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Targeted Sanctions


Targeted sanctions are increasingly used by the UN Security Council, regional organizations and individual countries to address major challenges to international peace and security and to promote foreign policy objectives. Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has used them for a variety of objectives, such as resolving armed conflicts, countering terrorism, reinforcing nuclear non-proliferation, and signaling opposition to non-constitutional changes of government worldwide.

The Targeted Sanctions Initiative at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, is a locus for scholarly and policy research on targeted sanctions. Headed by Prof. Thomas Biersteker, the initiative involves the maintenance of qualitative and quantitative databases on UN targeted sanctions, the software SanctionsApp and a regular seminar series held in Geneva.




In 2023, the Targeted Sanctions Initiative received additional funding from the Swiss Foreign Ministry for the following activities:

  • The 5th and 6th UN Sanctions Training courses in Geneva convened jointly with the UN Sanctions Branch of the UN Secretariat in New York

  • Specialized training for the incoming 5 elected members of the UN Security Council in December 2023 and 2024

  • Regular updates of the UNSanctionsApp

UN Targeted Sanctions Regimes


Further Information


The project collaborates with the Special Program on the International Targeted Sanctions (SPITS) at Uppsala University, and the Sanctions & Security Research Program at University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.


For more information, please contact

Targeted Sanctions Consortium Database


This is the first comprehensive, quantitative database on targeted sanctions imposed by the UN since the end of the Cold War. It includes the entire universe of UN targeted sanctions imposed between 1991 and 2014, or 23 different country regimes, broken into 63 case episodes for comparative analysis.

Drawing on the work of a consortium of over 50 scholars and policy practitioners worldwide, the database describes all major aspects of UN targeted sanctions regimes, including the types of sanctions, purposes and targets, political, economic and social-psychological impacts, relationship with other institutions, sanctions regimes, and policy instruments, mechanisms of coping and evasion, and unintended consequences.

The effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions in each episode is also evaluated on the basis of the multiple – and often simultaneous – purposes of targeted sanctions, to: (1) coerce a change in target’s behaviour, (2) constrain access to resources needed to engage in proscribed activity, and/or (3) signal a violation of an international norm, stigmatizing targets

The database and corresponding codebook are available for public download through the following links:

Targeted Sanctions Consortium database in Excel and SPSS formats.

Targeted Sanctions Consortium database codebook.

UN Targeted Sanctions qualitative database.

Note: the data is current as of 30.6.2014, and sanctions effectiveness as of 1.1.2014. An updated version of the SanctionsApp  will be available as UNSanctionsApp in Autumn 2020


UNSanctionsApp is a unique analytical device that can be used to inform, design, and analyze UN targeted sanctions. It was one of the principal means of dissemination of the research of the Targeted Sanctions Consortium (2009-2014), a group of more than fifty scholars and policy practitioners worldwide who participated in a project to analyze the impacts and effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions applied over the past 25 years.

The web-based application – available for free download on Apple and Android devices and available online at– was originally designed at the request of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to level the playing field among policy practitioners responsible for the design of UN targeted sanctions. Based on the idea that knowledge is power, the App was designed to give the elected ten (E10) Members of the UN Security Council access to information about sanctions practice and policy alternatives in real time. The original app was re-programmed in 2020 with the support of the Government of Canada, and content updates will be available in Autumn 2020 (with the support of the Government of Switzerland).

Director of the Programme for the Study of International Governance Prof. Biersteker discusses SanctionsApp.

unSanctionsApp News

sanctions app

Version 3.0 of SanctionsApp was launched to at the United Nations in New York


SanctionsApp Online


You can now use SanctionsApp online! Visit


UN Sanctions Training

During January 2019, the Targeted Sanctions Initiative launched a one-week pilot training course for UN practitioners, Member States, and representatives of the private sector. The course, co-directed and co-taught by Thomas Biersteker and the Head of the Sanctions Branch at the UN Secretariat in New York, Kelvin Ong, secured support from the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs to offer the course on an annual basis through 2022. The course introduces participants to the “sanctions cycle,” covering the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and re-design of UN sanctions. Information about how to apply for the course can be obtained from the UN Secretariat’s sanctions branch.


Geneva International Sanctions Networkgisn logo 2d x240



The Geneva International Sanctions Network brings together scholars, students and practitioners interested in international targeted sanctions and draws on expertise developed through the Targeted Sanctions Consortium.

The group meets regularly for closed workshops and talks, which are organised and moderated by Dr. Erica Moret and co-chaired by Professor Thomas Biersteker.


The next network meeting will take place on 25 January 2024:

Read more here

Find here the list of past events in this series.

Read  Dr. Erica Moret's interview on sanctions in Le Temps - 27.05.2020





Enhancing Due Process in UN Security Council Targeted Sanctions Regimes: Ongoing Challenges, New Approaches

This report summarizes the main discussion points raised during a workshop in April 2022 on exploring ways to strengthen fair process in UN sanctions regimes targeting individuals. The primary purpose of the workshop was to provide a forum for assessing existing deficiencies, to identify ways in which existing arrangements could be improved to protect fundamental due process rights and to explore innovative, non-judicial review mechanisms that might help protect against future legal challenges – and thereby safeguard the legitimacy and effectiveness of UN sanctions regimes. The report has been prepared by Thomas Biersteker (Geneva Graduate Institute) and Larissa van den Herik (Leiden University) with the three co-organizers of the workshop: Switzerland, Ireland, and Norway.

Full report here


Sanctions on Russia: Impacts and economic costs on the United States

A report published by the Programme for the Study of International Governance and the Geneva International Sanctions Network suggests that economic costs to the US of its sanctions on Russia are minimal and should not represent a major consideration in the US government’s decision-making as to whether to maintain or lift the measures.

This report follows the publication of The New Deterrent? International Sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine Crisis. Dr. Erica Moret, Senior Researcher at PSIG, and Coordinator of the Geneva International Sanctions Network, was the lead author of both reports.

Full report here