Author Archive for
Kristen Boon

Final Compendium of High-Level Review of UN Sanctions Proposes Reforms to System

by Kristen Boon

The Compendium of the 2014 UN High Level Review of Sanctions, including its 150 recommendations, is now available here on the UN Website.  The Document number is A/69/941 – S/2015/432.  The review, sponsored by Australia, Finland, Germany, Greece and Sweden, took place from May –  November 2014, and involved a series of meetings between Member States, the Secretariat as well as other UN bodies.

The starting point of the review was to look at the 16 regimes in place, and discuss how to improve the existing sanctions system from there.  The compendium has many useful recommendations and observations.  Here are a few:

  • It emphasizes the move towards using sanctions to address trafficking in wildlife products and natural resources;
  • It highlights the importance of using sanctions to address transnational threats and new technologies; (Recommendation 146)
  • It recommends using sanctions to better address existing and emerging threats on, for example, incitement to genocide, sexual violence in conflict, and gross violations of women’s rights; (Recommendation 132)
  • It advocates the establishment of a Trust Fund for sanctions implementation assistance, a proposal originating from Jordan. (Recommendation 126).  While not going so far as to reference Article 50 of the UN Charter (special economic problems), together with recommendations 123 – 125 on assessments for assistance, it charts a future path towards better coordination and provision of assistance.
  • The Compendium also proposes better coordination between the ICC and the UN, highlighting the absence of clear processes in the past, and the possibility of future synergies.  For example, the compendium makes the very sensible recommendation of automatically listing individuals (where a relevant sanctions regime applies) after an arrest warrant has been issues by the Pre-Trial Chamber.  (Recommendation 100).

The compendium is a useful and current document, that gives a current state-of-play of UN sanctions while adding onto the Interlaken, Bonn and Stockholm and Greek initiatives of prior years.  Nonetheless, it must be noted that an attempt to pass a Security Council resolution last November on some of these same issues failed.   See the Security Council report assessment here of a draft resolution that was debated but never brought to a vote.   Attempts to strengthen capacity building, assistance and implementation for UN sanctions remain controversial – whether because of ongoing hesitation about the robustness of the tool, or because of opposition to strengthening the Secretariat’s policy making capacities.

What impact this document will have remains to be seen, but as the race heats up for the next Secretary General, one hopes that the recommendations will form part of the campaign, and further that future Secretary Generals will play a greater role in sanctions implementation, by for example, including substantive reports on sanctions in their briefings to the Security Council.  (See recommendation 50).

How Broad is the UN’s Immunity? More on The Haiti Cholera Case

by Kristen Boon

If you haven’t seen it yet, the US recently filed its amicus brief in the Haiti Cholera appeal – it is available here: Haiti US amicus 2nd Circ. Predictably, the brief makes the case for absolute external UN immunity, and advances largely the same arguments put forward in prior filings.

And yet, there are a number of powerful counterarguments to the position put forward by the US government.

  • At the time the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN) was drafted, the whole field of privileges and immunities of IOs was largely “uncharted territory,” and founding States projected what immunities they thought the UN would need with little information from practice;
  • The legislative history of the CPIUN confirms that the biggest fear of UN founding states was the threat of a member state trying to control the UN, not classes of private plaintiffs bringing torts cases against the Organization;
  • Article 105 of the UN Charter limits the Organization’s immunities before national courts to what are functionally necessary, and under Article 103, the Charter trumps conflicting treaties, arguably including the broader language of the CPIUN.
  • Although settling claims might place a considerable financial burden on the Organization, the UN could purchase liability insurance to cover itself against large claims;
  • The concern that Troop Contributing Countries will be deterred from cooperating with the UN if it has anything less than absolute immunity has no empirical support. In fact, what appears to be of far more concern to TCCs is the expansion of “robust” peacekeeping missions in which peacekeepers have an offensive mandate.

As a result, although the UN’s external immunities are clearly very broad, there is a very strong argument they are not absolute.  These arguments are advanced in my forthcoming article on the Haiti Cholera case (see bottom of post for more information).

In another important development, earlier this year the UN attempted to redefine the scope of its internal immunities, under Art. 29 of the CPIUN.

In a February 19, 2015 letter to Members of Congress, the Secretary General wrote:

“In the practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between private parties, such as, claims arising under contracts, claims relating to the use of private property in peacekeeping contexts or claims arising from motor vehicle accidents. . . . The claims in question were not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the General Convention [as they] raised broad issues of policy that arose out of the functions of the United Nations as an international organization, they could not form the basis of a claim of a private law character [….] For the same reason, it was determined that these claims were not of the type for which a claims commission is provided under the SOFA, since the relevant provision of the SOFA also relates to claims of a private law character.”

