Economical sanctions in the context of international armed conflicts: a challenge to International Humanitarian Law (IHL)

In the context of the war in Ukraine, different economic sanctions have been deployed. While they don’t harm civilians directly, the case of the Irak sanctions has evidenced, that in the long run, they do cause harm to the civilian population. One of the objectives of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 is to limit indiscriminate harm to civilians. Additionally, they set an obligation for state parties to provide for individual criminal sanctions if violations of the laws of war occur. Nineteenth-century humanitarians like Gustave Moyner thought of individual criminal punishment as an alternative to the collective punishments of retaliation and reprisals. In this sense, economic sanctions defy some of the cornerstones of IHL, like avoiding the suffering of civilians during armed conflicts and the banning of collective punishment. As a result, to avoid collective harm done to civilians, IHL should provide clear limits on the conduction of economic sanctions.