Unilateral Sanctions under International Law and in Global Politics

This course will introduce participants to the various legal and policy aspects of unilateral sanctions under international law.



Course Level
Advanced Bachelor
ECTS credits
1.5 ECTS
Course location(s)
Utrecht, The Netherlands


Over the years, unilateral sanctions have been making the headlines. Such measures are to be distinguished by sanctions adopted by an international organization against its member states, such as UN Security Council sanctions. Undoubtedly, the most reported upon sanctions are those adopted by the EU and the US against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. These measures are frequently referred to as ‘unprecedented’. Actors adopting sanctions have gone out of their way to impose maximum costs on Russia by freezing its Central Bank assets, blocking its access to SWIFT, prohibiting import of Russian goods, etc. To ensure third states comply with their restrictions, they have progressively extended their jurisdictional reach. More recently, some scholars and states have suggested that temporarily frozen assets of Russian nationals and authorities can be confiscated and used to repay damages caused to Ukraine.

Russia is, of course, not the only state under sanctions. Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela have been targeted by various restrictions. The latter has sought to challenge the measures imposed on it before the ICC, arguing the US sanctions amount to crimes against humanity. Unilateral sanctions have evolved to more horizontal regimes, such as the US's Magnistky Act and the EU's Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, where not only states but also private entities and individuals can be targeted for human rights violations.

Whereas there is much commentary on these measures’ effectiveness and political implications, there is very little discussion on the legality of these measures. How far can states and organizations, such as the EU, go when imposing such measures? Are there any limits under general international law that these actors should be aware of lest their responsibility can be invoked? Importantly, one should ask how unilateral sanctions influence and shape international politics? What is their impact on the ‘international order’, and are they an effective at enforcing, or at least promoting, international norms?

Distinguishing unilateral sanctions from UN Security Council measures, the course will focus on how international law regulates restrictions imposed by the EU and the US, as well as the effectiveness of sanctions at enforcing international norms. It will also consider how ‘non-Western’ states perceive such policy tools. 

Target audience

The course targets (advanced) students with a basic knowledge and understanding of public international law. For this reason, it is best suited to those who have a degree in public international law or who have followed a course during their studies. It is also open to professionals of different disciplines who have experience with international law and/or issues relating to its enforcement.

Bachelor students and other professionals may also apply for the course - please contact the course director in case of doubt.

Aim of the course

The course aims to equip students with the knowledge on the current legal regime that governs unilateral sanctions, including not only its certainties but also its grey areas and controversies.

It is suitable for those who plan to study, or work in, the field of unilateral sanctions. The course will also be beneficial to those who already work in this field and who want to deepen their knowledge.

Study load

One intensive week (Monday to Friday) of interactive lectures and presentations.


  • Course fee: €600.00
  • Included: Course + course materials
  • Housing fee: €200
  • Housing provider: Utrecht Summer School

Additional information

The housing costs do not include a Utrecht Summer School sleeping bag. This is a separate product on the invoice. If you wish to bring your own bedding, please deselect or remove the sleeping bag from your order. 


For this course you are required to upload the following documents when applying:

  • Motivation Letter
  • C.V.