Policy Dutch government on international sanctions

The United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have the authority to impose international sanctions. Sanctions can be placed on countries, organisations, companies and individuals for a variety of reasons, for instance if there is a threat to international peace and security. The EU can also impose sanctions as a means of promoting peace, international security, human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and compliance with international law.

In this way, sanctions can be used to combat the spread of nuclear weapons, or to deal with countries, individuals or organisations that violate human rights. They can also be used against people involved in terrorist activities.

Compliance with sanctions is mandatory. Sanctions do not involve military action. The purpose of sanctions is:

  • to change undesirable behaviour by individuals, companies, organisations or countries;
  • to limit opportunities to engage in such behaviour;
  • to deter other parties from engaging in this type of behaviour.

Sanctions are meant to be temporary and preventative in nature. When the country, individual or organisation in question stops engaging in undesirable behaviour, the sanctions can be lifted.

Different types of sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN)

  • Financial sanctions

One type of financial sanction is the freezing of bank accounts or other assets. Another is the placing of restrictions on investment, or on financial transactions with foreign entities.

  • Trade restrictions

An example of trade restrictions is a complete or partial ban on the trade in certain products (e.g. diamonds, minerals, oil or petrochemical products) or related technology.

  • Arms embargoes

This is a ban on the import and export of military equipment, such as weapons and military vehicles.

  • Travel and visa restrictions on certain persons

A number of examples:

Both the UN and the EU have imposed a wide-ranging package of the above measures on North Korea, with the aim of bringing the country back to the negotiating table. Sanctions are designed to have the greatest impact on those in power. The ultimate goal is the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and a peaceful resolution of the conflict between North and South Korea.

The EU has imposed an arms embargo and other measures on Venezuela and Myanmar. There are also sanctions in place against specific people, including financial sanctions and travel and visa restrictions. These measures were taken in response to human rights violations in Venezuela and Myanmar.

EU sanctions

The EU automatically adopts international sanctions that have been adopted in a UN Security Council resolution. But it also imposes its own sanctions on the basis of its Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The Netherlands and international sanctions

The Dutch government prefers not to impose its own sanctions, but rather to do so through the UN or EU. When multiple countries impose sanctions on a particular country, organisation or individual, the impact is obviously far greater. 

Implementation of sanctions in the EU and the Netherlands

International EU sanctions can be laid down in either an EU decision or regulation. Sanctions enshrined in an EU regulation are those that involve measures in areas for which the EU has major responsibilities, such as trade and international financial transactions.

Sanctions laid down in EU decisions contain measures in areas in which the individual member states have greater influence, such as travel bans.

European regulations and decisions can be found on EUR-lex, a website containing all official publications and legislation of the EU.

Sanction measures in EU regulations

Sanction measures laid down in EU regulations do not have to be incorporated into Dutch legislation. They apply automatically in EU member states. In such cases the Dutch government only needs to issue a sanctions order stating that it is a criminal offence to violate the regulation. Financial sanctions, for example, are imposed by means of EU regulations.

Sanction measures in an EU decision

By contrast, Dutch legislation does need to be amended following an EU decision containing sanction measures. Sanction measures that are laid down only in an EU decision must be incorporated into a Dutch sanctions order. Arms embargoes are one example of this type of sanction.

Under the Sanctions Act 1977 the Dutch government must issue a sanctions order to criminalise the violation of international sanctions like arms embargoes and travel restrictions. A sanctions order makes it a criminal offence to violate international sanctions. It makes reference to the international sanctions referred to in EU regulations. The sanction measures contained in EU decisions are incorporated into the sanctions order. Sometimes it is not necessary to adopt a new sanctions order because existing legislation is sufficiently comprehensive.

Existing sanctions legislation can be sufficient

Sometimes there are already laws in place which enable us to implement international sanctions. In that case no new sanctions order is needed. For example, there are already laws in place which provide a legal basis for imposing visa or travel restrictions on certain individuals. If travel restrictions are broadened to include additional individuals, their names can simply be added to the sanctions list.

Cooperation in implementing international sanctions

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is not the only person responsible for implementing international sanctions in the Netherlands. Collaborating with other government ministers is key.

Which other minister is involved will depend on the nature of the sanctions in question. If the sanctions are financial in nature and involve freezing bank assets or blocking international transactions, the Minister of Finance will have co-responsibility with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

If the sanctions relate to trade restrictions, the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation will be the other responsible party.

In some cases more than two ministers will be responsible. In the case of counterterrorism sanctions, for example, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice & Security, and Finance all bear responsibility for implementation.

Supervising the implementation of international sanctions

Supervisory authorities, inspectorates and implementing organisations all have a key role in overseeing and enforcing sanctions. For example:

  • The Dutch customs authority monitors the import and export of goods and services to and from countries which are subject to sanctions. It has the power to conduct inspections. Customs’ Central Import and Export Office (CDIU) is in charge of issuing licences and granting exemptions.
  • De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB, the Dutch central bank) and the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) supervise the financial sector to ensure compliance with financial sanctions.
  • The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) is involved in shipping and air transport. If a ship falls under a sanctions regime, the ILT can in certain circumstances give it permission to enter Dutch waters. The same applies to aircraft seeking to depart from, land in or fly over Dutch territory.

International sanctions: exceptions, exemptions and licences

Many sanctions regimes include exceptions for certain activities, for example to facilitate humanitarian aid.

In some cases, commercial sanctions do not ban trade in certain goods and services outright, but rather impose a licensing or exemption requirement. If businesses wish to trade in these goods or services, they must first apply for a licence.

Applications for a licence or exemption must be sent to the relevant competent authority. This is a government body designated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to issue decisions on exemptions and licences. In the case of financial sanctions, for example, the authority in question is the Ministry of Finance. This link will take you to a complete list (in Dutch) of the competent authorities for each sanctions regime.