US Foreign Policy

Monitoring Sanctions on Iran: The Role of the New Panel of Experts

in Program

By Alix Boucher – On June 9, the United Nations Security Council voted to impose a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. Citing its continuing nuclear program, the Council imposed a partial arms embargo, an individual assets freeze and a travel ban on Iranian officials most closely associated with the country’s nuclear program. The sanctions resolution also included a new element: the creation of an eight member “Panel of Experts” to help the Council monitor the effectiveness and impact of the sanctions.

Over the last ten years, Panels have been created to monitor conflict-related sanctions in Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. These Panels initially focused on the major belligerents and their role in trafficking small arms and valuable commodities used to finance war. Their reports have played an increasing role, however, in altering the dynamics of regional conflicts. Indeed, a DRC Panel report on the role of Rwanda in supporting a rebel group in Eastern Congo led Sweden and the Netherlands to suspend aid to the Rwandan government. Other European Union governments demanded an explanation and threatened to do the same. Rwanda was forced to change its policy and the report was a key factor in the ensuing rapprochement between DRC and Rwanda.

Private sector companies report that being named in any Panel report is detrimental to business prospects, even when the Panel makes clear it is merely looking into potential violations. The possibility of being “named and shamed” for supporting conflict or engaging in illegal trade is a powerful incentive for individuals, states, and businesses to comply with international sanctions. Despite the fact that it works under a Chapter VII mandate (meaning that all states must comply with the decision), the Panel has no legal enforcement authority and the Security Council itself must decide whether to impose additional measures against potential violators. This is precisely why, in the case of Iran, the sanctions could have a more significant impact than the limited and much criticized resolution suggests.

The Panel of Experts on North Korea, created last June, is the first to monitor sanctions related to non-proliferation, and is the model for the new Iran Panel. Both have a clear objective: to provide public details on the targeted states’ illegal activities and use that evidence to bolster the case for continuing sanctions.

The case of North Korea also provides an example of how just renewing sanctions can be used to make a point to the targeted state. Indeed, the North Korea Panel’s most recent report does not contain stinging indictments of any particular actor or member state. It simply reports on instances of alleged violations and assesses what still needs to be done to make the sanctions more effective. For example, it recommends defining sanctioned luxury goods more clearly and considering the addition of items with smaller price tags, such as iPads. It raises questions regarding standards for interdiction and what states are supposed to do when they seize embargoed cargo. It argues that too few individuals and entities have been targeted by the sanctions and notes that the Council has been slow both to add banks to the sanctions list and to alter the list based on evidence that sanctioned banks’ assets might have been shifted to new entities (or persons). The Security Council renewed sanctions-and the Panel’s mandate-however, in part as an alternative to a Security Council resolution condemning the North’s attack on a South Korean ship.

The Council and the global community will grapple with similar issues as they implement the new sanctions on Iran. They will also undoubtedly use sanctions as a way to continue signaling to Iran. The possibility that member states and private companies will be “named and shamed” for trading with Iran is a serious one and could have significant repercussions on the implementation of the sanctions. In fact, some enforcing entities, including the United States and the European Union, have announced new efforts to adopt more detailed unilateral sanctions. Both the US and the EU clearly want to signal to their seriousness to Iran by preemptively adopting even wider measures than the UN resolution. It is also interesting to note that Russia, which reportedly had mixed views on these measures, has decided to abandon a missile deal with Iran that was to be exempted from the sanctions.

On the flip side, the stakes are high for the Panel itself, precisely because identifying actors could have such serious repercussions. The Secretary-General has not yet named the Panel members but in the North Korea case, the Panel had one expert from each Permanent Member of the Council, plus one member from Japan and South Korea respectively. This model is likely to be replicated in the case of Iran. A Panel with controversial findings must be able to provide unimpeachable evidence because failure to do so could jeopardize the Council’s credibility and its ability to use sanctions in the future. Finally, neither the sanctions themselves nor a group of eight investigators can, on their own, stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. What the Panel has the potential to do, however, is to make obvious who is helping Iran do so, information that can be used to decide what to do next.


Photo Credit: Permanent Representatives to UN (US, Germany, UK, China, Russia, France): June 9, 2010.

UN Photo # 439015,


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