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Do UN sanctions matter for the Congo? The experts respond

Congo Siasa spoke with three members – Steve Hege, Fred Robarts and Greg Mthembu-Salter –  of the UN Group of Experts on the Congo about the importance of the sanctions regime, which they monitor, on the conflict in the Congo.

CS: This is the tenth final report of the GoE since its inception six years ago. At the close of each mandate, Groups of Experts propose for sanctions a confidential list of individuals to be considered by the Committee for possible addition to the sanctions list, which currently is comprised of 30 individuals and entities. And yet, one could say that these sanctions have had little impact on armed groups or the economy of conflict. Does the Security Council take sanctions seriously? What impact does the GoE have?

Targeted sanctions are an instrument that the Security Council, through the Sanctions Committee, can use to impact the behavior of individuals and entities supporting armed groups in eastern DRC. Obviously, sanctions are much more effective when they are applied to individuals who rely on bank accounts and official international travel. Unfortunately, when sanctioned individuals, or those extensively documented in reports who are not ever listed, see little impact on their activities or are able to quickly change front companies, the real-time effectiveness of the regime can be called into question.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, there is no automaticity about decisions to sanction individuals or entities. The Security Council is not a juridical institution but an inter-governmental political body which deals with a different slate of agenda items every day. Sanctions are just one of the tools in the Council’s toolbox, a tool designed to deter spoilers and to encourage compliance with the regime so it can eventually be lifted.

Just this past Wednesday the Sanctions Committee on the DRC added four names to its list of designated individuals and entities based on information from last year’s GoE report. Since the establishment of the sanctions list in November 2005, the Committee has added 10 individuals and four entities to the list and updated the list nine times.

With regards to the GoE’s impact, it is certainly much greater when individuals – and entities concerned about their business operations – care more about the possible reputational damage that investigations may bring, essentially the “name and shame” effect. For these individuals or entities, the threat that certain activities might be exposed through a GoE report can lead to positive behavior. The Group has seen this to be true in the case of certain economic actors who have proactively sought to improve their profile vis-à-vis the sanctions regime in order to avoid being identified in future Group of Expert reports and thereby rejected by banks or potential business partners conducting due diligence.

Another litmus test of whether the Group is having an impact is whether its recommendations are taken up by the Council in its resolutions renewing the sanctions regime and the Group’s mandate, and this appears to be the case, particularly with the last three resolutions in 2008, 2009 and the recent resolution 1952 just adopted last Monday.  A number of GoE recommendations, particularly those on due diligence guidelines, weapon stockpile security, cutting off support by armed group leaders in the diaspora, and recommending that all States regularly publish import and export statistics for natural resources, have been integrated into Council resolutions.

Member states outside the ambit of the Security Council can also decide to take national or collective action based upon information and analysis in the Group’s findings, such as suspending foreign aid, arresting leaders of the FDLR diaspora, shutting down the FDLR website, or through notification of arms shipments to the DRC in order to avoid the diversion of weapons to armed groups. As an inter-governmental body, Member States are also ultimately responsible for implementing sanctions through freezing assets and enforcing the travel ban on individuals and entities listed.

Finally, the GoE’s investigations and recommendations have also been taken up by the media, national civil society, and international NGOs who play an important role in shaping the policy debate surrounding the obstacles to the stabilization process in the eastern Congo. This can have important consequences in the way that governments, companies, and development actors approach their involvement in the Great Lakes region. As GoE reports become UN documents, they can serve as critical references for national parliamentarians, corporate officials, or heads of mission seeking to strengthen or alter policies and programs.

Posted by Jason Stearns

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