Sanctions are increasingly being used to tackle a range of specific issues. These include sanctions to respond to human rights abuses, combat corruption and address malicious cyber activity. As sanctions use has broadened, the question of their application to organised criminal activity has been increasingly raised. Yet, the use of sanctions against organised crime has remained limited to a specific set of issuers, notably the US and, more recently, the UN.
In the UK, the government has advanced its vision of an ambitious post-Brexit independent sanctions regime, with the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 allowing sanctions use 'in the interests of national security'. New regimes addressing human rights and corruption have emerged. With serious and organised crime deemed a national security threat by the UK government, there is a case to add a sanctions regime to address this particular threat. The National Crime Agency itself has called for a legislative amendment to reference serious and organised crime as grounds for sanctions use.
However, little research or evaluation has been undertaken to assess the impact of sanctions against organised crime. With US sanctions used over almost three decades to disrupt cross-border trafficking, the lack of a body of rigorous relevant research is a key shortcoming. Similarly, few past initiatives have sought to assess the lessons these experiences hold for future sanctions issuers in this space. With interest mounting in the potential use of organised crime-related sanctions, this represents a critical limitation.
This paper represents the first effort to target this knowledge gap, by reviewing existing evidence on the use and impact of sanctions to disrupt organised criminal activity. It focuses on two case studies, Colombia and Libya, in differing regions of the world and with different exposure to organised crime-focused sanctions. While Colombia tops the list of states globally for organised crime-focused sanctions on individuals and entities in its territory (with the third-highest number of relevant listings since 2016), Libya's exposure is more recent and limited. Libya nonetheless has experience of listings under UN and US country regimes relating to fuel smuggling, people smuggling and human trafficking. Here, it differs markedly from Colombia, which is the epitome of the historic US approach to narcotics-related sanctions.
This paper analyses organised crime-related sanctions data, examines the current state of knowledge on the implementation and impact of these sanctions, and draws on the two case studies. It identifies a number of factors that influence the impact of organised crime-focused sanctions, including:
With these factors and the research's broader findings in mind, this paper concludes with a set of 10 considerations for those countries that may, in the future, contemplate introducing organised crime-focused sanctions: