The contribution reviews the experiences with sanctions, especially during the 'sanctions decade' of the 1990s, and assesses the efficacy and appropriateness of a new variant of this policy instrument - 'smart' sanctions - in bolstering human rights. They refer to the well-documented sanctions regimes against former Yugoslavia and Iraq, which have caused widespread suffering among innocent citizens, yet without producing the desired change of behaviour on the part of the targeted elites in the two countries. This has spurred a search for a two-pronged tool that involves targeting sanctions better on the culprits and cushioning vulnerable groups by exempting certain commodities from the embargoes. It is argued that although there is scope for improving the design of sanctions regimes technically speaking, the inherently political nature of decision-making processes in the UN Security Council makes it unlikely that smart sanctions will ever be smart enough to become a feasible option in bolstering human rights.