Differences of opinion about the targeting of punitive measures against rogue states emerged at a panel session on sanctions and the rule of law held at the Global Law Summit yesterday. 

Kimberly Prost (pictured), ombudsperson for the UN Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, said she was a ‘fervent believer’ in the need for the international community to have a set of sanctions powers. ‘But we must use them in a credible and targeted way, and guard against unintended consequences. That’s our challenge.’

Prost has observed a migration away from ‘broad state comprehensive sanctions’ to ‘smart, targeted sanctions’ against individuals. But she admitted that this has raised significant issues over fair process and the rule of law.

However, Dominic Grieve QC MP, former attorney general of the UK, said the more states had tried to narrow and target their sanctions to make them fairer, the more they ‘succeeded in making a rod for their own back’. He said: ‘The more we have progressed this, the more we have incurred problems, which have caused frustration, irritation and, at times, incandescence on [people] trying to do the right thing.’

Prost said the current preference for a ‘cautious approach’ arose following the impact of state-wide sanctions on Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. These had a ‘devastating effect on the innocent population’, she said.

The Office of the UN Ombudsperson was established following litigation arising from hundreds of names put on a sanctions list after the 11 September attacks in 2001. Highlighting what she called the ‘glaring’ fair-process problem, Prost said sanctions were used against individuals ‘where there’s no legal context, no judicial review, no recourse for individuals’.

Prost described the Office of the Ombudsperson as a ‘unique, rule of law, fair process mechanism at international level’. If she recommends delisting, an individual or entity will come off the sanctions list after 60 days, she said, unless, for instance, the matter is referred to the Security Council for a vote.

While the use of sanctions has raised human rights issues, Prost said sanctions also protected fundamental rights, such as the right to security and right to life.

But sanctions are not effective unless they are implemented, she warned. ‘One of the challenges, particularly for UN sanctions, is they must be implemented by someone else, by the state and players within the state.’