UN approves exempting humanitarian aid from all UN sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution exempting humanitarian aid from all current and future U.N. sanctions regimes, a vote the United States hailed as “historic” that will save lives and address longstanding problems of sanctions impeding aid deliveries.

The legally binding resolution was immediately hailed by humanitarian organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council whose Secretary General Jan Egeland said “it will protect humanitarian action from the crippling impacts of sanctions regimes at a time when needs are skyrocketing” and will be “the difference between life and death” for some people.

The vote on the resolution co-sponsored by the United States and Ireland was 14-0 with India abstaining.

India’s U.N. Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj said her country’s concerns stem “from proven instances of terrorist groups taking full advantage of such humanitarian carve outs and making a mockery of sanctions regimes” as well as “several cases of terrorist groups in our neighborhood … reincarnating themselves as humanitarian organizations and civil society groups precisely to evade the sanctions.”

To prevent such activities, she said, India had called for the resolution to ensure monitoring of humanitarian exemptions by U.N. experts monitoring sanctions and “robust reporting,” which were not fully addressed in the text, so India abstained.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council before the vote that as the world’s leading global humanitarian donor the United States recognizes that “we must all do everything in our power to help humanitarian partners reach the world’s most vulnerable, regardless of where they live, who they live with, and who controls their territory.”

“Our goal is always to stop terrorists and human rights abusers by using a legitimate tool to maintain peace and security, but still allow lifesaving humanitarian efforts to continue for those in need,” she said.

But the humanitarian community expressed concern about the impact of sanctions, especially asset freezes, impeding assistance and asked “for a clear, standard carveout of humanitarian assistance and activities to meet basic human needs for all U.N. sanctions regimes,” which is what the resolution does, Thomas-Greenfield said.

It states categorically that activities of humanitarian organizations and workers “are permitted and are not a violation of the asset freezes imposed by this council or its sanctions committees.”

Thomas-Greenfield told The Associated Press that while humanitarian aid exemptions are already included in some Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions, “it has not been consistent, it’s not been standardized.” The resolution, she said, standardizes the exemption and will help speed efforts by humanitarian workers to provide aid to people.

After the vote, Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Fergal Mythen welcomed adoption of the “landmark resolution” saying, “With this resolution, we diminish the unintended consequences of sanctions without diminishing U.N. sanctions themselves.”

He said that as a result of sanctions, sometimes aid can’t be shipped, financed, insured and delivered.

The resolution “provides certainty and clarity” to humanitarian providers, donors and implementing partners that providing aid is permitted. But he cautioned that while it is significant it “is not a panacea,” saying work needs to be done on other aspects of U.N. sanctions including due process.

Today, however, “we can rest assured that the council has taken decisive action in response to appeals by humanitarians worldwide,” Mythen said.

“This resolution will have tangible positive impacts for those working in some of the most challenging environments across the globe, who can now continue helping the world’s most vulnerable in the knowledge that even where U.N. sanctions are in effect, their activities are permitted,” he said.

U.S. envoy Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that all humanitarian situations the U.N. is engaged in including Afghanistan, Syria and Myamar “will benefit” from the resolution’s adoption.

Mercy Corps Vice President Kate Phillips-Barrasso called the resolution “a game-changer for humanitarian organizations, which have experienced confusion and faced additional risks in providing life-saving aid,” saying “this clarity and the protection it brings are of paramount importance.”

ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric expressed hope that the resolution’s implementation “will significantly assist humanitarian action in many parts of the world.” She encouraged all countries “to put this humanitarian carve-out into practice, including through national laws and regulations.”

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