The Effectiveness of Economic Sanctions Implementation Against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa


Gevorg Grigoryan


The article covers history and practice of the development of economic sanctions as a mechanism of influence on countries that do not comply with the norms of international law. The objectives of the sanctions may include preventing wars, promoting freedom and democracy, combating environmental pollution, protecting human and labor rights, ensuring non-proliferation of weapons, releasing captured citizens, and countering land grab.

Everything connected with sanctions (e.g. size, form, etc.) is determined by their acceptability by the community, and they are influenced by technology and the existing relations of power between social groups within countries. However, unlike well-defined rules concerning declared war and blockade of wartime, international law doesn’t establish any legal or formal restrictions on coercive measures with the exception of war.

The first written economic sanctions were imposed in 432 BC by the Athens Maritime Union on the city of Megara. Sanctions were aimed at stopping the Megara’s practice of accepting runaway Athenian slaves and plowing sacred border territories. Sanctions were ineffective, due to which the Peloponnesian War began. Athens suffered a crushing defeat, and the Athenian union was destroyed.
In the 19th century sanctions generally took the form of sea blockades. The question of the international legitimacy of sea blockades did not arise until the formation of the League of Nations in the 20th century. Article 16 of the Charter of the League of Nations allowed collective economic and military action against a state that turned to war in disregard of the League Agreement, which required states to settle disputes peacefully.

In the Charter of the United Nations, the right to apply sanctions is enshrined in Articles 2 (4), 39, 41, 42, 43 and 46 of the Charter of this organization and in the “Unification for Peace resolution” 1950. In the period between 1946 and 1990 the UN imposed sanctions on North Korea, South Africa, Portugal, Rhodesia and Iraq. In the subsequent period, the UN began to apply sanctions more actively, especially against African states. Effectiveness of the implemented economic sanctions in most cases was dubious, since the desired results were not achieved or at least deviated from the initial purpose.

After the massacre in Sharpeville, where civilians who protested against the apartheid became victims of inhuman police crimes, the problem of South African racist politics became a hot topic on the world agenda. Some countries led by India in the following years began to actively raise this issue with the UN Security Council. Western countries did their best to prevent the use of sanctions against South Africa, because of the country’s important role for NATO in advancing its strategic goals.

After the Soweto Uprising, on November 4, 1977, when the photographs of young people killed by the police appeared in major newspapers worldwide, the UN Security Council finally adopted mandatory sanction measures. Nevertheless, governments of some of the Western powers sought to maintain their traditional tolerance for the apartheid regime, counting on South Africa to counter the Soviet-Cuban intervention in the civil wars of Angola and Mozambique.

Since 1977 till 1994 The UN Security Council had repeatedly demanded that all states comply with the sanctions restrictions, which throughout this time gradually tightened and comprehensively affected all spheres of life of the South African society.


economic sanctions, sanctioning country, targeted country, naval blockade, embargo, Apartheid




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