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Legal to freeze assets of UN blacklisted persons in Sweden01.09.2008 - (idw) Schwedischer Forschungsrat - The Swedish Research Council
The freezing of assets of the three Somalis residing in Sweden was not an infringement of international law. Those who criticize the action are undermining the legitimacy of UN sanctions, according to Fredrik Stenhammar, at the Department of Law, Stockholm University, in Sweden.
Targeted economic sanctions entail that the UN freezes the bank accounts and other private assets of individuals that the Security Council regards as threatening the peace.
Before September 11, there was generally a favorable attitude towards economic sanctions. They were seen as an effective way of getting at objectionable individuals without resorting to violence and without harming third parties. But in the wake of the US-led war on terrorism, the measure has come to be questioned more and more.
According to Fredrik Stenhammar, this criticism is largely unfounded. He maintains that targeted economic sanctions should be regarded as economic warfare, a measure taken in a situation of war.
"Critics base their arguments on human rights that apply in times of peace, but just as one cannot judge a bombing attack on the basis of peacetime human rights, one cannot use such a measure to judge targeted economic sanctions. It's a matter of two distinct sets of regulations that are entirely incompatible with each other on key points," says Fredrik Stenhammar.
Fredrik Stenhammar demonstrates that UN sanctions have historically been directed not only at UN member states but also at non-member states and territories that are not to be seen as states under international law.
It follows that other non-state players, such as organizations or individuals, can be subjected to sanctions, according to Stenhammar.
Unlike member states, these organizations or individuals have no treaty relations with the UN. When the UN applies sanctions to an organization or non-state, it is not the result of any breach of treaty on the part of the other party. Stenhammar argues that the UN is undertaking a unilateral legal action and, as such, the sanction is comparable to a declaration of war under traditional international law.
In times of war, under international law, it is permissible to use the concept of an enemy. An enemy can be subjected to non-violent offensive actions. But it is not necessary to have done anything criminal or reprehensible to be classed as an enemy, and there is thus no legal basis for being heard by a court.
"For example, during World War II the UK had a legitimate interest in preventing Germans residing in the country from economically abetting the German war effort. The assets of German individuals were therefore frozen without them having to be guilty of any crime," Fredrik Stenhammar explains.
For reasons similar to those justifying the UK's freezing of Germans' assets, the UN was within its rights to freeze the economic assets of the three Somalis in Sweden, as Fredrik Stenhammar sees it.
"Their participation in the al-Barakat banking system is not criminal. But since the Security Council maintains that al-Barakat is a cover for support to al-Qaida, the equivalent of an enemy organization, these men can be blacklisted and subjected to targeted UN sanctions."
"One might object to individual decisions, but if we wish to have a collective security system, we must accept certain unpleasant measures," says Fredrik Stenhammar, refuting the arguments of those who criticize the UN's targeted economic sanctions.
Fredrik Stenhammar can be reached at cell phone: +46 (0)733-195 880, or email@example.com.
Information officer Staffan Westerlund, cell phone: +46 (0)73-784 5031, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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