Advancing Humanitarianism through Sanctions Refinement (AHSR) is a multistakeholder engagement bringing experts together to develop and implement measures to mitigate unintended humanitarian impacts associated with sanctions and related regulations. Established in late 2021, AHSR is a special initiative of the Sanctions and Security Research Project of the Fourth Freedom Forum (FFF)–a nonprofit organization that has been working on sanctions reform for over thirty years. AHSR includes a small secretariat team and a core group of experts as well as working groups to address specific challenges. The working groups are meeting in person and online to develop recommendations and then present them to a plenary meeting.


We are consulting with practitioners and other recognized experts with the aim of the developing the following outcomes:

  1. A checklist for sanctions units to aid the design of sanctions in a way that is cognizant of humanitarian considerations.
  2. A global non-binding set of guiding principles on sanctions use that serves to safeguard the effectiveness and legitimacy of the tool while mitigating unintended humanitarian consequences in the years and decades to come.
  3. Bolster capacity and share best practice and expertise across national trisector groups (composed of government officials, NGOs, and financial institutions) and other relevant national and regional engagements (whose representatives are all included in the AHSR project).
  4. Dissemination of a regularly-updated repository of evidence-based studies on unintended consequences of sanctions—primarily to serve policymakers designing and implementing sanctions—to raise awareness, help inform policy adaptations, and bolster capacity.
  5. Development of a methodological framework to conduct independent, evidence-based assessments of humanitarian exemptions and risks of aid diversion.
  6. Work with the banking and private sectors to find innovative ways to disencourage derisking and overcompliance of legitimate trade, aid, and remittances to sanctioned jurisdictions.


This project recognizes that targeted sanctions are vital for upholding global norms and promoting international peace and security. When carefully designed and implemented they can bolster diplomatic efforts and help prevent the resort to war. Yet, in the public and the private sector concern has increased over the past decade regarding negative unintended humanitarian impacts resulting from both autonomous and multilateral sanctions.

There are a range of new legal, ethical, and logistical concerns associated with the rising complexity of the global compliance landscape, which countries, organizations, and individuals around the world find increasingly difficult to navigate. This can be seen through the worsening, yet poorly understood, phenomena of financial sector “de-risking” and wider private sector “overcompliance.” This also produces a “chilling effect” of sanctions on NGOs, which, considering the risks of legal liability for sanctions violations and increased bureaucratic burden and costs, may choose to withdraw from high-risk jurisdictions where aid often is most needed.

Our project team at AHSR is cognizant that the future use of sanctions could be compromised if the current trajectory toward harder-hitting, broader sectoral sanctions continues without reform, alongside a regulatory environment of mounting complexity. This is especially the case where multiple autonomous sanctions regimes overlap with one another (and sometimes with UN sanctions) in ways that remain poorly understood. Frameworks developed in the late 1990s/early 2000s that still guide the use of targeted sanctions are in many ways no longer fit for purpose, and do not reflect the reality of contemporary challenges and demands.

This AHSR project seeks to ensure that sanctions remain a useful policy tool in the years and decades to come, while minimizing constraints on humanitarian action and avoiding the fragmentation of legitimate international trade and finance.