Intervention of Professor Alfred de Zayas on Unilateral Coercive Measures (UMC) during the Side Event of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations on the sidelines of the Third Committee of the General Assembly

The following article was published in the June 2024 issue of the International Review of Contemporary Law, the journal of the IADL, focusing on the 77th anniversary of the United Nations Charter.

Alfred De Zayas

Good Afternoon
Honorable Chairman,
Dear Alena,
Ladies and Gentlemen

Hermanus Hermana

We all know that sanctions kill, and they continue to kill the most vulnerable.

We have numerous resolutions of the General Assembly, of the Human Rights Council, of the main Sub-commission on the promotion and protection of human rights, condemning the Unilateral Coercive Measures and explaining why.

There is even a very good report by the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, 2012, and they all have this one consensus, Unilateral Coercive Measures kill.

Now, we have to go beyond mere rhetoric and mere resolutions.

In my book which has just been mentioned, “Building a just world order”, I have a chapter devoted entirely to International Coercive Measures and among the 25 principles of international order already mentioned, principle 19, states very clearly what you already have 21/31 and 26,25 and in the declaration of program of action etc. that states must refrain from interfering in matters within the internal jurisdiction of another state. No state may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another state, in order to obtain from it its subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind. Unilateral Coercive Measures are incompatible with the United Nations Charter. Only the Security Council can impose sanctions under Chapter 7 of the Charter, therefore states shall refrain from imposing such measures, sanctions and financial blockades, on other countries etc. etc.

When unilateral coercive measures cause widespread hunger and death, as they do, they may amount to crimes against humanity, under article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and I will come back to that point later.

As the case maybe, we assume that this session of the General Assembly will adopt, again, a resolution condemning Unilateral Coercive Measures.

Actually, the impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures has actually gotten much worse over the years through the pandemic, well the human effect thereof.

Last year we had General Assembly Resolution 76/161, we also had Human rights council resolution of 46/5. Well, we have to go beyond those resolutions, and we have to concretely ask the General Assembly and the Secretary General, for instance, to establish a working group that will study and quantify the deaths attributable to Unilateral Coercive Measures, that will quantify the economic harm caused to people particularly during the Pandemic.

One proposal that I have made repeatedly, is that the General Assembly should invoke Article 96 of the UN Charter and elevate to the International Court of Justice a number of legal questions and ask to have an advisory opinion thereon, an advisory opinion on the illegality of coercive measures unilateral, the illegality of collective punishment, to enumerate all of those violations of International Law and quantify the consequences.

Another question that could be looked into is whether unilateral coercive measures lead to situations that constitute a threat of international peace and security for the purposes of Art 39 of the UN Charter and whether in itself, if you read the text of Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter that says that all members shall refrain in their International Relations from the threat or use of force. Now, it is quite clear that we are dealing here with a hybrid war, we are dealing here with the use of force, use of force that kills. I always remember a siege of towns in wartime, well this is the siege of entire countries, the siege of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria etc. etc…

Now that is a legal question that has to be very systematically defined by the International Court of Justice and condemned accordingly.

Beyond that, I think that it is necessary to ask the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, to ensure proper financing of this mandate. I had a problem when I was myself independent expert on International Order that my mandate was not well financed and that I suffered from whole periods when I did not have any assistance or any subsistence or logistical support from the office.

Now this mandate on International on Unilateral Coercive Measures has such an importance and Alena Douhan’s proposal to have a sanctions research platform. Well, that must be properly financed, and I strongly advise that a number of states get together and draft a resolution for the General Assembly that will incorporate these specific demands in the resolution.

If I take resolution 76/161 adopted on the 20th of December last year. I mean it reiterated support for the invitation of the Human rights council of all special reporters and assistant Sematic Mechanisms of the council in the field of economic, social and cultural rights, to pay due attention within the scope of the respective mandates to the negative impact and consequences of Unilateral Coercive Measures.

Well, what is being done concretely, for the follow up of that operative paragraph 29 of the Resolution? Again, this is rhetoric. It is in the resolution but there is no mechanism to make it happen and I also think that the General Assembly could ask the Treaty bodies not only the special procedures should ask the committee of economic, social and cultural rights, to issue a new general comment.

Already back in 1997 the Committee on economic, social and cultural rights issued General Comment 8 condemning Unilateral Coercive Measures and explaining why, what kind of an impact they have on the rights of development, what kind of an impact they have on the obligations of state parties to implement economic, social and cultural rights as provided for in the convention.

Well, I think it’s time to bring this General Comment N° 8 up to date and to address all the issues that have arisen over the last 20 years because the situation has gotten much worse than it was in 1997.

Also, the Human rights Committee, I used to be secretary of the Human Rights Committee. The Human Rights Committee adopts many strong general comments which I think that the impact of unilateral coercive measures is very much in the domain of the Human Rights Committee.

We need a general comment by the Human Rights Committee condemning it.
We need a general comment by the Committee on the right of the child etc. etc.

So, my plea to everything in the room, the resolution to be adopted this year on Unilateral Coercive Measures must be stronger. The Resolution that will be adopted I hope by the General Assembly concerning the necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba.

I mean, here is the last one that was adopted in 2021. Well, they say the obvious, that such measures violate fundamental principles of International Law, including the sovereignty equality of states, nonintervention and noninterference in internal affairs, freedom of international trade and navigation, etc. etc. You have 184, 189, 191 states voting in favor of this resolution to lift the embargo against Cuba and nothing happens. There have been 29 such resolutions and there will be now the 30th resolution this year, so I mean, some sort of mechanism or follow up should be established so that it does not remain dead letter.

In having spoken now enough I think I will pass the floor back to the honorable Chair and ask for your indulgence in case that I went beyond the allotted time.

Thank You.

The prior statement is available at UN Web TV

All articles published in the International Review of Contemporary Law reflect only the position of their author and not the position of the journal, nor of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.


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