On 9 December 2022, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2664, which should mark a step change in the ability of people in contexts subject to UN sanctions to better access critical humanitarian and peacebuilding support.
This landmark resolution, put forward by the US and Ireland, with strong backing from the UK, introduces a humanitarian exemption across all current and future UN sanctions regimes, with the exception of the Afghanistan regime which is covered by the exemption included in UNSCR 2615, adopted in December last year. It is hoped that this exception will also encourage UN Member States to adopt similar provisions in their autonomous sanctions regimes.
The impact of sanctions (and terrorist proscriptions) on humanitarian assistance has been a critical issue for many years. Sanctions and counter-terrorism regulations can delay, disrupt or even prevent provision of timely humanitarian aid to people in need and the delivery of critical peacebuilding work. In countries such as Syria, Somalia or Yemen, for example, aid agencies and financial institutions navigate complex and overlapping international and national sanctions frameworks.
Broad scope of the resolution
The new resolution protects humanitarian assistance and other activities that meet basic human needs.
However, the potential for the resolution to enable strengthened humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts depends on its full, effective and timely implementation within domestic legislation. This should also give confidence to suppliers, banks and other commercial entities to fully support the uninterrupted provision of aid.
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Resolution 2664 provides a general exemption across UN sanctions regimes and grants protection to all parts of the humanitarian supply chain, including downstream partners, in relation to specified humanitarian actors.
The resolution covers activities that go beyond immediate life-saving relief, and it requires Member States to consider the humanitarian impact of sanctions prior to their establishment.
The opportunities presented by the exemption
There will undoubtedly be challenges ahead in terms of how the exception, and the principle underpinning it, is translated into UK law, and then applied in practice. The resolution includes safeguards to protect against abuses and evasion by sanctioned persons and entities, including by establishing reporting requirements. The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator is required to arrange annual briefings to the relevant sanctions committees on the operation of the exception.
Ultimately, the resolution is unequivocal that “the provision, processing or payment of funds, other financial assets, or economic resources, or the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance or to support other activities that support basic human needs” by UN agencies and those other humanitarian actors covered by the exemption is absolutely not a violation of the asset freezes imposed by the United Nations.
The exemption presents a significant opportunity for the sector. NGOs should press governments, including the UK government, to waste no time in implementing the resolution in a way that fully realises its intended benefits for people in situations of conflict and insecurity around the world. The resolution also sends a clear signal to governments to speed up ongoing efforts across the sector to secure humanitarian exemptions within autonomous, non-UN, sanctions regimes and terrorist proscriptions which also impact people’s ability to access assistance.
The UK Tri-Sector Group, established in 2017, is a mechanism for collaborative work on providing solutions to the impact of counter-terrorism sanctions and laws on humanitarian, peacebuilding and development action. Bringing together representatives of government, NGOs and financial institutions, the Group played a key role in informing the adoption into UK law of the UN humanitarian exemption for Afghanistan and the UK General Licence under the Russia sanctions for work in Ukraine. The NGOs within the Group now stand ready to support the government to ensure that this UN resolution translates into a clear and enabling framework for humanitarian and peacebuilding support.
For further information and discussion about the Resolution, please join the Bond CT/Sanctions Working Group meeting on 9th February 2023.
Conciliation Resources is co-chair of the Bond CT/Sanctions Working Group and with Bond represents NGOs in the Secretariat of the Tri-Sector Group.
This blog is supported by Christian Aid, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Save the Children International.