A November 2014 letter from the UN’s Senior Cholera Coordinator to several Human Rights Special Rapporteurs reinforces the UN’s restrictive new interpretation of private law claims:

In the Practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between two private parties. Section 29(a) has most frequently been applied to claims arising under contracts between the United Nations and a private party, to those relating to the use of property in the context of a mission away from Headquarters, and to claims arising from vehicle accidents.

What is striking about these letters is that torts—other than those arising from motor vehicle accidents—have been eliminated from the scope of the UN’s duty to compensate for private injury.  In prior documents, the UN had included identified two much broader types of private law claims: commercial agreements that the UN has entered into, and claims by third parties for personal injury, death or property loss or damage, specifically as caused by actions of UN peacekeepers.           This recent categorical elimination of torts other than those arising from motor vehicle accidents is significant: injuries are predictable aspects of any peacekeeping operation, and they should not be designated as public simply because they affect the UN’s potential liability.

In parallel, the Secretary General suggested an enlarged category of public law claims for which the UN would be internally immune. The 2014 letter to the Human Rights Special Rapporteurs on the Haiti case states:

“Claims under Section 29(a) are distinct from public law claims, which are understood as claims that would arise between an individual and a public authority such as a State.” The letter goes to suggest that “on the international level, these claims may be addressed in various ways, such as through political, diplomatic or other means, including a body established for that specific purpose.”

For the full text click here:  Haiti Nov14 explanation to SRs

This wording is deeply troubling in that it largely eliminates the UN’s duty towards third-parties, despite the recognition in General Assembly resolution 52/547 that such duties exist.  In my article, I take issue with the UN’s attempt to redefine the scope of its internal immunities, and argue that member states should join the conversation about what immunities mean to the UN today.

For an early copy of “The United Nations as Good Samaritan: Immunity and Responsibility” forthcoming in the Chicago Journal of International Law (2015) please contact me at kristen [dot] boon [at] shu [dot] edu.

Human Rights Position at Seton Hall School of Diplomacy

by Kristen Boon

My colleagues at the Diplomacy School have just alerted me to an interesting new opportunity.  All who are interested should apply.  Here is the job ad:

The School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor position in international human rights law to commence in the 2016-2017 academic year. Applicants must possess a J.D. A Ph.D. in a related discipline is desirable. The expertise to teach and develop other courses related to international law is a plus, including courses in European Union Institutions, or courses related to the Middle East. The position is subject to final budgetary approval.

Successful applicants will demonstrate the ability or potential to teach effectively in a professional school at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. All applicants should have strong research backgrounds or demonstrate substantial potential for conducting important academic research in their field of specialization.

The School of Diplomacy and International Relations prepares graduate and undergraduate students for careers in international affairs and operates in an exclusive alliance with the United Nations Foundation/United Nations Association of the United States of America.

Located only 14 miles from New York City, Seton Hall University is the oldest and one of the largest diocesan universities in the nation. Seton Hall has recently developed a required, undergraduate Core Curriculum, and occasional teaching of a course or two within this curriculum will be required.

All candidates should provide a curriculum vitae, examples of scholarly work, evidence of teaching effectiveness (if available), three letters of recommendation, and a graduate transcript. To receive full consideration, materials should be sent electronically by October 2, 2015 via (follow employment links). Letters of recommendation should be sent to humanrightssearch [at] shu [dot] edu.

Members of UN Security Council Discuss LGBT Issues

by Kristen Boon

13 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council met yesterday to address LGBT issues for the first time in a closed session chaired by Chile and the US.     The focus was on persecution of gays in Syria and Iraq.    As an Arria-formula meeting, the discussion was confidential, however news reports after indicate the group discussed the Islamic State’s targeting of LGBTQ residents of Iraq and Syria.   Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, told the diplomats that “we are coming together as a Security Council to condemn these acts, to demand they stop, and to commit to one day bringing the perpetrators to justice. That unified condemnation matters.”

See the news reports here, here and here for more details.

UN Ombudsperson Kimberly Prost to Leave Post in July

by Kristen Boon

Kimberly Prost, the current UN Ombudsperson, will be leaving her post in mid-July when her term expires.   However, no replacement has been appointed, nor has the UN implemented a transition plan for her eventual successor.   The issue of what will happen to the current cases before the office, or to individuals who are unlucky enough to apply for delisting after July 14 is significant.   It highlights the fragility of this important institution at the UN, and suggests that not all member states wish it to function effectively.

