Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq


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Guide to Sanctions

[Guide contents & introduction]

11. What do other people say about sanctions?

In the last couple of years we have heard increasingly hard-hitting statements against sanctions on Iraq from very diverse sources. More UN officials have resigned on the grounds of their opposition to sanctions. In March 2000, Hans von Sponeck renounced his post as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, explaining that he “cannot any longer be associated with a programme that prolongs sufferings of the people and which has no chance to meet even the basic needs of the civilian population”. Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, quit shortly afterwards, citing concerns about the humanitarian programme in Iraq.

In August 2000, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights adopted a resolution with title “Humanitarian situation of the Iraqi population”. This was the fourth year in a row that the sub-commission had dealt with the issue of sanctions in Iraq, but their document this year makes, with strong language, a direct link between sanctions and the suffering of Iraqi civilians, “considering any embargo that condemned an innocent people to hunger, disease, ignorance and even death to be a flagrant violation of the economic social and cultural rights and the right to life of the people concerned and of international law”. Based on a working paper by the Belgian representative Marc Bossuyt, the resolution invokes the 1949 Geneva Conventions which, in the words of the Sub-Commission, “prohibit the starving of civilian populations and the destruction of what is indispensable for their survival”. The Sub-Commission calls “for the embargo provisions affecting the humanitarian situation of the population of Iraq to be lifted”.

Anti-sanctions voices have also become louder in the Middle East, where there is a sense that the UN leads a policy of double standards: it applies rigour to Iraq, but refuses to protect the Palestinians from Israeli onslaughts, a view rekindled by the recent killings of Palestinians since confrontations started last September. Countries which used to trade actively with Iraq have also suffered for ten years of the embargo; and the Arab public, in solidarity with ordinary Iraqis, puts pressure on their governments to help Iraq out of the crisis. All this pushes the leaders of neighbouring countries to overcome their fear of the Iraqi regime and soften their position on sanctions. In May 2000, Jordan's Prime Minister, 'Abd al-Ra'uf al-Rawabdeh, said that "the sanctions imposed on Iraq have lead to great human catastrophe of unpredictable destructive impact in the short and long terms. We call for lifting the embargo on Iraq". Similarly, in July 2000 the Egypt's Foreign Minister, Amr Musa, called the sanctions "unacceptable" and "void of logic". The governments of Syria Oman and Morocco have also been vocal in calling for an end to sanctions. Even Iran and Kuwait, both victims of Iraqi aggression, are now contesting the embargo. This undermines the regional security arguments in favour of sanctions.

Several governments outside the Middle East are also urging the UN to lift the sanctions, including India, Malaysia, Venezuela, Indonesia and Vietnam. In February 2000 a letter signed by 70 members of the US House of Representatives was submitted to President Clinton asking that he “de-link economic sanctions from the military sanctions currently in place in Iraq”, though it was quickly counteracted by a response from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In April 2000 the European Parliament passed a resolution on Iraq in which it noted that “the Iraqi people are in a tragic situation as a result of the imposition of sanctions” and called upon the Security Council for “the lifting of Sanctions as a matter of urgency” while still “exercis[ing] vigilance with regard to the Iraqi regime”. Anti-sanctions lobbying has also sprouted in the parliaments of (among others) Canada, Britain, Italy, and Holland.

Since the UN Humanitarian Panel report was made public, the NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have become more resolute in their support to the anti-sanctions movement. They have presented motions for an overhaul of the sanctions regime to UN bodies and the governments involved, that ensures the well-being of Iraqi society while targeting imports of military nature.

Save the Children Fund UK has been active in Iraq since 1991; its work is currently restricted to Iraqi Kurdistan, since the Iraqi government forbids NGOs active there to operate in South/Central Iraq as well. It has called the sanctions regime "a silent war against Iraq's children", and has said that "the maintenance of a comprehensive embargo on Iraq is a disproportionate act in international law when the deleterious effect on the civilian population and children is so clear". Similarly, the Catholic aid agency CAFOD, released a report in February 2001 that called for an immediate suspension of sanctions; the Director of CAFOD called sanctions "humanly catastrophic, morally indefensible and politically ineffective".

One of the central goals of sanctions is to put pressure on the government of Iraq to abandon its non-conventional weapons. Although it may be objectionable to harm a civilian population in order to pressurise their government, the human costs of sanctions are defended by some on the grounds that sanctions are succeeding in achieving the disarmament of Iraq. However, this is not the case: UN weapons inspectors themselves believe that sanctions in fact impede disarmament. Former Unscom executive chairman, Richard Butler, told the BBC that “sanctions as now applied to Iraq have been utterly counterproductive for this disarmament purpose”. Scott Ritter, formerly in charge of Unscom concealment programme is now actively campaigning for the lifting of the non-military sanctions, whose effects he claims are “felt by 22 million innocent Iraqi people, not by the leadership, not by Saddam Hussein, not by his cronies”.

Further reading:

See CASI's extensive list of Information sources on Iraq for a guide to statements of governments, international agencies and NGOs on Iraq.

The website of Voices in the Wilderness-UK has a selection of quotes on the impact of sanctions on Iraq.

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