International sanctions

This is the English version of Sweden's official web-site on international sanctions presenting information about which sanctions are in place. The web-site also contains information about which Swedish authorities are competent to perform tasks according to EU sanctions regulations. Please note that the information presented in English may not be fully up-dated. To check the latest information, please contact the relevant geographical department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

What are sanctions and why are they used?

Sanctions that apply in Sweden have been adopted by the UN or the EU. Sweden does not have any of its own, nationally-adopted sanctions. Other countries may have introduced sanctions of their own.

Sanctions mean that restrictions limiting the freedom of a state, a group or its leaders to act are imposed through a collective decision by other states. This is done because the international community wants to use peaceful means to try to influence the behaviour of the state, group or individual through various economic and political measures. The aim may be to change the policies of a state that threatens international peace and security, to defuse a conflict in a country, to induce a state to cease systematic violations of human rights or to try to get the state to adopt certain democratic principles. Sanctions differ from other foreign policy instruments in that they are regulated through legal provisions. They are precisely formulated and violating them may result in penalties. Sanctions are intended to be temporary in nature and regularly reviewed in light of developments. When their objective has been achieved, they are to be removed.

Responsible departments at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

The UN Policy Department at the MFA coordinates Sweden's sanctions policy.

Questions as to whether there are sanctions targeting a specific country, and what sanctions might be involved, should be addressed to the UN Policy Department or the geographical department at the MFA responsible for the relevant region.

Detailed information as to which sanctions target a specific country or are intended to combat terrorism is available on this website. The sanctions website also has links to UN and EU websites on sanctions. Additional information is found here as to which Swedish government agencies have been assigned certain duties under EU sanctions regulations, along with contact information to these agencies. This information is updated regularly, but please check with the relevant MFA department to be sure of what currently applies for a specific country.

Questions concerning a certain aspect of the application of sanctions against a country should be addressed to the responsible Swedish agency listed in the specific case. More information is available on the agencies' websites.

Targeted sanctions and broad sanctions

In the past, the UN occasionally adopted very broad sanctions against a specific country. Similar sanctions were implemented by the EU. These could involve such actions as a blockade by completely prohibiting trade with that country in order to induce the country's leaders to change their policies. Even if exemptions could be made, these broad sanctions often had an impact on the civilian population.

For a number of years, the international community has primarily been using 'targeted sanctions' when trying to exert influence. Targeted sanctions are directed against a specific product, a country's leadership, an organisation or individual rather than a country in general. In this way, it is easier to prevent the sanctions from having an adverse impact on the civilian population, while the sanctions send clearer signals to those they are intended to influence. Sanctions that target specific individuals or companies must take special account of due process considerations and respect fundamental rights and freedoms.

Examples of targeted sanctions are:

  • financial restrictions (freezing of assets and other economic resources, restrictions on financial transactions, investment restrictions);
  • trade restrictions for special products such as weapons, dual-use products, diamonds, minerals, oil or petrochemical products, or for services linked to the export or import of such products;
  • travel restrictions;
  • and aviation restrictions.

In recent years, the UN has increasingly made use of the sanctions instrument. The same holds true of the EU. In 1989, sanctions were in force against a single country – South Africa. In 2010, there were some fifteen ongoing sanctions regimes in the UN targeting different countries. In addition to this, there are two sanctions regimes that target international terrorism. Within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, we in the EU have also adopted our own sanctions against third countries in some fifteen additional cases. On occasion, the EU imposes its own sanctions in addition to those decided on by the UN.

UN sanctions and EU sanctions

Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations forms the basis of most of the international community's sanctions. Under the provisions of this Chapter, the UN Security Council may decide to impose collective sanctions aimed at maintaining international peace and security. Once the Security Council decides on sanctions, Member States are obliged, under public international law, to implement these measures and incorporate the provisions in their own legal systems. For Sweden, this is done jointly with the other EU countries.

