear the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”[1] In light of the current conflict in Syria, for example, any evaluation of the SC’s performance would not be favorable. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has admitted that the SC is failing because of great power divisions that have prevented effective action to end the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and driven the biggest refugee exodus in generations.[2]
How is it that the UN body that bears the primary responsibility to uphold the peace-and-security pillar of the UN system is so ineffective? That is the question behind an unceasing debate over needed SC reform. However, in the context of the particular crimes of the self-acclaimed “Islamic State” in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) the ineffectiveness of the SC forms a pattern.
In the Palestine-Israel conflict, the crisis of diminishing expectations of the SC extends over decades. The SC’s lack of integrity in upholding international law and world order is at least one traceable reason for the wider region’s consequent lack of peace and security, and for present-day ISIS daring to adapt the long-established model of Israel’s impunity for population transfer and its associated crimes.
The Sanctions Regime
The SC has several remedial measures at its disposal, in addition to its authority to call on UN Members and other states to take effective measures, either individually or jointly, to correct an illegal situation. One of the effective measures at the SC’s disposal is the imposition of sanctions. Currently, the SC maintains 15 sanctions regimes, while all but two of them coincide with other overt diplomatic initiatives, including direct negotiations. None affects Israel.
The basis for UN sanctions under international law derives from Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Article 41 covers enforcement measures not involving armed force. Although it does not explicitly refer to “sanctions” by name, Article 41 contains an illustrative list of specific sanctioning measures.[3] The SC may decide which measures are to be taken to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These include complete or partial interruption of economic relations, rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, the severance of diplomatic relations and trade embargoes. The same article allows for other non-sanction measures, such as establishing an international tribunal, as in the case of the former Yugoslavia, or a compensation fund, such as the UN Compensation Commission after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
The UN Charter allows more flexibility than its predecessor in the League of Nations. That earlier system enabled sanctions only in the case of interstate war, and permitted only comprehensive diplomatic and economic sanctions.[4]
The SC imposed voluntary sanctions for the first time against the apartheid regimes of South Africa, in 1963, and Southern Rhodesia, in 1965. Both of these sanctions regimes became mandatory for all states in 1977[5] and 1968,[6] respectively. The Council had imposed comprehensive sanctions on Rhodesia after its white-minority Unilateral Declaration of Independence, and on South Africa for its apartheid system, regional military aggression and pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
The 1990s saw a series of sanctions regimes imposed on Iraq,[7] parties to the war in the former Yugoslavia,[8] post-coup Haiti[9] (1993–94), Somalia[10] (1992-present), Liberia[11] (1992–2001), former Yugoslavia[12] (1993–96), Angola[13] (1993-2002), Rwanda[14] (1994-2008), Sierra Leone[15] (1997–2010) and Kosovo[16] (1998–2001).
