Research Handbook on UN Sanctions and International Law
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Research Handbook on UN Sanctions and International Law

Edited by Larissa van den Herik

The 1990s have been labeled the ‘Sanctions Decade’, since they witnessed an unprecedented intensification of the use of collective non-military enforcement measures, and in particular sanctions, by the post-Cold War reactivated Security Council. This Research Handbook studies the current practice of UN sanctions in international law, their interrelationship with other regimes and substantive areas of law, as well as issues arising from their implementation and application at the domestic level.
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Chapter 2: Sanctions, retortions and countermeasures: concepts and international legal framework

Tom Ruys


In spite of past efforts of the International Law Commission, the issue of enforcement by means of non-forcible measures is and remains one of the least developed areas of international law. Notwithstanding its importance, it remains plagued by a variety of delicate controversies and grey areas. The present chapter’s aim is to provide a broad overview of the concepts of ‘sanctions’ and ‘countermeasures’ and the overarching international legal framework. To this end, the chapter seeks to map the main knowns and, perhaps even more so, the main unknowns. Section 1 identifies the main different understandings of the notion of ‘sanctions’. Section 2 looks at the extent to which sanctions may constitute mere ‘retorsions’ that operate largely below the radar of international law. In the alternative, Section 3 examines the main accepted legal bases which may justify the recourse to sanctions by States and international organizations. Section 4 turns to the controversy on the legality of third-party countermeasures. Section 5 concludes. Keywords sanctions, autonomous sanctions, institutional sanctions, retorsions, countermeasures

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