The Platform

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The West has imposed severe economic sanctions against Russia, targeting banks, oil refineries, and military exports as well as Russia’s financial, energy and transportation sectors.

What are the repercussions of these economic sanctions on individual human rights? What should we learn from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis about imposing sanctions in a way that does not violate individual human rights?

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action calls upon states to refrain from any unilateral measures not following international law that impede the full realization of human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments.

Unilateral coercive measures like economic sanctions are intended to cause economic and political hardship for targeted states, therefore they make no real distinction between states and the civilian population residing in targeted states who bear the brunt of such severe socio-economic hardship, including access to food and healthcare services.

In this light, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created distinct problems in emerging economies. Coal prices in the world are at an all-time high due to the energy crisis in Europe caused by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

At higher prices, poorer countries are facing difficulties buying coal. Similarly, rising oil prices are impacting the cost of basic necessities, throwing the lives of poor people into distress.

Nations must adopt an alternative approach to punish a country’s leadership but not the people. Due to globalization, any steps taken against any nation affect the entire world and developing nations in particular. While punishing any state, the first sanctions must be imposed against its leadership. The most effective sanctions include travel embargos, passport disqualifications, or confiscating the private property of oligarchs.

This is what happened following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, where the EU and the U.S. froze assets and imposed travel bans on Russian officials and banks. A more effective approach to deter Russia and encourage it to end its war in Ukraine would be to remove Russia from the UN Security Council, including possibly revoking its membership in the United Nations, further targeting Vladimir Putin and his cronies, and ensuring that the Russian state is unable to buy materials to reconstitute any equipment that is has lost fighting in Ukraine.

Economic sanctions will have proved futile if Russia continues with its war while at the same time driving millions of Russians into poverty.

Abhinav Mehrotra is Assistant Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University and holds an LL.M. in International Human Rights Law from the University of Leeds. His research interests include International law, Human rights law, UN studies, Refugee law, Child Rights, and Transitional Justice.

Dr. Biswanath Gupta is an Associate Professor of Law at OP Jindal Global University.