The SC has evolved to apply targeted sanctions, rather than comprehensive sanctions, which had proved to cause adverse humanitarian impacts. The sanctions regimes involve countermeasures that generally seek at least one of five purposeful objectives: conflict resolution, democratization, nonproliferation, counterterrorism and the protection of civilians (including human rights).[17]
SC sanctions regimes in the new millennium mainly have sought the last three purposes. Toward nonproliferation, the SC has adopted four major resolutions since 2006 that impose and strengthen sanctions on North Korea for continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program and call on Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program “in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner" and refrain from ballistic missile tests.[18] In 2006, the SC imposed sanctions after Iran refused to suspend its uranium enrichment program,[19] but the SC lifted most measures on 16 January 2016 in the wake of the P5+1 agreement with Iran.[20]
In an effort to break the chain linking the armed conflict and the illicit trade in conflict minerals, a subsequent resolution extending the ban and instituted a certification-of-origin regime was issued.[21] Since the late 2000s, the SC also adopted a series of resolutions[22] that established an arms embargo and targeted sanctions to halt the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the country that was fueling conflicts and related human rights violations, killings, the use of child soldiers and sexual violence in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
In early 2011, responding to the violence and use of force against civilians in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the SC established a Committee to monitor implementation of an arms embargo, asset freeze and targeted travel ban.[23] More recently, the SC resolved to thwart ISIS as a terrorist organization with a series of measures.[24] The most-recent one is most explicit about the measures required of all states to remedy that illegal situation. In fact, the SC has cited at least 243 individuals and 74 entities on the ISIS and al-Qaeda sanctions list.[25]
Double Standards
The SC sanctions regimes have become well institutionalized, diversified and targeted through more than 50 years of operation. The SC has grounded effective measures in the domestic, individual, collective and extraterritorial obligations of states under international law, humanitarian law, criminal law and peremptory norms of customary international law, including the duty of non-recognition of an illegal situation created by the illegal use of force or other serious breaches of jus cogens.[26] Legal and judicial mechanisms no less than the International Law Commission[27] and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have reaffirmed these obligations of states, dating back to the “Namibia Doctrine,” whereby the ICJ advised that the
“development of international law in regard to non-self-governing territories, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, made the principle of self-determination applicable to all of them” and that “the termination of the Mandate and the declaration of the illegality of South Africa’s presence in Namibia are opposable to all States in the sense of barring ergaomnes the legality of a situation which is maintained in violation of international law…”[28]
In the case of the Palestine question, the United Nations bears a “permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until the question is resolved in all its aspects in a satisfactory manner in accordance with international legitimacy.”[29] Despite the UN’s overarching responsibility to uphold Palestinian self-determination, international law and world order, nearly 70 years of failure have discredited the organization, undermined the faith of generations in the rule of law, cost untold fortunes and persecuted an entire people. Within this greater problematic is the particular incompetence of the Security Council, in its present form, to respond with effective measures to remedy the ongoing crimes of population transfer, institutionalized material discrimination (apartheid) against Palestine’s indigenous people, the foundational breach of utipossidetisiuris (the international law principle prohibiting partition and recolonization of a people’s territory/self-determination unit) and the litany of gross violations of human rights.
Many observers—and the actual voting record—have shown that the principal obstacle to the SC applying effective remedies to the illegality brought about by Israel is the United States of America’s veto privilege.[30] Protecting Israel from critical resolutions at the SC has long been a central pillar of USA foreign policy. The tables have started to turn in recent years with the deterioration of relations between the U.S. President Barack Obama Administration and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu government. The protective shield is being questioned at the White House as part of a broader review of US relations with Israel.[31] However, no effective policy shift is yet manifest.
Consequently, the diplomatically hamstrung SC never has subjected the offending state to the available sanctions regime that was designed to correct the illegal situations arising from conflict, tyranny, illicit weapons proliferation, terrorism and the persecution of civilians (including violations of their human rights). Only once, in 1980, did the SC succeed to “[call] upon all States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with [its illegal] settlements in the occupied territories.”[32]
