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G7: UK push for Afghanistan sanctions ends with no consensus

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Ahead of the G7 meeting on August 24th, it was widely reported in the media that the United Kingdom (UK) would push world leaders to consider new sanctions against the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan. 

Multiple diplomatic sources noted that the UK, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7, would argue for the imposition of Magnitsky-style human rights sanctions if the Taliban commits human rights abuses, or allows its territory to be used by terrorists organizations. 

Laying out what could become the foundations of a new UK-led sanctions effort against Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We will use all of the levers at our disposal, including sanctions, aid, and access to the international financial system, and we are rallying our international partners around these shared priorities.”

Over the last week, the US has extended its own Magnitsky-style sanctions program, imposing new measures on individuals and entities in Russia, Eritrea, and Paraguay. However, when asked if he’d support the UK’s push for sanctions President Biden was non-committal: “The answer is yes. It depends on the conduct.” The European Union (EU) was less explicit, saying it was too early to discuss sanctions, and any measures should depend on the government’s actions.

The increased level of discussion around punitive economic measures like sanctions reflects how Western governments’ are using sanctions – or the threat of sanctions – to gain leverage with the Taliban. $7bn out of the Afghan government’s $9bn reserve fund is held by the US Federal Reserve, making asset freezes a potent threat.

The G7’s summit communique notably did not include mention of sanctions but set out clear red lines which, if crossed, could see new measures imposed: “Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorism, nor a source of terrorist attacks on others. Working with partners, in particular NATO allies, we will continue to fight terrorism with resolve and solidarity, wherever it is found. Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations and commitment to protecting against terrorism; safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and ethnic and religious minorities; uphold the rule of law; allow unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access, and counter human and drug trafficking effectively.”

While United Nations (UN) sanctions against the Taliban are already in place, the Atlantic Council reported this week that the details of those measures are unclear. This could risk UN member states such as China and Russia exploiting the regulatory ambiguity in order to provide financial assistance to the Taliban.

Given the close ties between Afghanistan and regional powers such as Pakistan, and the unclear, emerging relationship between the Taliban and governments in Russia and China, it is critical that firms are scanning against the latest available sanctions lists. Entities and individuals on those lists are subject to change at short notice and could pull in a range of high-profile actors globally with ties to Afghanistan, or groups supporting the Taliban.

Our Evolving Use of Sanctions report explores how sanctions are being used around the world today, and outlines the core compliance responsibilities businesses face. 

Originally published August 27, 2021, updated May 6, 2022

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