A Duty to Protect: The Failure of UK Sanctions Against Iran and the Necessity of Proscribing the IRGC

Elizabeth Samson

As global terrorism surges with every passing year, calls for the United Kingdom (UK) to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation have become more vocal and determined, but to little effect. Government ministers have consistently deflected inquiries on proscription by referring to the heavy sanctions regime the UK already imposes on the IRGC. Only this month, the Government has announced plans to further extend sanctions on Iran and the IRGC and to introduce new legislation to further widen its power to sanction Iran. Sanctions, though, are often ineffective and carry neither the same impact nor the same force of law as proscription, which broadly criminalises terror groups and imposes criminal penalties on anyone who associates with them.

The Iranian Government has been behind 15 credible threats to kill or kidnap British citizens or UK based individuals in the past year alone, yet its extrajudicial and extraterritorial agent, the IRGC, practically operates with impunity in the UK. The UK Government’s continued evasiveness in committing to proscription in the face of the IRGC’s circumvention of sanctions and its growing threat profile can arguably be deemed a dereliction of its “Duty to Protect” the British public, founded in the English Common Law tradition and extended to the present day.

This policy brief examines the Government’s “Duty to Protect” its citizens in the context of the English legal tradition, provides background on the IRGC, discusses the advent of the Iranian Nuclear Deal as an attempt by Western governments to minimise Iran’s threatening impact, and explains the deal’s failure, which has led to both sanctions and proscription by democracies. The brief then examines why sanctions are used and their limits, and evaluates the strength of proscription as an alternative. Four examples of IRGC terror threats are presented; each event was followed by parliamentary debates where MPs and Lords inquired about IRGC proscription, with subsequent deflections from Government.

Possible reasons for the Government’s delay are discussed with explanations as to why those excuses do not pass muster. The brief concludes with a call to the Government, in light of the evidence presented, to exercise its “Duty to Protect” the British public and finally proscribe the IRGC, while also offering a number of recommendations.

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