Two years later, the UN General Assembly (GA) also reminded UN Member states of the illegality of recognizing or cooperating with the illegal situation in Palestine when it condemned the annexation of Palestinian territory by Israel and further deplored:
any political, economic, financial, military and technological support to Israel that encourages Israel to commit acts of aggression and to consolidate and perpetuate its occupation and annexation of occupied Arab territories…[33]
In doing so, the GA has reiterated its call to “all Member States” to apply specific measures to:
(a)     refrain from supplying Israel with any weapons and related equipment and to suspend any military assistance that Israel receives from them;
(b)     refrain from acquiring any weapons or military equipment from Israel;
(c)     suspend economic, financial and technological assistance to and cooperation with Israel;
(d) sever diplomatic, trade and cultural relations with Israel…[34]
Thus, the SC retains an institutional memory of prior legal obligations that the ICJ also imparted in its own 2004 Advisory Opinion on the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, reiterating that the illegal situation has resulted in “an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction”. The ICJ reminded that, in the context of war and occupation, The Hague Convention and the four Geneva Conventions “incorporate obligations essentially of an erga omnes character”; that is, binding on all.[35]
The obligation of non-recognition, noncooperation or non-transaction with parties to the illegal situation is self-executing in the sense that such erga omnes obligations are axiomatic and do not require SC resolutions for states to exercise this extraterritorial duty. However, the SC is specially mandated to articulate, monitor and operationalize these obligations as the UN body “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”[36]
Mercifully, the failed and now greatly discredited SC is not the only actor in the field of international relations. It is notable that local authorities are conscientiously acting on their erga omnes obligations as part of legally bound states. To wit, a local authorities’ forum in Canoas RS, Brazil in 2012 declared that
“…Brazilian local governments…commit to responsible investment by avoiding contracting with parties that support or benefit from occupation, or violate related prohibitions under international law.”[37]
In December 2014, another gathering of local governments reiterated their pledge to fulfill that same erga omnes obligation:
“Local governments…commit to responsible investment by not contracting with parties and not twinning with cities that support or benefit from occupation, or violate related prohibitions under international law.”[38]
The proliferation of such examples, including the citizens’ boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives, promises to “connect the dots” and form a movement that raises the call to the “primarily responsible” parties to apply effective measures to enforce the law that they are supposed to uphold. For the SC to overcome its selective application and double standards, however, will require fundamental reform, including nothing short of replacing the veto privilege with a more-democratic order within the SC and/or a seismic shift in a U.S. foreign policy that enables and protects gross violators of the law.
*          Prof. Joseph Schechla is Coordinator of the Habitat International Coalition’s Housing and Land Rights Network (HIC-HLRN), which supports member organizations in their development, advocacy and various struggles to realize the human right to adequate housing and equitable access to land in the Middle East/North Africa and other regions across the globe.

[1]    Charter of the United Nations, Article 24, at:
[2]    Chris McGreal, “UN Security Council is failing Syria, Ban Ki-moon admits,” The Guardian (7 September 2015), at:
[3]    “The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.”
[4]    Farral, J. M. (2007). United Nations Sanctions and the Rule of Law. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 53-56.
[5]    S/RES/418 4 November 1977, at:
[6]    S/RES/253, 29 May 1968, at:
[7]    S/RES/661, 6 August 1990, at:
[8]    S/RES/713, 25 September 1991, at:
[9]    S/RES/841, 16 June 1993, at:
[10]   S/RES/751, 24 April 19912, at:  
[11]   S/RES/788, 19 November 1992, :; S/RES/ 1306, 5 July 2000, at: 
[12]   S/RES/820, 17 April 1993, at:
[13]   S/RES/864, 15 September 1993, at:
[14]   S/RES/918, 1993, 17 May 1994, at:
[15]   The situation in Sierra Leone,” S/RES/1132, 8 October 1997, at:
[16]   S/RES/1203, 31, March 1998, at:
[17]   UN Security Council (2013).UN Sanctions.Special Research Report. p. 2 Available at: [Accessed February 16, 2016].
[18]   S/RES/1718, 14 October 2006, at:; S/RES/1874, 12 June 2009, at:; S/RES/2087, 22 January 2013, at:; S/RES/2094, 7 March 2013, at:
[19]   S/RES/1696, 31 July 2006, at:
[20]   The SC’s receipt of a favorable International Atomic Energy Agency report automatically terminated seven previous U.N. resolutions, which are now replaced by S/RES/2231, 20 July 2015, which carries over some restrictions, at:
[21]   Security Council resolution 1385 (2001), 19 December 2001, at:
[22]   S/RES/2198 (2015), 29 January 2015; S/RES/2136 (2014), 30 January 2014; S/RES/2078 (2012), 28 November 2012; S/RES/2021 (2011), 29 November 2011; S/RES/1952 (2010),  29 November 2010;  S/RES/1896 (2009),  30 November 2009; S/RES/1857 (2008), 22 December 2008; S/RES/1807 (2008), 31 March 2008; S/RES/1804 (2008), 13 March 2008; S/RES/1771 (2007), 10 August 2007; S/RES/1768 (2007), 31 July 2007; S/RES/1698 (2006), 31 July 2006; S/RES/1596 (2005), 18 April 2005; S/RES/1552 (2004), 27 July 2004; S/RES/1533 (2004), 12 March 2004; S/RES/1493 (2003), 28 July 2003.