Despite the considerable progress the UN has made in developing the institution of the Ombudsperson, which addresses review and delisting requests for individuals on the Al Qaida sanctions regime, it has become apparent that the institution may soon be synonymous with its first occupant: Ms. Prost.   The institution has not been streamlined into the UN system, and despite its important work, her status has been that of a consultant.  While some UN Member States initiated demarches to try to have her term extended, they were unsuccessful. It is unclear what the future will hold for the institution now that she is departing, which is significant rule of law problem.

The issue was extensively discussed at a recent conference on UN Sanctions at Leiden University in the Netherlands.   The program is available under the committee documents tab here.    In addition to the fragility of this institution, its exclusivity was discussed in detail.   The Ombudsperson’s Office has jurisdiction to review and delist individuals on the Al Qaida sanctions lists, but individuals and entities on the 15 other sanctions lists do not have access to this process. Instead, they may request a review from the Focal Point, which has a far less developed procedure and does not have the characteristics of an independent institution.   A number of countries have argued that the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction should be extended to other regimes, although politically, it is clear that that if that happens, it would be the various sanctions regimes involving situations in Africa that would benefit, but not in the short or medium term, those involving WMD sanctions.  Information on the focal point is available here. A helpful overview of the differences between the Focal Point and Ombudsperson and links to other documents is available here.

New app facilitates evidence collection for atrocity crimes

by Kristen Boon has released a new app that creates a secure “digital locker” for those who seek to record digital evidence of atrocity crimes for eventual use in by courts. The app has been produced by the International Bar Association and the legal services division of Lexis Nexis.   Information is available here.    The app was developed after controversies regarding the veracity of videos in other contexts.

By using metadata, the recordings can verify the location via GPS coordinates, and date / time of the collection, and confirm no editing has taken place.  The app also contains a “destruct” feature if the user wishes to delete it and the material in an emergency.

What will eyewitness do with the footage?   Their webpage reports:

eyeWitness will use the footage to promote accountability for international atrocity crimes, specifically war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and torture. When eyeWitness receives the images, a copy is transferred to a specialised database for analysis by the eyeWitness expert legal team. The team will analyse the videos to determine if they may show that an atrocity crime was committed. The eyeWitness legal team becomes the advocate for the footage, working continuously with legal authorities in relevant international, regional, and national jurisdictions to ensure the image is used to bring to justice those who have committed international atrocity crimes. In some cases, particularly when an atrocity is brought to light that has not received international attention, eyeWitness may provide a copy of the footage to media to raise awareness of the situation and advocate for investigation.

The development of apps such as this one may revolutionize the investigation of international atrocities.  They provide potentially very crucial streams of evidence, and facilitate “citizen policing.”   In the domestic context, there are analogies to a police accountability app released by the ACLU last week.

This app is a significant development in the field of atrocity investigations for the many “citizen journalists” willing to risk injury, arrest and maybe even death to document crimes.  Yet it still raises some important questions.  Traditional investigative authorities, for example, are subject to investigation protocols that are intended to yield highly probative evidence.   Given the unstable situation in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq the DRC (where the IBA hopes the app will be used) and the limited jurisdiction of international courts, traditional authorities have not been able to perform their role of documenting and investigating ongoing atrocities. Nonetheless, the absence of trained professionals and the lack of protocols, means that certain safeguards will not be available.

In addition, if lawyers tried to to gain access to the stored material, there may be battles over rights of confidentiality.   Indeed, given the massive amount of evidence apps like this could produce, this may be no small challenge for Lexis Nexis.

Although eyewitness does not commission any particular investigations, this technology is linked, in  a broader sense, to the work of private organizations like the Commission for Justice and Accountability (CIJA), which has conducted independent investigations in conflict situations, often before staff from international criminal tribunals are on the ground.   This article by Mark Kersten in the Washington Post lays out the pros and cons.   On the one hand, privately funded investigations may speed up the investigation of international crimes, and ensure that crucial evidence is not lost.   The individuals who work for these organizations also have a self-described higher risk tolerance than public bodies. On the other hand, impartiality and chain of evidence are key concerns: prosecutors fear the evidence collected by these organizations may not stand up in courts of law.

The development of this technology, and the parallel trend towards privately funded investigations, suggests that a profound change in the way international crimes are investigated is underway.


Appeal Launched in Haiti Cholera Case

by Kristen Boon

Plaintiffs have appealed the January 9, 2015 decision of the Southern District of New York, that the United Nations is immune in the case Delama Georges et al. The appeal brief, filed by the International Institute for Justice in Haiti, is available here: Georges v UN – Principal Appellate Brief 5.28 Final.

The contentions on appeal are as follows:

1.  Whether the District Court erred in ruling that Defendants UN and MINUSTAH are entitled to immunity despite having violated their treaty obligation to provide a mode to settle private law claims

2. Whether the District Court erred in ruling that Defendants Ban and Mulet are entitled to immunity in this case simply because they “hold diplomatic positions”

3.  Whether the District Court erred in failing to address the U.S. Plaintiffs’ argument that granting immunity in this instance violates their constitutional rights to access the federal courts.

These arguments hew closely to the position espoused in the SDNY, while emphasizing the UN’s failure to provide reasons and a remedy for what plaintiffs persuasively contend is a private law claim. The plaintiffs focus on Sections 2 and 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN). The first sections grants immunity to the United Nations from all forms of legal process, while the latter provision requires the UN to settle private law disputes by alternative means. As argued at the October 2014 hearing, the plaintiffs contend that the United Nations and MINUSTAH have violated article 29 in failing to provide the plaintiffs with an alternative forum, and that this failure constitutes a material breach of the treaty.  One issue that is not fully explored is whether private litigants can benefit from an alleged breach and request suspension, if that treaty was concluded between states.

The Plaintiffs also argue that the District Court erred when relying on the Brzak case, because it does not mention a breach of section 29 of the CPIUN. The Plaintiffs also contend that granting immunity in this case violates the constitutional right of a U.S. citizen plaintiff to have access to the courts. The plaintiff’s brief states that “granting immunity in this case impermissibly infringes on the right [of the plaintiff], which includes the right to bring a well-pleaded civil lawsuit for recognizing causes of action”.

One important development is that six amicus briefs were filed in support of the plaintiffs appeal, with 54 signatures in total.   These briefs represent a range of different interests and flag a diverse set of issues for the court.    Here are links and summaries of the main arguments:

  • ConLawScholarsAmicus focuses on the constitutional right held by the plaintiff to gain access to the courts.
  • EuroLaw Amicus Brief[3] brief focuses on when UN immunity should be limited, and discusses the reasonable alternative means test. It also highlights cases that have drawn a distinction between acts that are essential to the IO and those that are supplementary. Finally, it refers to due process requirements and highlights cases challenging UN sanctions like Kadi.
  • Haitian-AmericanAmicus: This brief was filed by members and family members of the cholera affected population. This brief presents a three-tiered argument for why the district court erred in upholding the UN’s immunity. First, the harm from the cholera epidemic is ongoing and worsening; Second, the UN is not entitled to immunity when it breaches its obligations to provide remedies; Third, the UN should be required to abide by the same Rule-of-law Principles that is espouses as central to its mission in Haiti.
  • HumanRightsGroupsAmicus: This brief focuses on the idea that the UN is bound by substantive international law, and obligated to give a remedy. It argues that the United Nations cannot seek to avoid the substantive obligations of international law which reject the possibility of the broad immunity claimed by the United Nations. Moreover, it suggests that there is a duty to provide a remedy when the UN caused the “arbitrary deprivation of life.”
  • IntlLawScholars Amicus: This brief focuses on the UN Charter and the SOFA between Haiti and the UN, and argues that the relationship between Articles 105 of the Charter and Articles 2 and 29 of the CPIUN is such that given the private nature of the injury, a remedy is required. This brief also cites to Beer and Regan for the idea that lack of effective alternative for private claims is grounds to waive immunity, and notes in Brzak alternative process was available.
  • UNOfficialsAmicus: This is a brief written by six former UN officials and has three main arguments to it: (1) Immunity was never meant to provide a mechanism for the UN to act with impunity, (2) Allowing the claims to go forward will enhance the UN’s legitimacy and its ability to fulfill its mission, (3) Allowing the claims to go forward will not open the flood gates because this is an unprecedented situation.

Moving forward, the defense has 14 days to respond to propose a briefing schedule. As a non-party, it is not clear whether the US will agree to that timeframe however.


Thanks to my Research Assistant Dan Hewitt for his help in reviewing the filings.

