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Humanitarian Exemptions Included in EU Law

Today a humanitarian carve out was introduced for a further eight sanctions regimes at EU level, based on the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 2664, which was adopted in December 2022 following negotiations led by Ireland and the US.

The UN has assessed that some 339 million people will require humanitarian aid and protection next year, with starvation a real risk. Humanitarian exemptions in sanctions regimes are crucial to ensuring humanitarian actors can operate in complex situations to deliver humanitarian assistance, without fear of inadvertently falling foul of these sanctions regimes.

Earlier this year, Resolution 2664 was transposed to EU law for six ‘UN only’ regimes. Today’s adoption covers sanctions regimes combining measures agreed by the UN with additional, complementary EU designations. This brings the total number of sanctions regimes where this exemption will apply in EU law to 14. Harmonisation of rules between the UN and EU will provide important clarity for humanitarian agencies.

Today’s decision reflects the importance of sanctions as a tool to address serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, as well as the EU’s collective determination to ensure that humanitarian assistance is not impeded by targeted sanctions regimes.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin, T.D., said:

"Today’s decision builds on the important work undertaken during Ireland’s term on the UN Security Council and aims to extend the reach of this vital humanitarian carve out. Sanctions are an essential tool to address egregious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. At the same time, we know that millions of people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance in countries where targeted sanctions are in use. Ireland has taken a leading role in Brussels in ensuring that humanitarian exemptions we negotiated for UN sanctions regimes are also reflected in EU sanctions regimes. With this decision, all 27 EU member states have demonstrated our determination to prevent sanctions from inadvertently impeding humanitarian assistance."


Press Office

31 March 2023



Supporting principled humanitarian action and preserving humanitarian space was an overarching priority for Ireland’s term on the United Nations Security Council. No more so than in our work on ensuring that UN sanctions regimes do not result in unintended, and negative, consequences on the delivery of principled humanitarian assistance where they are in effect.

Resolution 2664 introduces a carve-out for the provision of humanitarian assistance, and other activities that support basic human needs, from the scope of asset freezes imposed by UN sanctions.

Humanitarian carve-outs or exemptions mean that humanitarian actors do not need to take any action (e.g., do not need to apply for a licence) in order to benefit from the protections therein; legitimate humanitarian work is automatically exempted from UN sanctions asset freezes.

The EU implements all sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council. UN-only sanctions regimes are transposed without other measures into EU law. There is a second group of EU-UN mixed sanctions regimes where the transposition into EU law of the sanctions adopted at UN level is complemented by additional EU measures. This is the group for which legislation has been adopted on 31 March.

The EU has over 40 different sanctions regimes in place. Some are mandated by the United Nations Security Council, while others are adopted autonomously by the EU. Today’s decision brings to 14 the number of regimes where the horizontal carve-out will apply under EU law.

The legislation was transposed to EU legislation for the UN sanctions regimes related to the Central African Republic, Haiti, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Yemen in February of this year. Today’s decision transposes Resolution 2664 to the eight UN-EU mixed regimes related to DPRK, DRC, Iran WMD, Libya, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan and ISIL (Da'esh) and Al-Qaida.

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