Sanctions, embargoes and restrictions

What are sanctions and embargoes?

Sanctions and embargoes are political trade tools, mainly put in place by the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU).

The main aim of all UN sanctions and embargoes, as set out in the UN Charter, is to implement decisions by its Security Council to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The EU imposes sanctions and embargoes to further its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) objectives. The EU can impose measures to preserve peace and strengthen international security, promote international co-operation, and safeguard the common values and security of the EU. EU measures can also be imposed to uphold respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

In addition to UN and EU sanctions, sanctions and embargoes may be put in place by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who can also impose national arms embargoes.

Why impose sanctions?

Sanctions, including economic sanctions, are put in place for a number of reasons. All recent UN and EU sanctions contain information as to why they have been imposed and specify what their aim is. Their principal purpose is usually to change the behaviour of the target country's regimes, individuals or groups in a direction which will improve the situation in that country.

The ultimate objective of a sanction varies according to the situation. For instance, an arms embargo and a ban on the export of certain items or raw materials could be aimed at supporting a peace process and restricting the financing of weapons by the combatants. Sanctions may also be aimed at preventing weapons from falling into the wrong hands, disrupting terrorist operations, or trying to change the policies and actions of the target.

Find more information on the purpose and different types of sanctions.