Embargo: 00:01 Wednesday 9 May 2007

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee have today criticised the UK's use of economic sanctions and stated that sanctions should not be relied upon to resolve ongoing disputes with Iran and North Korea.

The criticisms, which come in the Committee's report The Impact of Economic Sanctions, make clear that previous attempts by the UK and America to apply economic sanctions against other countries have backfired. The Committee state that sanctions used in isolation from other forms of diplomatic pressure are unlikely to force major policy change and may even be counterproductive.

The Committee highlight the cases of sanctions used against Iraq and Burma.

Iraq - Comprehensive UN sanctions

The sanctions against Iraq had a major economic impact and generally weakened the regime. However, the threat of potential invasion and the continuation of targeted bombing in the 1990's were also important factors in Iraq's disarmament.

The Committee stress the immense human cost of sanctions in Iraq. The use of comprehensive sanctions forced the population to rely on food rations distributed by the government. The Committee say this not only caused terrible hardship for the population but actually strengthened the regime in terms of domestic control by giving it a new instrument of political pressure and control.

Burma - Targeted and general EU sanctions

The Committee criticise the UK's use of sanctions against Burma. They argue that the policy of discouraging trade, investment and tourism hits the economy generally and harms ordinary Burmese people and so can not accurately be described as targeted sanctions.

Sanctions against Burma have achieved no progress towards democratisation or respect for human rights there. And neither the UK Government nor the EU, while both desire democratic change, expect the current sanctions to bring this about. Sanctions are instead used to demonstrate disapproval of the regime. The Committee points out that this directly contradicts the Government's principle that sanctions should have "clear objectives, including well defined and realistic demands against which compliance can be judged, and a clear exit strategy."

The Committee recommend that the Government undertake an urgent assessment of the effects of sanctions against Burma, as they may be causing significant hardship to the Burmese people, without clear goals or ways of measuring the impact on the targeted regime.

General Sanctions Policy

The Committee recommend that the operation of sanctions is now examined more rigorously. They argue that comprehensive sanctions hurt the population of the affected country more than the targeted regime; they doubt humanitarian exemptions can correct this.

The Committee also argue that the Government should now ensure that any sanctions it is involved in are subject to the UN's humanitarian assessment procedures. The results of this assessment should be made public, as should the objectives the sanctions are intended to achieve. The Committee also call for a regular Parliamentary review of sanctions so that MPs and Peers can consider whether sanctions are achieving their intended goals.

North Korea and Iran

The Committee cast doubt on the effectiveness of sanctions against North Korea in persuading it to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. They point out that North Korea's plutonium facilities, which had been frozen, were unfrozen and mobilised following the introduction of American sanctions by President Bush.

The Committee endorse the Government's support for a package of measures for North Korea, including the phasing out of sanctions, in return for it renouncing nuclear weapons. They state that, however distasteful the regime, such a deal is preferable to the dangers of a nuclear-armed confrontation.

On Iran, the Committee support the EU's Framework Agreement and its incentive rather than sanction-based approach. They argue its only weakness is the lack of US support and urge the Government to make every effort to secure US backing.

The Committee conclude by stating that reliance on economic sanctions to resolve the disputes with Iran and North Korea would be a recipe for failure. They argue for a pragmatic approach combining a lifting of sanctions, economic incentives, diplomatic recognition and security guarantees in return for verifiable reciprocal steps from North Korea and Iran.

Commenting Lord Wakeham, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"It is clear that economic sanctions used in isolation are unlikely to work.

"Sanctions can have a major economic impact. However, the effect of poorly targeted sanctions can often be to strengthen the position of the regime in power as they assume closer control over the national resources diminished by the sanctions. This was the case in Iraq in the early 1990's and the effect was disastrous for the Iraqi people.

"Even so-called 'targeted' sanctions have been relatively ineffective. The Government must now look again at all sanctions in which it is involved to ensure they are achieving their aims. It is important Parliament is involved in this process to provide adequate scrutiny of how sanction regimes are performing.

"Our report has made clear that economic sanctions cannot be relied on in the ongoing disputes with Iran and North Korea. We need a more sophisticated approach that combines carrot and stick. The EU's framework agreement on Iran provides a model for this and the British Government should use its influence to persuade America to give the initiative its support."

Notes to Editors

1. The report is published by The Stationery Office, The Impact of Economic Sanctions, House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, 2nd report of 2006/07, HL paper 96-I.

2. The full report will be available shortly after publication at:

3. The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry are:

Lord Wakeham (Chairman)

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

Lord Kingsdown

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Lord Lawson of Blaby

Lord Layard

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

Lord Paul

Lord Sheldon

Lord Skidelsky

Lord Turner of Ecchinswell

Lord Vallance of Tummel

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Wakeham, please contact Owen Williams, Committee Press Officer, on 020 7219 8659.