He carries the charter of the United Nations with him in frayed, pocketbook form, the policy bible he has thumped in 18 countries since resigning his post as United Nations' assistant secretary-general last year.
Hans von Sponeck, who like his predecessor, Denis Halliday, quit in protest of economic sanctions against Iraq, spoke here yesterday to condemn a policy he said has contributed to widespread death and social ruin while failing to topple Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq is truly a Third World country again," he said in an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board before last night's address at the University of Washington. With Iraq's middle class destroyed and its education system obliterated, "the new generation of leaders will be disabled. The big price will be paid long after the sanctions are gone."
Von Sponeck spent a year and a half in Baghdad overseeing the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program, which he said provided an inadequate $110 per person in Iraq over four years. "I've never been in a country where I've seen so many adults crying," he said.
His talk at UW's Kane Hall marked the 78th such event on behalf of his protest since resigning in March of last year. The U.S.-driven policy against Iraq, he said, typifies a self-righteousness that led U.N. members to boot the U.S. off its Commission on Human Rights last week.
Imposed to compel Iraq to disarm after it invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the sanctions make Iraq the only country to be so punished after a war, he said.
He quoted a December UNICEF report that ranked the increase in Iraq's child-mortality rates highest among 188 countries since 1991 - a 160 percent surge as a result of lack of medicine, malnutrition and water-borne diseases such as dysentery.
The economic crisis produced by the sanctions, he charged, has corrupted Iraq's oil operations and created unhealthy alliances between the government and businessmen profiting from higher prices produced by limited supplies of goods.
While Iraq initially tried to circumvent its disarmament obligations, von Sponeck said, its current situation reflects a qualitative disarming that would take years to rebuild.
Nevertheless, the sanctions remain in place because "it takes a tremendous dose of leadership and magnanimity to admit failure," he said.
With a new U.S. administration in place, he said, it now falls to Secretary of State Colin Powell to address the question of containing Saddam while improving Iraq's living standards.
Because von Sponeck opposes the sanctions, he said, he's often confused with supporting Saddam. But while Saddam should be held up as a criminal, he said, so should former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, under whose watch the sanctions continued.
"Whether you die by bullets or by hunger and disease, you are still dead," he said. "Iraqis, in the last 10 years, have suffered beyond any imaginable allowable limits."
Von Sponeck said he has been shaped by the legacy of his father, a German Army general accused of participating in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Having already been jailed for defying Hitler's orders not to withdraw German troops in Russia, he was executed when von Sponeck was only 5 years old.
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