Ethics and International Affairs 33 (3):303-314 (2019)

Joy Gordon
Loyola University, Chicago
Asset freezes are sometimes viewed as the quintessential form of targeted sanctions—relatively effective in achieving their goals, while affecting only the individuals and companies that are “bad actors.” However, as part of the roundtable “Economic Sanctions and Their Consequences,” this essay argues that there are significant ethical problems raised by asset freezes and other forms of targeted financial sanctions. Sanctioners have long been criticized for targeting individuals and companies for arbitrary reasons or without adequate due process. However, there is a second concern that is less well known. Asset freezes and other targeted financial sanctions may be imposed on government officials, government agencies, or private companies that hold a critical role in the target country's economy. A country's central bank, national oil company, or national shipping line, for example, may be severely compromised as a result of its inclusion on a financial blacklist. In addition to the explicit prohibitions imposed by targeted financial sanctions, there is a chilling effect as well. This can be seen when international banks and corporations withdraw from the target country altogether because the burden of compliance with these measures is so great, and the potential penalties so high.
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DOI 10.1017/s0892679419000315
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