The ILC takes up Jus Cogens

by Kristen Boon

On May 27, 2015 Mr. Dire Tladi of South Africa was appointed Special Rapporteur for a new topic on the International Law Commission’s agenda:  jus cogens.  The progressive development and codification of jus cogens principles marks a significant step forward.  For many years it was considered, as Ian Brownlie once quipped, “like the car that never left the garage.”  The ILC’s syllabus, available here, suggests a bright new future lies ahead.

The scope of the Commission’s inquiry is likely to focus on the following elements:  the nature of jus cogens; requirements for the identification of a norm as jus cogens; an illustrative list of norms which have achieved the status of jus cogens; consequences or effects of jus cogens.

If you are interested in updates on the ILC’s work such as this one, I encourage you to sign up for Arnold Pronto’s new twitter feed. Arnold is a Senior Legal Officer in the Codification Division in the Office of Legal Affairs, and is the new UN Representative for an ILA group that will be preparing a report on international law activities at the UN twice a year.   Arnold will be tweeting out international law related events as they happen here at the UN. If you’re interested, he is at @arnoldpronto 

Two Interesting New Reports on ILC Website

by Kristen Boon

There are two important new reports up on the International Law Commission’s website.

First, Sean Murphy’s First Report on Crimes Against Humanity is now available.  The UN Doc symbol is A/CN.4/680; link to the report here.

The report is a terrific overview of the current gaps in the international legal architecture, and maps out steps towards a future convention.   The report also proposes two draft articles: one on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity and the other on the definition of such crimes.   For background, see Leila Sadat’s Crimes Against Humanity Initiative here.

Hat tip to James Stewart for flagging this report.

Second, Sir Michael Wood’s Third Report on the Identification of Customary International Law is available now as well. The UN Doc symbol is A/CN.4/682, and the link is available here.    Readers may recall that last summer I asked whether Security Council acts are relevant to Customary International Law, and noted that the ILC’s treatment of the topic to date had not included a discussion of IOs.   This report remedies this lacuna in part in that it specifically addresses the acts of IOs.  However, its conclusion is that acts of IOs are generally irrelevant to the formation of custom.  Instead, the Report’s guiding assumption is that the practice of IOs is to be attributed to the states themselves, not to the IOs. As the report notes:

if one were not to equate the practice of such international organizations with that of States, this would mean not only that the organization’s practice would not be taken into account, but also that its Member States would themselves be deprived of or reduced in their ability to contribute to State practice.

This conclusion will be controversial:  even the report’s footnotes cite numerous scholars and states that express opposing views.

Both of these reports are likely to spur important scholarly debates.

Sobering State of Play for Upcoming NPT Review Conference

by Kristen Boon

A new report entitled “Nuclear Weapons: the State of Play 2015” makes for very sober reading. The authors are Gareth Evans, Tanya Ogilvie-White and Ramesh Thakur, and the report was written for the upcoming NPT review conference.

Gareth Evans is on a world-tour releasing the report, and yesterday I saw him at the International Peace Institute in New York. You can watch his excellent presentation here.   He noted that five years ago, there was reason for optimism on the disarmament front: President Obama gave his famous Prague speech, the Test Ban Treaty was ratified by the Senate, and new START agreements were put in place.  All signs of progress. By 2012, optimism had started to fade, and now it has all but disappeared (with the important exceptions of progress on negotiations with Iran, and a new effort to focus on the humanitarian consequences of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). There is a clear reemergence of cold-war thinking about the deterrent utility of WMDs.  Moreover, there are increasing risks due to new technologies and the potential of sabotage.

The report also illustrates that States are not very serious about disarmament.  They have not committed to a timetable on reducing stockpiles, and at present, every nuclear power state – the 5 States party to the NPT, and the 4 outside – foresee indefinite retention of their WMD.  While the report notes some progress on verification, there has been little to none with regards to transparency and irreversible dismantlement of weapons.  The global total of warheads is now approximately16,400. Moreover, we are seeing Asian states increasing their stockpiles, although Evans noted they are proceeding from a small base.  The report is very well organized with a color-coded progress rating on multiple issue areas, and well worth reading.

Despite – or rather because of – the seriousness of the current situation, Evans, and discussant Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, emphasized that it is an extremely important time to maintain energy and bottom-up pressure.  Let’s hope this guide becomes a useful tool for negotiators at the meetings starting next week.

Elders Proposal for Strengthening UN

by Kristen Boon

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Elders Proposal for Strengthening the UN is a must read.  Chaired by Kofi Annan, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights.

Released earlier this month at a conference in Munich, the four proposals are generating a lot of attention include:

1)  A new category of Security Council membership is needed: non-permanent members but who are immediately eligible for re-election, thus making them de facto permanent members if they secure the confidence of fellow member states.

2)  A pledge for non-use of the veto:  P5 states must also be more responsible in using their veto, especially during a crisis where people are threatened with genocide or other atrocities.

3)  Consultation with civil society:  the Security Council should take care to regularly consult those people who are affected by its decisions, especially in conflict zones.

4)  A new, more transparent and accountable system for choosing the next Secretary-General.

The last proposal, a new process for choosing the Secretary General, is where the Elders really break new ground.  They propose:

At the United Nations, it is the Secretary-General who has to uphold the interests and aspirations of all the world’s peoples. This role requires leadership of the highest calibre. Yet for 70 years the holder of this post has effectively been chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who negotiate among themselves in almost total secrecy. The rest of the world is told little about the process by which candidates are identified, let alone the criteria by which they are judged. This barely follows the letter, and certainly not the spirit, of the UN Charter, which says the Secretary-General should be appointed by the General Assembly, and only on the recommendation of the Security Council.

To remedy this, we call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin.

We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns. She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.

By tradition, the post rotates amongst different geographical areas of the world, and the next Secretary General would, under this system, come from Eastern Europe.  Because of tensions at the UN between Russia and Western States, however, many predict it will be impossible to find a candidate acceptable to all.   The proposal for implementing a merit based search with multiple candidates, and for a non renewable 7 year term therefore comes at an excellent time.  Member states should take up the call and consider updating the SG selection procedure. What will be required to implement it is a new GA resolution.   Ban Ki Moon’s term will be up at the end of 2016:  the time to act is now.

A helpful overview of the UN Charter requirements for the post (Article 97), relevant GA resolutions on the selection process, and recent proposals for reform of the office of the SG can be found here.

Important New Terrorist Financing Resolution Passed by Security Council

by Kristen Boon

On February 12, the UN Security Council unanimously passed an important new Chapter VII resolution – Resolution 2199 – to respond to terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.

This resolution is significant for four reasons.   First, the resolution specifically targets the supply of oil. In other words, it attempts to degrade the supply chain and the support networks.  The preamble refers to oilfields and their related infrastructure, as well as other infrastructure such as dams and power plants.  The operative paragraph states the Council:

“Condemns any engagement in direct or indirect trade, in particular of oil and oil products, and modular refineries and related material, with ISIL, ANF and any other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities designated as associated with Al-Qaida by the Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011), and reiterates that such engagement would constitute support for such individuals, groups, undertakings and entities and may lead to further listings by the Committee;and attempts to target companies and activities that contribute to terrorist activities.”

This effort by the Council condemns direct and indirect trade in oil and oil products, and emphasizes that all states must freeze assets of the targeted groups, as well as their agents, intermediaries and middlemen, including oil producers.  In another paragraph, the Council also expresses concern that vehicles coming from certain areas could be carrying oil, minerals, livestock and other materials to barter.

Second, the resolution prohibits trade in cultural artifacts. Terrorist groups in these countries are known to be profiting from the looting of antiquities, and this resolution seeks to prevent the trade in items of cultural, scientific and religious importance.   It notes that terrorist groups are generating income from illegally removing artifacts from both countries during periods of conflict.  The resolution reaffirms an existing ban on antiquities from Iraq, and imposes a new ban on antiquities from Syria.  It also sets the basis for cooperation with INTERPOL and UNESCO.

Third, the resolution bans the payment of ransom, regardless of how or by whom the ransom is paid. It further “Reiterates its call upon all Member States to prevent terrorists from benefiting directly or indirectly from ransom payments or from political concessions and to secure the safe release of hostages, and reaffirms the need for all Member States to cooperate closely during incidents of kidnapping and hostage-taking committed by terrorist groups.”  In so doing, it attempts to cut off funds derived from ransom, and reaffirms that UN sanctions prohibit ransom payments to UN listed groups.

Fourth, the resolution was drafted by Russia.  While Russia’s opposition to intervention in Syria and  is well known, this is an example of positive engagement with the situation in Syria.  Although the resolution does not authorize intervention, it makes creative use of the Security Council’s sanctions power and is indicative of creative new approaches to targeting.

The Council’s efforts to prevent direct and indirect trade in oil products are illustrative of the Council’s regulatory activities in the economic sphere. An article I published in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law in 2008 provides some background on the topic of the Security Council as norm setter in the international economic sphere.