The EU can decide on international sanctions within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This may either be a matter of decisions to jointly implement UN sanctions or independent decisions on sanctions, and is done by the Council of the European Union adopting a Council decision. Such decisions contain detailed commitments to implement certain sanctions. The measures that fall under the competence of the European Union (such as trade restrictions or freezing the assets of certain individuals or companies) are subsequently implemented in an EU regulation, which becomes directly applicable in Swedish national law. The EU regulation can prescribe that certain duties must be undertaken by special competent authorities in each member country (e.g. issuing licences or deciding on exemptions). Other measures fall entirely under the competence of the Member States (e.g. arms embargoes and travel restrictions) and are implemented via national legislation.

Violations of a prohibition contained in an EU regulation on economic sanctions, or in a supplementary provision adopted by the Government based on a sanctions decision taken by the UN Security Council or the Council of the European Union, are punishable. The provisions concerning this are found in the Act on Certain International Sanctions (1996:95). The penalty may be a fine or a maximum of two years' imprisonment. A lower scale of penalties applies if the infraction occurs through gross carelessness, while a higher scale applies if the infraction is of a serious nature. Minor offences do not lead to liability.

Refining sanctions

In recent years, improvements have been made to the sanctions instrument. To a greater degree, the international community has begun to use targeted sanctions to safeguard international peace and security, or to promote democracy and human rights, and more types of sanctions are being used.

Sweden has long advocated a more effective use of sanctions for peaceful influence

In 2001 and 2002, Sweden and Germany jointly organised a number of seminars on targeted sanctions. The seminars comprised a follow-up to the work done by Switzerland in 2001 on targeted financial sanctions, the 'Interlaken Process'.

The 'Bonn-Berlin Process' produced recommendations on targeted sanctions on travel, aviation controls and arms embargoes. The practical aspects of implementing and monitoring sanctions regimes were then dealt with in the 'Stockholm Process'. The results of this work were presented to the UN Security Council in February 2003.

The MFA has subsequently followed up the Stockholm Process. This has included providing funds to university institutions and research institutes to implement case studies on whether sanctions have achieved their objectives. In 2007, a study was presented with proposals on how to make the UN arms embargo more effective. In 2014, Sweden, together with Australia, Finland, Germany and Greece, conducted a high-level review of UN sanctions to examine how effectiveness in implementation can be enhanced, including through better coordination and closer information sharing, both internally in the UN system and with other international organisations that issue regulations in areas that are subject to UN sanctions. Information about the project is available at:

Initiative for increasing due process protection

In 2005, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland launched a joint project for increasing due process protection in the sanctions system. The project was a continuation of the work on improving targeted sanctions carried out by the countries earlier. In 2006, a report was presented at a seminar in New York. The report identified shortcomings with regard to due process and human rights. It also presented concrete proposals for improving the procedures when taking decisions on sanctions against individuals, i.e. listing and de-listing, and proposals on a review mechanism.

The issue of improved due process procedures in decisions on sanctions against individuals taken by the UN Security Council and its sanctions committees has received particular attention in recent years following several high profile judgments by EU courts. Several listings within the framework of UN anti-terrorism sanctions targeting individuals have been rejected. Together with other like-minded countries, Sweden has been involved in trying to persuade the UN Security Council to change its procedures so as to enhance due process regarding sanctions that target individuals. A number of reports produced in connection with the Swedish Presidency of the EU in autumn 2009 were part of this. The work has achieved some success in that the procedures have gradually been improved. The lists are now regularly reviewed, and in 2010 the UN Secretary-General established the Office of the Ombudsperson, tasked with helping individuals lodging complaints. However, the improvements only apply to those listed within the framework of the UN sanctions against Al-Qaida. A great deal remains to be done in other sanctions regimes imposed by the UN.

When it comes to sanctions independently imposed by the EU as well, it has not been unusual for EU courts to reject decisions on sanctions against individuals on the grounds of shortcomings regarding due process. The EU has therefore been gradually improving its own procedures since 2007.