[23]   S/RES/1970 26 February 2011, at:
[24]   S/RES/2199, 12 February 2015, at:;S/RES/2249, 20 November 2015, at:; and S/RES/2253,17 December 2015, at:
[25]   See for the sanctions list:
[26]   Stefan Talmon, “TheDuty Not to ‘Recognize as Lawful’ a Situation Created by the Illegal Use of Force or Other Serious Breaches of a Jus Cogens Obligation: An Obligation without Real Substance?” in Christian Tomuschat and Jean-Marc Thouvenin, eds., The Fundamental Rules of the International Legal Order. Jus Cogens and Obligations ErgaOmnes (Leiden: MartinusNijhoff, 2005), at:; Enrico Milano, “The doctrine(s) of non-recognition: theoretical underpinnings and policy implications in dealing with de facto regimes,” at:;  Werner Meng, “Stimson Doctrine,” in Rudolf Bernhardt, ed.,  Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Vol., No. IV (1982), 690; and David Turns, “The Stimson Doctrine of Non-Recognition: Its Historical Genesis and Influence on Contemporary International Law,” Chinese Journal of International Law, Vol.  2, No. 1 (2003), at: 105–43; Marcel Kohen, “La contribución de América Latina al desarrollo progresivo del Derecho Internacional en materia territorial,” Anuario de derecho internacional. XVII, 57–78, at:; Martin Dawidowicz, “The Obligation of Non-recognition of an Unlawful Situation,” in James Crawford, Alain Pellet and Simon Olleson, eds., The Law of International Responsibility (Oxford: Ozford University Press, 2010), at: 
[27]   Report of the International Law Commission, 53rd Session, GAOR, 56th Session, Supp. No. 10 (A/56/10), 2001, pp. 283-284, paras. 4,5.
[28]   Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) Notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970) (Advisory Opinion) [1970] ICJ Rep. 16, para. 52.
[29]   “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” A/RES/70/12, 2 December 2015, at:
[30]   Donald Neff, “An Updated List of Vetoes Cast by the United States to Shield Israel from Criticism by the U.N. Security Council,” Washington Report of Middle East Affairs (May/June 2005), p. 14, at:; “U.N. Security Council: U.S. Vetoes of Resolutions Critical to Israel (1972 - Present),” Jewish Virtual Library (2011), at:; Nick Bryant, “US raises prospect of Israel UN isolation,” BBC News (1 April 2015), at:
[31]   Goldberg, J. (2014). The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is Officially Here. The Atlantic. October 28, 2014. Available at: [Accessed February 16, 2016].
[32]   S/RES/465 (1980), 1 March 1980, para. 7, at:
[33]   General Assembly, “The situation in the Middle East,” A/37/123 (1982), 16 December 1982, at:
[34]   Ibid., para. 13.
[35]   ICJ, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, General List 131, 9 July 2004, at:
[36]   UN General Assembly. November 3, 1950. Resolution 377 (V) "Uniting for Peace".A/RES/5/377. Available at: [Accessed February 16, 2016].
[37]   “Local Authorities Forum—Free Palestine Statement,” Canoas RS, Brazil, 27 November 2012, article 6, at:
[38]   “Olive Declaration,” International Conference of Seville in Support of Palestinian Rights, organized by FondoAndaluz de Municipios para la SolidaridadInternacional (FAMSI), United Cities and Local Government (UCLG) and the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), 2–3 December 2014, at: