Legal Dictionary


Definition of sanctions



  1. Plural form of sanction.



  1. Third-person singular simple present indicative form of sanction.

Further reading


Sanctions are coercive or restrictive measures, legislated in law, implemented by a single State or group of States against another State, an entity or an individual. Their primary purpose is to illicit a change in behaviour.

Who Can Implement Sanctions

Any State can enforce bi-lateral sanctions against another under domestic law. Multilateral sanctions are usually the reserve of the UN Security Council and European Union.

The African Union (AU) in 2007 implemented multilateral sanctions for the first time against the Union of the Comoros. These have now been lifted and the AU has not yet implemented other sanctions elsewhere.

Bilateral Sanctions

Any State can enforce any type of sanction against any other State, foreign individual or foreign entity through domestic legislation should it exist. Bilateral sanctions however are infrequently used as one State acting alone is unlikely possess sufficient coercive collateral to change the target's behaviour.


UN Security Council sanctions are implemented under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter against States, individuals or entities that pose a threat to international peace and security. A UN Security Council resolution formed under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter is binding on all States. Individuals who breach such resolutions are liable to legal proceedings in their domicile State - the penalty in the UK for breaching UN Security Council sanctions is no more than seven years imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both. States that breach UN Security Council sanctions are liable to be subject to sanctions themselves.


EU sanctions are implemented under the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and can be applied under the same criteria as UN sanctions and also against States, individuals or entities that breach international law, human rights, principles of rule of law and principles of democracy. They are binding on all Member States of the EU. Breach of EU sanctions by EU residents or citizens is actionable at law inside Member States.

Types of UN and EU sanctions

  • Asset freeze (on named individuals or entities)
  • Travel ban (on named individuals)
  • Trade restrictions (on certain products, sectors or named entities)
  • Arms embargo (on all arms and related material or named arms)


Fierce criticism of UN sanctions following the comprehensive sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s and perceived failings in the Oil for Food Programme during the same period has led most States to now pursue a policy of ‘targeted' sanctions where the impact on innocent civilians is minimised.

Humanitarian Exemptions

Trade sanctions and asset freezes do not normally apply to goods and services required for life support. A travel ban is likely to include exemptions for travel on humanitarian grounds, for medical care, religious requirements or if travel will further the resolution of conflict. Arms embargoes usually allow sale of demining and other humanitarian equipment e.g. body armour for journalists, aid workers.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     common stock
3.     lex situs
4.     lex causae
5.     lex fori
6.     status quo
7.     buggery
8.     conclusive presumption
9.     interlocutory
10.     writ of seizure and sale