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A more recent case in point is the blockade of Germany after the
cessation of World War I in order to coerce that country to stand down from its
opposition to certain leonine clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The
unilateral coercive measure applied against Germany visited untold sufferings
on the German population, whose basic rights were ignored.1 In
fact, the founding fathers of the League of Nations considered coercive
measures as the backbone of its policies for the maintenance of peace. That was
already a progress on the past, when such measures and in particular blockades
were a prelude to war or part of the stratagems of war itself.

One could also mention the unilateral coercive measures applied at
the initiative of Western countries against the Soviet Union in 1949 — the
Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls — and China in 1951 —
the China Committee — and the entry of the Security Council into the fray of
sanctions, imposing them first on Southern Rhodesia in 1966 and then on South
Africa a decade later at the initiative of developing countries. The impact of
the latter on the enjoyment of human rights of the target population was
relatively limited because the measures were circumvented by the source
countries themselves.

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Except for the cases of Southern Rhodesia and South Africa under apartheid, most recent unilateral
coercive measures before1975 were implemented in the context of the East-West ideological
rivalry. Then came the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation
in Europe, which, in its principle VI, expressed the resolve of the signatories
to put an end to autonomous policies of coercive measures. According to that
principle, the parties to the Treaty “will likewise in all circumstances
refrain from any other act of … economic or other coercion designed to
subordinate to their own interest the exercise by another participating State
of the rights inherent to sovereignty”. Experience thereafter did not live up
to expectations as unilateral coercive measures were redeployed in the
direction of developing countries and then escalated again inter alia between the West and the
Russian Federation as a result of tension on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Most current unilateral coercive measures have been imposed at
great cost, in terms of the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable
groups, by developed countries on developing countries. There are a few
examples of the reverse situation, such as the Arab oil embargo of 1973 against
Western States in response to the position the latter took during the 1973
Arab-Israeli War. There are also cases of developing countries imposing
unilateral coercive measures on neighbouring States for short periods of time.

                1               C.P. Vincent, The Politics of Hunger: The Allied Blockade
of Germany, 1915-1919 (Athens, Ohio, Ohio University Press, 1985).

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