Experts charged with monitoring United Nations arms embargoes identify numerous organizational, operational, and political obstacles to their work, according to a new study released today by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. Interviews with current and former arms experts on UN Panels of Experts (PoEs) reveal that the monitoring process is undermined by uneven coordination with UN peacekeeping operations; the blocking of access to investigation areas; insufficient investigative time frames; and political interference and retaliation for PoE reporting. Experts maintain that despite these challenges, monitoring helps to prevent embargo violations, in part by increasing the associated risks.
UN PoEs are independent investigative teams contracted by the UN to monitor the implementation of Security Council sanctions, which are frequently imposed on countries experiencing or emerging from conflict. Panels report to UN Sanctions Committees, and their reports provide a wealth of information about embargo compliance as well as conflict and security dynamics.
The study finds that:
- Collaboration with UN peacekeeping operations remains fundamental to the successful monitoring of arms embargoes, but UN country mission support to PoEs is highly uneven.
- The recruitment of qualified and self-motivated experts remains an essential factor in the PoEs’ ability to function effectively. Much depends on the skills, talents, and underlying motivations of specific individuals.
- PoE members described numerous impediments to their investigations, such as target governments’ preventing panel members from following investigation leads by denying them access to specific areas, and lack of responses to requests for information.
- UN-provided investigative methodology guidelines have not evolved significantly over the past few years, but arms experts and their PoE colleagues continue to develop innovative methods to assess and quantify evidence of embargo violations.
- The UN Secretariat has taken steps in improving its support to PoEs, but the administrative support structure has not kept pace with the expanding set of duties they are expected to fulfil.
- Almost all the experts said that the brevity of their employment term—one year on paper, but in practice shorter—limits the actual investigation period in some cases to seven or eight months.
The new report, Monitoring UN Arms Embargoes: Observations from Panels of Experts, points to a need for continued reform efforts regarding the oversight, management, and access prerogatives of panels. Many of these efforts are outlined in the High Level Review of United Nations Sanctions (2015). The launch of the report coincides with a roundtable event in preparation for the release of a one-year follow-up assessment of progress towards implementing the recommendations of the high-level review. The event, co-sponsored by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, is being held during the Geneva Peace Week.