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U.N. Embargo on Iraq Remains Flawed, Groups Say
Published on Thursday, August 8, 2002 by Inter Press Service
U.N. Embargo on Iraq Remains Flawed, Groups Say
by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The 12-year-old U.N. economic embargo against Iraq is flawed because it has severely hurt the Iraqi people while sparing the country's leaders, a coalition of 12 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) said Tuesday.

"The United States and the United Kingdom, who use their veto power to prolong the sanctions, bear special responsibility for perpetuating the sanctions against the wishes of the vast majority of the 15-member Security Council," the coalition said.

In a study released on the 12th anniversary of the embargo, the coalition says that while the government of Iraq bears a large responsibility for the suffering of its people, the Security Council is in clear breach of its obligations under international law, "especially by failing to provide protection to children who have suffered disproportionately under sanctions".

The study comes amid growing reports that the United States is planning to attack Iraq in a bid to remove leader Saddam Hussein. Last week, Iraq invited the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector to the country for technical talks, a move many people interpret as an attempt to delay an attack.

The NGO report says several independent studies, including one by the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), have "amply documented a substantial rise in mortality of children, five years of age and below, and credible estimates suggest that at least 400,000 of these young children have died due to the sanctions".

The coalition, which includes Save the Children UK, Global Policy Forum, the Arab Commission for Human Rights, the Quaker U.N. Office and the Institute for Policy Studies, says the existing "comprehensive economic sanctions" must be lifted and replaced with "targeted sanctions".

In war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan, Liberia and Angola, the Security Council has penalized political leaders by freezing their foreign bank accounts, denying visas for overseas travel and cutting them off from export revenue sources.

"We all know that Saddam Hussein is a criminal. But sanctions against an entire people is not the way to get rid of him," Jim Paul of the New York-based Global Policy Forum told IPS.

Paul said the United States is wrong to act as if it has the moral authority to do what it is doing against the Iraqi people.

Of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, only the United States and Britain have taken a hard line against lifting sanctions.

The other three members, Russia, France and China, have indicated their willingness to lift sanctions conditionally - and on humanitarian grounds.

The sanctions were imposed by the Security Council on Aug. 6, 1990 to punish Iraq following its invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

Following strong protests by humanitarian organizations, the Security Council eased the embargo under an "oil-for-food" program introduced in April 1995.

The program permitted Iraq to import food and relief supplies by using oil revenues - while being monitored closely by the United Nations.

But while Iraq has sold about 54.4 billion dollars worth of oil under the program to date, only 23.5 billion dollars worth of humanitarian and relief supplies have arrived in the country so far.

"This is less than 200 dollars per Iraqi per year," the study said, pointing out that the much-trumpeted program "has failed to resolve the humanitarian crisis, much less provide a long-term solution for Iraq".

According to Paul, "the oil-for-food program has only strengthened the Iraqi leadership because it is the government which imports and distributes the food for the people".

Hans Von Sponeck, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who until two years ago headed the oil-for-food program, said that six years of revisions to sanctions policy have repeatedly promised "mitigation" of civilian suffering.

But four months ago, he said, UNICEF reported that more than 22 percent of the country's young children remain chronically malnourished.

At a summit meeting of the League of Arab States in Beirut last March, all 22 members, including Kuwait, called for the de-linking of economic and military sanctions against Iraq.

"If the economic embargo on Iraq is not in (Arab states) interest, then in whose interest is it?" asked Von Sponeck.

The coalition also argues that the Security Council has clear obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, which provide means to assess its sanctions record.

A number of policy papers by U.N. agencies and bodies, as well as studies by legal scholars, have determined that the Council is in "serious violation of its responsibilities in the case of Iraq".

The coalition's study said, "The Council has committed both procedural and substantive violations, by failing to conduct regular assessments of the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, and by directly violating a number of important rights, including the rights of children to protection and the right to life itself."

The coalition also said that if Iraq is to return to normalcy, and to be persuaded to agree to international accords, it must be freed from constant military pressure, threats and intimidation.

"The Security Council's decisions, not unilateral action by one of two powerful states, must prevail," it added.

Copyright 2002 IPS


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