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International sanctions

International sanctions have become a key element in contemporary international relations. They are coercive measures applied against States, non-State entities or individuals that pose a threat to international peace and security. The objectives pursued are to modify the behaviour of an agent, reduce its capacity for manoeuvre or weaken its position and publicly denounce those agents that pose a threat to international peace and security. Sanctions are fundamentally preventive and should be proportionate. They are used as an alternative to the use of armed force.

To avoid adverse effects on third parties, sanctions are, as far as possible, targeted at specific individuals or entities and must always be in accordance with International Law and human rights. Examples may include economic-commercial measures (the arms embargo), financial measures, or individual sanctions such as the prohibition of entry into a State or the freezing of assets.

At present there are three main authorities imposing sanctions: the United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter provides the legal basis for the imposition of coercive measures within the United Nations. The Security Council is the authority empowered to adopt measures not involving the use of armed force, with the ultimate aim of maintaining or restoring international peace and security. The most frequent sanctions regimes are those aimed at the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the fight against terrorism, conflict resolution or support of democratic regimes.

Sanctions regimes adopted by the United NationsIt opens in new window 

Within the European Union, restrictive measures are a key tool of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and are used to defend its strategic interests and protect its fundamental objectives abroad. There are three types of measures: transposition of measures agreed within the framework of the United Nations, measures complementary to those adopted by the United Nations or measures adopted on the EU's own initiative. EU sanctions are adopted unanimously by a Council decision in the field of the CFSP, which is binding in its entirety for all Member States. If the decision provides for the reduction or interruption of all or part of the economic and financial relations with a third country, an EU regulation shall be adopted by qualified majority upon a joint proposal from the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. However, in practice, approval is by consensus.

European Union sanctionsIt opens in new window

Finally, the OSCE may impose embargoes on the purchase and sale of defence and dual-use equipment.​​​


Competent Spanish authorities

The competent authorities of Member States are responsible for the application and enforcement of international sanctions through national measures.




Mechanism ​of the Blocking Statute against the extra-territorial impact of third-country sanctions


The European Commission has launched an online platform enabling citizens and operators to report facts, circumstances, individuals or entities that might be involved in past, ongoing or planned violations, or attempts to circumvent EU sanctions. The Commission guarantees whistleblowers’ anonymity through this platform.





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